Home » Le Mans

Corvettes Showing Off Muscle As Le Mans Nears

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, June 7 2016
America-based Corvette C7.Rs dominated Daytona this year. They will attempt to do the same at Le Mans later this month. (File photo by Richard Prince for Chevy Racing)

America-based Corvette C7.Rs show big speed at Daytona earlier this year. They will attempt to do the same at Le Mans later this month. (File photo by Richard Prince for Chevy Racing)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

The countdown to the world’s most prestigious endurance race is on fast-forward. Corvette Racing paced the United States-based contingent completing Sunday’s annual Le Mans Test Day, a critical lead-in to the 84th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 18-19.

Le Mans logoThe list of 60 cars and complete driver lineups published by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest features 12 U.S.-based teams, 10 of which compete in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Corvette Racing posted the fastest time in the GTE Pro class as Antonio Garcia toured the 8.5-mile Circuit de la Sarthe in 3 minutes, 55.122-seconds/129.680 mph in the No. 63 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R. Garcia _ who celebrated a birthday Sunday _ is teamed with Jan Magnussen and Ricky Taylor as Corvette chases a ninth victory at the French endurance classic.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is set to roll off at 3 p.m. (CET/9 a.m. EDT) on Saturday, June 18. Practice and qualifying sessions are scheduled for June 15-16.

It’s been a while since we’ve had such a clean test day with no worries,” Garcia said. “That helped us a lot in going through our test program. We’re happy with where we are, and we’re well-prepared for the race. Now we have a ton of data to go through, but it looks like it’ll be a great race with a very competitive field in GTE Pro.”

Both Corvettes were among the fastest cars in GTE Pro. Oliver Gavin in the No. 64 Corvette C7.R was fourth-fastest with a lap of 3:55.837-seconds/129.245 mph. Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor are the defending class winners at Le Mans; Gavin and Milner also won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring to open the 2016 season.

Meanwhile, Audi and driver Lucas di Grassi topped of the overall speed chart with a time of 3:21.375-seconds in the No. 8 Audi R18 e-tron Quattro in LMP1. The Porsche 919 Hybrid driven by Mark Webber was second at 3:22.270-seconds. Porsche, the defending event champion, has entered a pair of LMP1 cars for Webber, Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley, Romain Dumas, Neal Jani and Marc Lieb.

Webber is teamed with Bernhard and Hartley. As the reigning FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) champions _ a schedule which includes Le Mans _ the trio’s car carries the No. 1.

“How long you can drive on a single set of tires is key in the race, so evaluating tires was top priority,” Webber said post-practice. “It was good for us the weather held off for the sessions and the predicted rain didn’t come. It was a smooth test for us.”

Meanwhile, with a lap time of 3:22.334-seconds, Jani was on-pace in the sister No. 2 Porsche. Jani leads the WEC drivers’ standings along with Dumas and Lieb.

“The first laps in Le Mans are never easy because of the track conditions,” Dumas said. “But regardless of that, it is fantastic to be here again and it’s such a nice circuit. I always enjoy Le Mans, especially as I’m French and have lived here for a long time. We tried a lot of different setups and had no problems. Because of the regulation restrictions, we have less engine power than last year, but the car and the tires improved and we are quicker through the corners now.” 

Porsche dominated the 83rd running of the race, as the No. 19 Porsche 919 Hybrid driven by Nico Hulkenberg, Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy completed 395 laps to outrun Porsche teammates Bernhard, Webber and Hartley in the No. 17 machine by one lap. Porsche celebrated its 17th overall victory at Le Mans as an announced crowd of 263,500 saw Hulkenberg become the first active Formula One driver to win at Le Mans since Johnny Herbert in 1991.

Porsche won overall for the first time since 1998, snapping Audi’s five-race winning streak at Le Sarthe in the process.

Audi, Toyota and Rebellion Racing each have entered a pair of LMP1 cars, while Bykolles Racing has entered a single car.

Making its Le Mans debut, Eurasia Motorsport was fastest in LMP2 with driver Tristan Gommendy in the ORECA-Nissan 05 at 3:36.690-seconds. And Nicky Catsburg was fastest in GTE Am in the Larbre Competition Chevrolet Corvette C7.R.

The factory-backed No. 64 Corvette turned 81 laps while the No. 63 Corvette posted 73 laps. The entire day was run in warm, dry conditions which allowed both teams to maximize efforts to find the best race setup for the 2016-spec Corvette C7.Rs.

“We come to Le Mans each year with our list of items and settings to work through to put us in the best possible position for when we come back for the race,” said Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing program manager. “That is what we accomplished with both our Corvette C7.Rs. Antonio going quickest in the class is a good indication of the quality of the effort our engineers and crew have put forward.

“Although pleased with the results, we realize we still have more work to do. Preparation, strategy and execution are what we have used to win eight times at Le Mans, and it’s what we will count on again this year.”

Sunday marked the first time at Le Mans for these Corvettes, which feature a number of changes from 2015 including a larger splitter at the front and diffuser at the rear. Side skirts and a repositioned wing also are among the most notable changes, along with updated safety features that are now mandated on all GTE Pro cars.

“It was great to be back and get the Le Mans experience going again,” Milner said. “It’s nice to come here with a car that’s a bit different from what we had here in the last couple of years with the new aero package. We were trying to make sure we ticked all the boxes, and we did that. We also tried some different things and learned a lot from that. We were pretty quick and finished fourth in class which is a good place to be in. We’re all fairly comfortable with the car, so it’s ‘Mission Accomplished’ as far as the Test Day went.”

Ford’s highly anticipated four-car return to the 24 Hours 50 years after its first victory was led by Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe, who were 39th in their Ford GT entered in GTE Pro. Ford GTs also placed 41st, 45th and 46th. Ford Chip Ganassi Racing is fielding four Ford GTs _ its two-car WeatherTech Championship team in addition to a two-car British-based team that competes in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

The Ford race car is based on the all-new Ford GT supercar unveiled in January. Both the production car and race car are marking the 50th anniversary of Ford GT race cars placing 1-2-3 at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. Ford went on to repeat its victory at Le Mans in 1967, 1968 and 1969.

In GTE Pro, Risi Competizione has entered its Ferrari 488 GTE with Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander and Matteo Mulucelli in the American team’s Prancing Horse. Meanwhile the German-based Porsche Motorsport team will field six drivers from the WeatherTech Championship, a list including 2015 GT Le Mans (GTLM) champion Patrick Pilet and 2015 overall Le Mans winners Tandy and Bamber.

A total of 180 drivers are preparing to participate in the twice-around-the-clock classic, the pinnacle of the FIA World Endurance Championship. The 180 drivers hold licenses issued in 27 countries and the 60 cars in the race represent 19 nationalities.

Great Britain lists the highest number of driver entries with 38, followed by France (32), the USA (23) and Germany (11). The United States has supplied the highest number of cars with 12.

The list of entries breaks down as follows _ 9 LMP1s, 23 LMP2s, 14 LM GTE Pros and 13 LM GTE Ams plus the 56th garage.

The field includes two women _ Inès Tattinger from France with Pegasus Racing entered in LMP2, and Danish driver Christina Nielsen in the LM GTE Am category in the Formula Racing Ferrari 458 Italia.

The LMP2 entry includes fulltime WeatherTech Championship competitor Michael Shank Racing in its Le Mans debut, along with two cars from Extreme Speed Motorsports and a single entry from Krohn Racing, a team that races in the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup. Sunday’s session was halted early after Oswaldo Negri Jr. crashed the LMP2 Ligier out of Shank Racing, causing barrier damage that could not be repaired in the time remaining.

Drivers in the class include Rolex 24 at Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring overall winners Ed Brown, Scott Sharp, Pipo Derani and Johannes van Overbeek; 2016 Rolex 24 pole-winner Mikhail Aleshin; and WeatherTech Championship regulars Ryan Dalziel, Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Marc Goossens, John Pew and Negri.

Scuderia Corsa will field a Ferrari 458 Italia for former team drivers and 2015 GT Daytona champions Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell. Additionally, Alex Job Racing of the WeatherTech Championship is partnering with German Proton Competition to enter a WeatherTech-sponsored Porsche for IMSA regulars Cooper MacNeil, Leh Keen and Marc Miller.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, June 7 2016