Corvette Racing’s one off run in Shanghai is one of the bigger storylines to follow this weekend, the Pratt & Miller-run team back in the WEC for a six hour race for the first time since 2014.
While the team knows how to run a C7.R, after five years of service in IMSA and Le Mans (soon to be six!), taking it to China for the first time, is still a challenge.
The crew on site in China is a mix of the IMSA personnel who run the team’s GTLM cars, with full-season drivers Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin. Notably, Doug Fehan has not travelled with the team, which is a rarity, though he has been in constant contact with team manager Ben Johnson, asking to be filled in with how it’s all going.
Now that they’re trackside and set up, it’s all about the racing, the challenge of getting here are over. Johnson told DSC that logistically, this trip to Asia could have been “a real mountain to climb”, but wasn’t thanks to the assistance from DHL and the FIA WEC.
Thus, the task at hand going forward is to get to grips with the WEC Michelin tyres, the sporting regulations and life in the FIA WEC paddock. Only a couple of the mechanics have been to Shanghai before, supporting Larbre’s GTE Am efforts with Corvette some years ago, and neither Milner nor Gavin had driven the circuit until yesterday.
Gavin though, was mostly positive when speaking to DSC, explaining that if the weather is unpredictable, then it may suit the team during the race.
“We are approaching this in a straightforward way,” Gavin told DSC, when asked about the team’s approach to the weekend. “Yes, we only have one car so we’re restricted in what we can learn each session, as we’re down 50 percent. But we’re running a car we know, just on a new track.
We just have to get dialed in with the conditions and focus on extracting the maximum we can out of the car
“The tyres are different to the IMSA Michelins, but they are the ones we used at Le Mans, so we’ve got a bit of a read on them. The only issue is we haven’t had much running in IMSA this year in wet conditions. We just have to get dialed in with the conditions and focus on extracting the maximum we can out of the car.
“The first sessions were all about getting Tommy and I used to the track.
“It’s slippery and slick, tricky conditions, but we got to experience the car on the wet tire, and briefly the slick at the end of FP1,” he said. “I think if it’s changeable then we may stand more of a chance than if it’s dry, but we’ll see.
“There’s areas of the track with good flow, but there’s areas with corners that for our sort of car, go on too long. Turn 1-2, it’s too long for us, and the turn that runs onto the back straight is probably 45 degrees too long. Our car is at times struggling with that, but it’s the same for everyone.”
Gavin wasn’t part of Corvette’s one-off WEC effort at CoTA back in 2014, but he has driven in a WEC six-hour race before, racing in 2013 as a super sub with Aston Martin Racing in Austin. The WEC he says, has a very different look and feel now though.
The WEC is a far more mature championship, it’s far more professional now
“I raced with Darren Turner, and Stefan Mucke back then in 2013, it was a very different experience! The WEC is a far more mature championship, it’s far more professional now, everything about it has moved on. You can see that a bit at Le Mans, the atmosphere is different nowadays.
“But Le Mans is pressurised, you live in a bubble and it’s so intense, whereas here this weekend seeing the officials, drivers and other teams, it’s a relaxed atmosphere. I’ve been presently surprised how nice it is, we’re coming here halfway through a season, and all the other drivers and teams have been welcoming. At Le Mans everyone is on edge, there’s a gun-to-your-head mentaility because there’s no excuses if you make mistakes.”
As well as getting a taste for the general atmosphere in the paddock, racing on a different style of circuit is part of the appeal for Gavin.
“I really wanted to come back to the WEC to try and new circuit, see how this championship is outside of Le Mans,” he continued. “Sebring will be a really interesting weekend I think too, it will be another direct comparison.
“In IMSA we go to great places, with great character, and that’s the big difference racing in IMSA and WEC. The WEC is held on big Formula One tracks, Tilke circuits, and in IMSA we don’t race on any Tilke tracks. If you asked all the drivers in IMSA what they’d rather drive on, many of them would say IMSA tracks all the time, but everyone has their opinions and reasons.
“But the circuit here in Shanghai is still a fun venue to come to; it’s interesting to see the differences.”