GTE Pro: Fairytale Win For Corvette
Corvette Racing has taken its eighth Le Mans class victory, its first since 2011 and the first for the latest C7 version of the V8-powered American coupé at Le Mans.
After a nightmare build-up to the race that saw the #63 car withdrawn ahead of the start due to a big crash in the Porsche Curves for Jan Magnussen, the team rallied around the #64 entry and drivers Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor delivered the goods in what was a gruelling and hard-fought GTE Pro battle for the majority of the event.
It’s a first Le Mans win for Taylor after finishing fifth, fourth and second on his previous outings, while Milner tops the class podium for the second time following his success in 2011. It’s also win number five for Gavin – all of them coming at the wheel of a Corvette.
At the start, Aston’s multi-car attack looked unstoppable, with the main challenge seeming to come from the two-time class winning #51 AF Corse Ferrari. Early-lap squabbles saw polesitter Richie Stanaway emerge on top in the #99 car, with the sister #95 machine also looking racy in the hands of Nicki Thiiim.
Gavin started as he meant to go on, however, soon moving from fifth to fourth and demonstrating the strong pace that would be key to the American brand’s eventual victory. There was a fantastic three-way scrap in the early stages that inititally went the way of James Calado in the #71 Ferrari – but that wouldn’t be the end of the story in what was a very up-and-down race for the ‘other’ AF Corse car.
There was a very surprising early retirement for the #92 works Porsche 911 due to an engine fire, and while the sister #91 entry soldiered on, demonstrated better pace during the night and looked on course for a podium at times, a gearbox oil leak eventually put paid to its efforts. Unlike their LMP1 colleagues, the Weissach GT crews were never really in the hunt this year.
The #51 Ferrari looked to have had its chances dashed when it was caught up in the #8 Audi slow-zone crash with Fisichella at the wheel, and following the safety car for that incident, the #95 Aston’s charge faded due to a power-steering issue.
Up front, there was more top-class battling between the #99 and #97 Astons, the Corvette and the #71 Ferrari. A charging stint from Jordan Taylor early in the night-time got Corvette fully on terms with Aston, while the #71 lost significant time due to changing a starter motor. Another safety car interrupted this battle, but shortly after green Rob Bell had to pull the #97 to the side of the track with a smoking engine.
The #99 Aston took up the gauntlet, with MacDowall, Stanaway and Rees pushing hard to stay on terms with the Corvette, but ultimately a mistake from Rees that resulted in contact with a P2 car ended their hopes of challenging for a win.
As day broke, the #51 Ferrari was once again the Corvette’s main challeger – pushing the team as hard as Aston had done. But in Hour 22, the AF Corse mechanics had to take it into the garage, with a frustrated Bruni gesturing at the steering wheel and an apparent gearshift issue. The Corvette had breathing room at last, letting Ollie Gavin bring it to the flag.
The #71 Ferrari of Calado, Rigon and Beretta thus inherited second – a remarkeable result given their big time loss earlier – while the team’s mechanics managed to get the #51 back out for a bittersweet double podium finish.
GTE Am: SMP Ferrari Wins After Late Heartbreak For Aston Martin
Pedro Lamy put in a heroic drive in the polesitting #98 Aston Martin for much of the race, backed up by Mathias Lauda and gentleman driver Paul Dalla Lana. The Portuguese veteran was suffering from chicken pox, but didn’t seem the least bit deterred, regularly lapping on the pace of the GTE Pro leaders.
The SMP Ferrari crew of Andrea Bertolini (right), Victor Shaytar and Alexey Basov had provided consistent opposition throughout, regularly taking the lead due to a different pitstop strategy, but as the race entered its closing stages, it looked like Aston was in control – until Dalla Lana’s heartbreaking crash at the Ford Chicane with less than hour remaining handed the Russian-Italian crew the win – a first class victory here for Bertolini on his fourth attempt at the race and Shaitar and Basov winning on their second attempt.
Third was actually the hardest-fought position in this class. Early on the #53 Viper had looked promising – especially in the hands of Bleekemolen – but its challenge was first blunted and eventually ended by gearbox trouble.
The #83 AF Corse Ferrari also ran strongly at times, but in the end the position was fought over strongest by the #63 Scuderia Corsa car of Jeff Segal, Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell and the #77 Demspey Proton Racing Porsche of Marco Seefried, Pat Long and Patrick Dempsey. The demise of the Aston saw both of these crews climb the podium in the final reckoning.