After the #52 AF Corse Ferrari 488 lost a lap with suspension damage, the GTE Pro battle at the 89th 24 Hours of Le Mans was distilled into a battle between a Ferrari #51 and a Corvette #63 driven by IMSA full-timers Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor and endurance racers. Nicky Catsburg’s third regular.
Throughout the cooler night conditions, the two cars ran 20 seconds apart, matching each other’s laps, but as the heat intensified towards the end of the race, the Corvette’s deficit doubled. Nonetheless, the performance of the American car is particularly noteworthy given that this is the first race of the C8.R at Le Mans, last year’s planned foray to France has been canceled due to travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Drivers can see both the positives and the negatives of a 41,686-second drop from wins after 24 hours of racing.
“I don’t know if I’d prefer to go back two seconds, 10 seconds, 40 seconds or three laps,” said Garcia, who has donned a helmet of respect for his late friend and mentor Adrian Campos. “I thought it was just as painful!
“We’ve been within 30 seconds between the two cars for 24 hours. I have to say it does hurt a little. When you come so close, it’s hard. But when you do your best, you run a near perfect race and someone else does a little better than you, you have to congratulate them.
“There’s nothing we can do. I think we ran a perfect race regardless of our position. We finished second but very close for sure. They only did 40 seconds better than us. I’m so happy for the team, crew #63, Jordan and Nicky – all six drivers had a very, very good drive and helped develop this Corvette and of course all the engineers.
“So despite the #64 having so much trouble, up until now we’ve all worked together to get the most out of the C8.R. To be sure, our two cars up front will put more pressure on the #51. We were both alone so it was a one on one fight between Corvette and Ferrari. We are close.
“When you are on the podium you always want a little bit more. I want to give Corvette its first Le Mans win on the C8.R. Now we have to wait until next year and work even harder.”
Taylor, who won Le Mans alongside Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner in the C7.R in 2015, shared his team-mate’s sentiments, observing: “It’s hard to complain about a podium at Le Mans. But when you get close to this, it’s hard to take. People Corvette Racing did a great job. We had no problems with our car. We executed the strategy very well and in the pitlane and on the track, there were no mistakes.
“For our first appearance at Le Mans in C8. R, we should be quite proud to be coming home second against some of the cars that have run here the last few years.”
Catsburg added: “This is my third time at Le Mans, and the first two times we didn’t finish anywhere. Being in the fight until the last lap was really cool. It went well. C8. R is very good. I had some good errands and nothing bad happened.
“I will go home feeling positive. P2 felt like a loss, but on the way home I was like, ‘We finished P2 at Le Mans. That’s not so bad!’ We had a cool fight with Ferrari, and I think we did well.”
For the #64 team of Nick Tandy, Tommy Milner and Alexander Sims, the race followed the same snakebite theme seen in their attempt at Corvette #4 at this year’s IMSA – fast but unlucky.
Ironically, it was the Ferrari #51 that crippled their effort by crashing into the ‘Vette early in the ceremonial pre-race lap. The diffuser on the #64 was damaged enough to need to be replaced at the fifth hour. Then, the car lost a few more laps due to alternator, transmission and clutch problems and came home sixth.
“In the end we turned it into a test session in many ways,” Milner said. “We are trying to go as fast as possible to learn as much as possible about the C8. R and find whatever in the future may or may not be a problem. Our focus shifts from chasing race wins to helping the #63 do whatever it takes to make them win. Unfortunately it didn’t materialize; I think Ferrari has a bit too much speed compared to the others.”
Tandy added: “I am proud of how we managed to get the speed out of the car. Honestly, it’s probably the best race car I’ve ever driven at this circuit – to be consistently fast and inspire confidence… I’m so proud of everyone who worked to give us a car of such performance.”
Jim Campbell, Chevrolet USA VP of performance and motorsports described the runner-up finish as “a significant achievement when we debuted the mid-engine Corvette C8.R at Le Mans. To be on the podium… very satisfying. This is a testament to the hard work and determination of our Corvette production and racing team.
“The support for Corvette owners and fans from around the world has been incredible. The results of this race are dedicated to our customers and supporters.”
#64 Corvette C8.R from Tommy Milner, Nick Tandy, Alexander Sims
Photo by: Eric Le Galliot