Ahead of the IMSA ‘back to racing event at Daytona on 4 July all four full-season Corvette Racing Drivers were fielded for an online press conference. Here’s their combined thoughts about the year so far, and the season still to come!
What are you most looking forward to about next weekend and getting back to Daytona?
Antonio Garcia: “It’s been super strange to have such a long period of ‘off’ time between the Rolex 24 and Daytona next week. It has been strange doing our own work; my own workout is the only thing I could do. I haven’t been back to the simulator yet so the next time I will be in the C8.R will be full-on in the first practice.”
Jordan Taylor: “I’m excited. Everyone is ready to get back to the racetrack. It feels like this has been another offseason, just a little weirder. It’s been tough not to be with the guys, hanging out, going to the shop and checking out the car.
“I was able to go to one simulator test last week in Charlotte, which also was a new experience. We weren’t allowed to have engineers there, so everyone was remoted in, so I was basically talking to everyone on a radio. We had one person there to run the simulator. That was unique but it was nice to get back to work and working toward the race next week. We had a good showing for the new Corvette C8.R at the Rolex 24. We had a flawless run in our car, so having the opportunity to come back there is a plus. We have spent a lot of time at Daytona and can apply what we’ve learned.”
Oliver Gavin: “It’s fantastic to get back racing. All credit to everyone at IMSA for working away tirelessly for the last couple of months to get us back racing at Daytona. It will be obviously pretty hot and sticky conditions but at least we will be back behind the wheel. Some fans will get to see cars out on track, which I think is fantastic. It’s been a long break… probably the longest period for anyone involved in racing. There isn’t a lot of track time at Daytona, which will present some challenges and be a little weird, to be honest. But everyone is really wanting to just get out there and get on with it.”
Tommy Milner: “I’m very excited to get back racing. It’s been a long break for a lot of us out of a racecar. This is probably the longest break most drivers and teams have had from racing and testing. So we’re all excited to get back in the racecar and go racing again. It’ll be quite different going back to Daytona in the summertime. I’ve done that before in GRAND-AM; I remember it being very hot so that will be a big change from what we’re used to at Daytona. But there are a lot of things these days that we aren’t used to. So most of all, I’m excited to get back to racing, getting in the Corvette and having some fun.”
Antonio, you and Oliver are sharing an apartment or house in Florida. How is that going?
Antonio Garcia: “It’s another new experience. This isn’t the first time I’ve shared a house with Olly; we used to do that every year we go to Sebring because we stay longer than a week there. We came over on the 18th to make sure we are ready for the race. So far it is going OK. We don’t hate each other yet! There are still a few days to go because we usually don’t fly over this early. We are carrying on doing our work even though it is very warm. But we are getting used to the heat because the next two races will be very, very warm.
“We are near Clearwater, by the sea. It’s a very nice area. Olly likes to ride a lot on the bike and it’s very good for me to run here, as well. We need to be out there first thing in the morning otherwise it gets very warm. We are trying to stay over in the U.S. until Road America. We don’t know how the quarantine situation will develop, so we will plan to stay through Road America but who knows what will happen after that.”
Oliver, how has it been, being in a quarantine state for a couple of weeks leading up to the race? What have you been doing to acclimate to the Florida climate?
Oliver Gavin: “Cycling has helped and getting out for a few hours of exercise in the Florida heat and humidity. I’m sharing a house with Antonio, which is going good and well. He has some pretty good skills with his cooking, which is good. I’m not so hot at that, so I’m doing some shopping, tidying up, doing the dishes. He actually brought a PlayStation so we’re playing a bit on that. We’ve done Bathurst and Motegi in the Corvette C7.R. Just filling the days and trying to get acclimated. We’re right on the beach so we can just go right out to the sea, which is really hot! I can’t believe how it is… it’s like a bath!”
Antonio Garcia: “It will be very strange. This entire situation has been a whole new experience for everyone.
It will be strange not to have him on the radio and talk to him in the garage. I don’t know what exactly it will be like, but as soon as we show up at the track we will miss him.”
You have a good notebook on Daytona with the new Corvette, but once you get into the other early season races following the testing lockdown, is that a handicap for the Championship?
Antonio Garcia: “It’s always a handicap not to be able to test and compete. We know Corvette Racing has been working since the checkered flag at Daytona.
For sure we learned a lot at that race. There were some mistakes and the car wasn’t where we wanted it to be. I don’t know what to expect but I’m sure we will be as prepared as we can.”
How has the break altered your expectations for the season?
Antonio Garcia: “It’s going to be a challenge for everyone. Not being able to test your development on track is a new thing to do. Everyone is working at home so it’s not easy. You go by how the race went at Daytona, and we hope we are fixing the items we identified but we couldn’t test them on track. That’s the only downside to that and having just two hours practice. It will be a challenge, but Corvette Racing is the best team out there. If anyone can do this, it’s this team.”
How is it different sharing a car with Jordan (given the height difference between him and Jan Magnussen)?
Antonio Garcia: “Up to now in the longer races, I used an insert so I could raise myself up a little bit. That’s one of the things we still need to work out. Maybe we will use a seat position that works for both us. It could be a little high for Jordan but also works for me because I wasn’t too low. For sure, my legs would be a little stretched out but as long as I can see out of the window I’m happy with that. We will figure out what the best solution is.”
It’s been a long time since you have won a race though you have a couple of Championships in that span. Does that play on your psyche?
Antonio Garcia: “I think you need to play every race as a single event and just try to achieve that. We had come close to many times with Jan; it was a little bit frustrating to be second so many times and knowing we could have won many of the races. But I think the approach will be the same: go race-by-race, do our best and if someone else does it better, then we can’t do anything about it.”
How confident are you in the medical protocols that IMSA has put in place for this event?
Jordan Taylor: “IMSA has gone through a lot and worked with NASCAR with their protocols. I’ve not heard of any issues through any of those events. I’m trusting them. There are a lot of competitors, teams and families involved so I’m sure they are taking all the precautions necessary.”
Talk through the differences between this race and the Rolex 24.
Jordan Taylor: “It will be a much shorter race with a much different mindset. For the Rolex, you’re trying to race to the end and survive the first 20 hours to race in the last four. For this one, you’ll be prepping a car for speed to compete in lap time and performance. You’ll have to take a lot more risks not to lose track position. There will be a bit of a difference in strategy. Corvette Racing has a long history of bouncing between races of these lengths (endurance vs. sprint).”
Is this the best possible place to restart the season?
Jordan Taylor: “I think so. It’s the World Center of Racing. It’s a fun track and offers a lot of good things from a racing perspective. It will be an awesome July Fourth. We used to do this in the GRAND-AM days with the night race and with NASCAR. It’ll be a good show.”
With Porsche leaving GTLM, are you worried about the class?
Jordan Taylor: “I haven’t had any conversations on this. There’s a lot going on and not just in GTLM. It’s disappointing to see them gone but I’m sure they will be back at some point. I have confidence in Chevrolet and Corvette with decision-making processes.”
How has the break altered your expectations for the season?
Jordan Taylor: “I don’t know if it’s altered things, but it’s made everyone a little more excited to get back to the track. I think we still have a team, a car and a full package to compete for the championship. For us, maybe the break is a little bit of an advantage for us with a new car. The guys were able to go back and study the car… understand where can make improvements whether it’s pit stops, the drivability of the car, engine calibration, all those little things that have been worked on between the engineers and crew. I still have high expectations.”
How has your mindset changed given that you need to use your mirrors for passing much more than you did in the DPi?
Jordan Taylor: “That was pretty eye-opening. It had been a few years since I had done the Rolex in a GT car. Going back to GT, I realized that you had a lot of time to relax in the prototype when you’re coming up on a GT car. If you know you’re not going to pass in that corner, maybe you come off the throttle a little. You’ll lose a couple of tenths but maybe you can a couple in the next corner when your competitor has that same GT car there.
“I went into the Rolex with that same mindset, if I see a prototype then I’ll lift a little and let that car go and lose a couple of tenths. But I realized that all those tenths you lose in GT, you don’t find that back. So it was a lot more mentally draining just being focused on pushing every lap in a stint and trying to hold prototypes off. I’m glad I had that 24-hour experience before going to a sprint race when that will really matter.”
From what you know about the new Corvette and the tyre behaviour, could a sprint race play into your hands or would an endurance race suit the car better at this stage of the development?
Jordan Taylor: “It’s hard to tell. We’re going to Daytona for a race where it’s going to be so much warmer so we don’t know how the tire is going to react. Through all of our Daytona testing, it was pretty cool, and even on race day the highest temperature wasn’t that hot. That will be the bigger thing… how everyone gets their tire in the window to see how they work. But I’m sure no matter what race, you’re going to single-stint tires. Endurance racing suits Corvette Racing with its heritage but they are very good in these strategic races as well. We have the right guys behind us.”
Talk about the efforts by IMSA to get the international drivers over here for the race.
Oliver Gavin: “They really worked really hard, as did Ben Johnson (team manager) to keep Antonio and myself in the loop. They worked really hard with DHS (Department of Homeland Security). There were lots of questions going back and forth during this whole time. All credit to everyone to get this going. Getting to the airport, getting over here and getting into the U.S. was relatively straight-forward and well-run. Where I flew into at Miami was good… the temperature checks, the paperwork we had to do, the advice on the quarantine was good. It is a recommendation, the quarantine. It’s not like there is someone watching the building to make sure we are sticking to the rules. But it’s the thing Corvette Racing wanted us to do, and it’s the right thing.”
How much extra stress did you feel about possibly not coming back to the US and not getting back into the #4 Corvette?
Oliver Gavin: “There was a little bit of anxiety about it, certainly in the last number of months when we heard Sebring was going to be postponed and moved and no one knew what was going to happen next. Ben Johnson and everyone at Corvette Racing kept us in the loop and have been working away, and IMSA has been working tirelessly. There have been some periods where you’ve been home for many, many weeks and you’re wondering what is going to happen. But you look around at all the racing series around the world and everyone is in the same situation. I think people are finding solutions, and that’s great.”
It’s an unfortunate circumstance that the team won’t be able to go to Le Mans, but could this be turned into a positive that more of the effort will be put onto the IMSA Championship?
Oliver Gavin: “Honestly in all the years I’ve driven for Corvette Racing, I never thought us going to Le Mans was detrimental to our championship chances in IMSA. I always thought us going to Le Mans made us better as a team, really sharpened our focus, gave us a chance to race other people and examined us fully under a microscope. There is no hiding place at Le Mans. So anything, I thought Le Mans was a really big bonus for us and that we always came back a little bit wiser and stronger. It’s a disappointment not to go this year. But in this whole season and year, there are lots of things that we are not going to like or not be happy about. But we have to make the best of the situations and make the most of it.”
You talked about coming into the country and it being quite organised. As an IMSA competitor, is it a letter that you show up with, a form of visa or something stamped into your passport. How does it work when you show up at the desk?
Oliver Gavin: “I operate on a P1 visa, so that’s already on my passport. There were two other pieces of documentation that IMSA sent through to make sure we were on the list for immigration and particular flights and where we were going. We had to send all that through a long time before the 18th. So when I turned up at the airport in London, I went straight to a desk and then a U.S.immigration person. They then went down the list of people and said, ‘Yes, OK you’re on this flight and yes you’re with IMSA. We’ve got 11 others of you on this flight today.’ And I think half my flight was with IMSA people. It wasn’t very busy, so that’s the side of things were really straight-forward.
“Coming into the country on the plane, they have you filling out a form asking where you’ve been, what you’ve been doing and other bits and pieces. Once you are off the plane, they’d take that questionnaire off you, taking your temperatures and asking a few more questions. It was as thorough as it can be.”
Talk about the time away now from your family that this is going to bring. How hard is that going to be?
Oliver Gavin: “It is going to be a difficult period and something my wife and I spoke about, and also my kids. I spoke earlier about this being a difficult period for a lot of people and there are going to be lots of things that not a lot of us really want to do, but we have to in order to fulfil our jobs to get back racing and do the thing we love. We know there will be some sacrifices. My wife has been supportive 100 per cent, and my kids have been as well. We’ve had a fantastic time together these last three months. It’s three months at home with my wife and my kids that I just have never had before. So that side of it has been a huge positive. There’ve been loads of jobs done at home, some inside and some outside. But this has been a big plus.”
Jordan has been doing some karting and sim racing. What have you been doing, and is it important to actually drive something to stay sharp? Is staying in shape enough because you’ve been doing this so long that it’s going to come back quickly, or do you need to be behind the wheel of a cart or even a sim?
Tommy Milner: “I just did the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual that Corvette Racing supported with two cars… that was an interesting exercise. IMSA has had its own iRacing series, and I think those are very valuable for drivers. It has a lot of value in that it keeps your mind in racing. What we were driving isn’t exactly the real thing, and nothing will ever replace the real thing. But putting yourself in racing situations with traffic, those are all skills we have honed in real life that we can apply to these different virtual situations and can continue to learn from that. It’s hard to say that someone who has done a lot of sim racing can get into a car suddenly and go super-quick. But there is value for guys who have been doing it for a while to keep their minds in the game. Time will tell if the sim racing stuff has a lot of value or is of just a little value.
“We’ve only recently been able to get in our professional Chevy simulator to do some setup work for the upcoming races. It’s helpful for the drivers but also for the engineers to explore setup options and different tire temperature and compounds that we’ve found over the years that definitely apply to real life. It’s good for the team to get their mindset on Daytona and Sebring with these different temperatures and in some ways try to explore a bit of what’s going to happen. With the Corvette C8.R, we have quite a new platform and car. So there still is lots of learning and tweaking on things from Daytona and the WEC race at Austin, so there are a lot of ideas that the engineers want to try. There is nothing like real-life, on-track experience and we’re all looking forward to that next week.”
With the smaller GTLM Field this year, how do you see the dynamic working out?
Daytona wasn’t great with the result for points. It’s hard to make those points up without a lot of cars. Does that change your philosophy going forward?
Tommy Milner: “With a new car, we are approaching each race trying to learn as much as we can. Winning races is always the target, and that won’t change whether we had a bad Daytona or not. For Olly and I, it’s about continuing to push the car forward and going for race wins. That’s the best way to make up that deficit.
“With fewer cars, it’s harder to make up larger point gaps but it’s the same for everyone. Just because we had a bad Daytona doesn’t mean we are out of it. As always, the goal at every weekend especially early on is to finish as high as we possibly can. Winning obviously is No. 1, but getting points is big. That won’t change by any means. There is an expected learning process with the new Corvette. If there is something we can learn early on here that will help us down the road then we will certainly explore that.”
Looking at the structure of the IMSA calendar now, do you see having the three major enduros stack up at the end of the season as a problem given the early development of the C8.R?
Tommy Milner: “That’s an interesting point I haven’t considered. Usually, our two biggest races in the U.S. are the first two. Going into those with a new car is a big test of the car on the team and the drivers. Petit Le Mans has always been at the end so no matter if you have a new car or old car, you’ve got it figured out by the end of the season.
“I would expect that to be somewhat of the case again this year at Petit and Sebring, that the teams and drivers have figured their cars out and should provide for some pretty close racing.
“Sebring is a pretty tough track and we’ll have an opportunity here pretty early on and obviously not drive for 12 hours but have the experience of driving Sebring. We’ve done some testing there with this new Corvette so we have some experience there with it.
“Of course more time with the car is better. We had the one little problem at Daytona but the team had already identified the issue and made an update and fix for the WEC race in February. Everyone is confident that is solved and fixed. This whole year is going to be interesting with races quite close together is something we are going to be totally used to. It should be interesting.
“The team is up for it. They’ve taken this time with the opportunity to go through the lessons learned from Daytona and Austin to improve pit stop processes and other little details that sometimes get put aside earlier in the season because there often can be bigger things to focus on. All through testing, we’ve had a really good car.
“Daytona showed that the #3 car there was fast and competitive and reliable. That’s what we expected going into Daytona and that’s the feeling I get and the feeling most of the team has now. We aren’t looking to find problems with the car; we’re looking to find ways to make the car faster and win races.”