As Chevrolet celebrated the 60th year of Corvette production, Chevrolet's Corvette Racing team reigned in the production-based GT class in the 2012 American Le Mans Series. In 10 ALMS races, the twin Compuware Corvette C6.Rs posted four victories, six runner-up finishes, 12 podium appearances, two poles, and five fastest race laps.
That performance propelled Corvette Racing to a sweep of the GT class championships. Corvette Racing won the team title and Chevrolet captured the manufacturer championship. Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner won the GT drivers championship in the No. 4 Corvette C6.R, while Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia finished third in the driver standings in the No. 3 Corvette C6.R. Magnussen and Garcia won the Michelin Green X Challenge four times, securing the Green X GT manufacturer championship for Chevrolet. Corvette Racing also won the ALMS From the Fans award in popular voting.
The 2012 season saw Corvette Racing return to the championship-winning form that previously produced eight consecutive team and manufacturer titles and seven straight driver championships in the GT1 class. After a mid-season move to the fiercely competitive GT (formerly GT2) category in 2009, the team scored single ALMS victories in each of the following seasons. The introduction of new wide-body Corvette C6.R race cars and a realignment of the driver roster produced a dramatic turnaround in 2012.
"There may have been some in the sports car racing community who had questions about the capability and resolve of Corvette Racing after our initial struggles in GT," said Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing program manager. "I think 2012 answered those questions conclusively as Corvette Racing once again demonstrated its passion, its dedication, and its execution, thereby reaffirming Corvette's standing as a championship-winning, world-class sports car."
Many of the updates in the 2012 Corvette C6.R race cars were the result of changes in the GT class rules. The new Corvettes were two inches wider than the preceding version, with corresponding revisions in the bodywork and suspension to accommodate the increased track width. The rear wing was raised and the Corvettes' 5.5-liter engines were outfitted with larger intake air restrictors in accordance with the GT regulations.
"The rule change that allowed wider bodywork and increased track width was a significant gain for us," said Corvette Racing team manager Gary Pratt. "That was really what the car needed. Michelin developed tires specifically for the C6.R that worked well with the changes to the chassis. We spent considerable time in the wind tunnel and doing CFD simulations that improved the aerodynamics. The first time the drivers tested the new package, they were very happy."
Corvette Racing's revised driver lineup delivered a winning combination of youth and experience this season. Jan Magnussen and Tommy Milner traded seats, with Magnussen returning to the No. 3 Corvette C6.R alongside Antonio Garcia, who became a full-season driver after three years as third driver in endurance events. Corvette Racing's "youth movement" accelerated with the addition of 21-year-old Jordan Taylor as third driver in the No. 3 Corvette for Sebring, Le Mans, and Road Atlanta. Milner joined Oliver Gavin in the No. 4 Corvette C6.R, with Richard Westbrook continuing his role as third driver in the three long-distance races.
The Anglo-American alliance of Gavin and Milner produced immediate results. After a third-place finish in the ALMS GT class at the season-opening Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the pair scored back-to-back wins in Long Beach and Laguna Seca. A third at Lime Rock after the Le Mans break was followed in short order by another win at Mid-Ohio, a fourth at Road America, and a runner-up finish in Baltimore. The pair clinched the GT championship with a decisive victory at Virginia International Raceway in Gavin's 100th career ALMS start. Even when things went wrong – a gearbox problem at Mosport, a broken steering rack at Road Atlanta – the No. 4 Corvette fought back and was running at the finish.
"This year has been the toughest and hardest championship in all of my years with Corvette Racing," Gavin said. "The level of competition, whether it's coming from Ferrari, Porsche, BMW, or our own teammates, has been phenomenal. We rose to the challenge, and a lot of that comes down to the fantastic crew working on the car. Tommy has been a great teammate and performed brilliantly, and that's one of the reasons we won this championship."
"This year has been special," Milner said. "In 2011 we won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but we struggled a bit in ALMS. Then I got my first ALMS win at Long Beach, and that felt really good. This year we had the whole package, and it came down to being consistent and not making mistakes. It's been great to be a part of the competition in the GT class, and I'm looking forward to more."
It was boom-or-bust for the No. 3 Corvette in 2012. Magnussen, Garcia, and Taylor racked up the first of five runner-up finishes at the Sebring season-opener. Second-place finishes at Laguna Seca, Lime Rock, and Mosport kept Magnussen and Garcia in contention for second place in the driver standings going into the final round at Road Atlanta. First-lap incidents in Long Beach, Baltimore, and VIR, combined with late-race contact at Mid-Ohio and Road America, cost the Danish/Spanish pairing valuable points. The Petit Le Mans season finale was another heartbreaker, as the ESM Ferrari pulled off a risky fuel strategy to win the race over the fast-closing Corvette, leaving Magnussen and Garcia second at the checkered flag and third in the championship.
"All in all, it's been a fantastic year, and we were very competitive at every race," Magnussen said. "We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, most of the time. We were in with a shot at winning every race, but it was just one of those years. Corvette Racing has done a fantastic job on both cars, and I can't wait for next year."
"I learned a lot this year, and I appreciate all that the team did for me," said Garcia after his first full season with Corvette Racing. "I'm proud that I have become part of Corvette Racing and the team knows they can rely on me. We will continue to learn and come back stronger next year."
The Michelin Green X Challenge is a "race within a race" at every ALMS event that recognizes clean, fast and efficient performance to accelerate the development of new technologies and energy sources. Corvette Racing won the inaugural Michelin Green X Challenge at Road Atlanta in 2008. This year the No. 3 Corvette C6.R scored a quartet of Green X Challenge victories at Laguna Seca, Lime Rock, Mosport, and Road America to capture the Green X Challenge GT team championship and secure the Green X GT manufacturer championship for Chevrolet.
Engine manager Dave Henninger and the GM Powertrain team developed the 5.5-liter Chevy small-block V-8 engines that proved to be powerful, reliable, and efficient through a long season without a single engine-related issue. Technical partners Mobil 1 and Michelin provided proprietary technology that minimized friction and rolling resistance, thereby improving overall performance in the Green X Challenge.
"In the sports car world, we are trying to deliver power, efficiency, and durability," said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet U.S. Vice President for Performance Vehicles and Motorsports. "The Michelin Green X Challenge award addresses that area of efficiency. That's important not only at the race track, but also with the production car today and tomorrow."
ALMS fans showed their appreciation for the team's performance on and off the track by casting their votes for Corvette Racing as having made the biggest contribution to sports car racing during the past year. Corvette Racing won the From the Fans award, the sixth time that the award has been given to the Chevrolet team or its members.
Corvette Racing drivers also enjoyed success in other venues in 2012. Westbrook scored three wins in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series driving a Corvette Daytona Prototype, two of them with Garcia as co-driver. Taylor tallied a win in the Grand-Am Rolex GT driving a Camaro, and Magnussen won the Danish Touring Car championship in a Camaro.
Corvette Racing's next event is the season-opening Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway on Saturday, March 16, 2013.
Corvette Racing 2012 ALMS Season Summary
GT Manufacturer Champion: Chevrolet
GT Team Champion: Corvette
GT Driver Champions: Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner
Michelin Green X Challenge GT Manufacturer Champion: Chevrolet
Michelin Green X Challenge GT Team Champion: No. 3 Corvette C6.R, Jan Magnussen/ Antonio Garcia
No 4 Compuware Corvette C6.R, Gavin/Milner/Westbrook
4 wins: Long Beach, Laguna Seca, Mid-Ohio, VIR
1 second: Baltimore
2 thirds: Sebring, Lime Rock
1 pole: Baltimore (Gavin)
3 fastest laps: Long Beach, Laguna Seca, Baltimore (Gavin)
No. 3 Corvette C6.R, Magnussen/Garcia/Taylor
5 seconds: Sebring, Laguna Seca, Lime Rock, Mosport, Road Atlanta
1 pole: Mosport (Magnussen)
2 fastest laps: Road America (Magnussen), VIR (Garcia)