A 24-hour race came down to 0.034 seconds Sunday as Corvette Racing won the 54th Rolex 24 At Daytona when the team’s pair of Chevrolet Corvette C7.R race cars finished 1-2 in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class.
Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Marcel Fässler drove the winning No. 4 Corvette C7.R with Gavin holding off teammate Antonio Garcia in the No. 3 Corvette C7.R. The two finished side-by-side with Gavin taking the checkered flag by a matter of inches. Each of the Corvettes completed 722 laps for 2,570.32 miles. The margin of victory set a Rolex 24 record.
It’s the second time Corvette Racing finished 1-2 in class at the Rolex 24; the first came in 2001 when a pair of Corvette C5-Rs placed first and fourth overall. This was the first Rolex 24 victory for the Gavin-Milner-Fässler trio.
The No. 4 Corvette C7.R also took an early lead in the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup’s GTLM standings. The competition is a four-race series of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s four long-distance events with points for segment winners that go toward an end-of-season championship.
The No. 3 Corvette C7.R also won the DEKRA Green Award for best performance combined with fuel efficiency in the GTLM class.
Both Corvette C7.Rs took turns leading in GTLM in the opening 12 hours. Milner drove two triple-stints into the night while Gavin and Magnussen battled in the opening hours. Even near the 20-hour mark, the top five in GTLM were within a minute.
The final three hours told the story, as the No. 4 Corvette rebounded from a pit-lane penalty with a strategic plan that allowed Gavin to drive the final one hour, 45 minutes on one pit stop.
He made the winning pass with 35 minutes left and had to contend late with the hard-charging Garcia, whose No. 3 Corvette was on a slightly different fuel strategy. It stopped three times in the final two-and-a-half hours. Rockenfeller drove a three-hour, 20-minute triple stint before handing off to Garcia for the end of the race. He pitted for the final time with 37 minutes left – 12 minutes later than Gavin. With a tank of E20 and fresh Michelin tires, Garcia re-entered the race third but moved up to second with 26 minutes left.
He steadily reeled in Gavin, and the two Corvettes were nose-to-tail with 10 minutes left. Garcia moved ahead with a late-race pass into Turn 1 on Gavin, who battled back at the exit of the corner to retake the lead.
“I think it was just our ability to drive the car at the limit every lap and do it comfortably and not sort of put ourselves in a position where we were fighting the car too much,” said Tommy Milner. “I think we all had our gripes with the car in places, but the car was comfortable to drive the whole race. I mean, the guys worked super hard for us in the pits just making small tweaks however they could to make the car better.”
In describing that battle to the finish, Oliver Gavin said, “Just that one lap coming down into turn one and coming off the tri oval, and Antonio got a really good tow by me and he was by me, and he left his brake just a tiny bit too late as he went into turn one. He was almost on the lock stop sideways and he just lost the rear of the car. I managed to sneak back the inside, and he was really close as we came off the corner.
“But we didn’t touch. Then on the last lap I was thinking I had just enough on him, but then he towed up behind me. It was like the line was just going away from me. I couldn’t get to the line fast enough. I’ve just seen a picture of it, actually, and it was pretty close. I’m thrilled to get the victory; it’s my first one here. Great to share it Tommy and Marcel; they drove brilliantly throughout the race.”