Corvette Racing Rolex 24 Press Conference
JIM CAMPBELL, CHEVROLET U.S. VICE PRESIDENT, PERFORMANCE VEHICLES AND MOTORSPORTS; DOUG FEHAN, CORVETTE RACING PROGRAM MANAGER; AND CORVETTE RACING DRIVERS OLIVER GAVIN AND JAN MAGNUSSEN, met with members of the media today at Daytona International Speedway to discuss the 20th season of competition for Corvette Racing.
JIM, WELCOME BACK TO DAYTONA. I KNOW THIS PLACE IS VERY SPECIAL FOR YOU. THIS ONE MUST BE EVEN MORE SPECIAL.
JIM CAMPBELL: “It's great to be with everybody. Daytona is special because this is where it started for this program in January of 1999. It was a special beginning of an amazing journey that is now going into its 20th year. We couldn't have been prouder of the teamwork that has been demonstrated year after year and race by race by this program. We are extremely proud that this is the 199th event for Corvette Racing, and we have 106 victories including three wins here in seven times with Corvette. Obviously 2001 was uniquely special with Ron Fellows, Johnny O'Connell, Chris Kniefel and Franck Freon because they not only won the class but won overall. There has been a lot of success with this program with 12 Manufacturer Championships and 11 Driver Championships. What I'm really proud of are the back-to-back championships – Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen last year, and Tommy Milner the year before. So we begin the journey here again.
“Tech transfer… what we have learned on the racetrack has helped us for sure build better Corvettes and better Corvette powertrains for the showroom and street. Learning through this series has helped us tremendously. The Corvette customers and owners are the reason we do this program. We couldn't do it without their passion and support.”
IT'S YOUR 20TH SEASON BUT ALSO YOUR 15TH WITH MICHELIN. HOW KEY HAS THAT BEEN FROM A RACING AND AUTOMOTIVE STANDPOINT?
JIM CAMPBELL: “Our relationship with Michelin is very special not only on the OEM side but also on the racing side. We made a switch in racing first. When we went to Michelin, and we saw terrific results and a partnership on the track, which is a combination of the tire technology and also the preparation of the cars and strategy. Then we put Michelins on our highest performance Corvette models – models like the Z06 and ZR1 in the sixth generation. Now in the seventh generation, which we are deep into now, all of our Corvettes have Michelin tires. The engineer on our race program – Lee Willard from Michelin – is the same engineer who works with Tadge Juechter, our chief engineer on the production Corvette. We take the learnings right from the track. It's not just a saying. It's what we do. We drive that technology to make the road car better. Michelin is part of that equation for us.”
FOR OLIVER, WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST CONCERN GOING INTO THE WEEKEND? AND DO YOU DRIVE A CORVETTE ON YOUR PERSONAL TIME?
“My biggest concern I suppose is the traffic here. During the night is quite a challenge. Certainly there are a lot of prototype cars. There is a high level of rookies in the race. Some of them are very young and are coming into sports car racing for the first time. So you have to predict how they are going to behave and react to that on the circuit. This race has a habit of seeing things happen at night, but in the last two hours everyone seems to get back together and you have this mad dash to the line. You want to keep your car in one piece and your driver somewhat fresh for the last two hours.
“And yes! I do drive a Corvette Z06 at home. It's a huge amount of fun and I really enjoy it!”
DOUG, THIS TEAM HAS HAD SO MUCH SUCCESS HERE. DO YOU LOOK AT THAT SUCCESS WHEN YOU PUT THE STRATEGY TOGETHER, OR DO YOU NEED TO START ALMOST FROM SCRATCH EVERY YEAR?
DOUG FEHAN: “If anyone has a strategy for a 24-hour race, I'd like to meet them and find out what that is. It has evolved into a 24-hour sprint race. The green flag drops, you hammer it as hard as you can and you follow three simple things: keep it on the track, don't break anything and don't run into anybody. If you can do those three things for 24 hours and you have a darn good chance of being up front. The equipment today across the board is so reliable and at such a performance level that you don't take it easy for the first six hours, take it easy and then see where you are. If you aren't prepared to run on the lead lap for every lap, you aren't prepared to win. That's the way you have to approach this race.”
JAN, YOU'RE STARTING ON POLE TOMORROW IN GTLM. WHAT IS YOUR MINDSET FOR THE START?
JAN MAGNUSSEN: “The way the racing has been here at Daytona the last couple of years has been pretty much sprint racing between pit stops. Doug is right… you can't go out and damage the car and put yourself in a bad position early on. At the same time, you have to be in the fight and you have to push the other guys to try and see what they have for the end of the race while at the same time keep your car in one piece to hand it off to the next guy perfectly every time. It is the last two hours that are important, but there is a lot of work that goes on before that when we have a chance to do small setup changes to the car to make sure everything is right for the end of the race. The track changes a lot over 24 hours, so we have to work with the car and Michelin to make sure we have the best and fastest car possible. I'm as careful as I can be to hand the car over to the next guy, but we're racing. Everyone is pushing hard. You'll have 8-10 cars running nose to tail throughout. It's a race from the beginning.”
THE DRIVERS JUST CAME FROM THE CORVETTE CORRAL AND HUNG OUT WITH THE CORVETTE OWNERS THAT ARE HERE. WHAT KIND OF EXCITEMENT DO THEY GENERATE FOR YOU?
JIM CAMPBELL: “The Corvette customers and owners – whether they are here or following around the world – are the reason we do this program. We want to learn on the racetrack to make the production car for the road even better in every respect. I think we've done that. The passion and loyalty to Corvette and Chevrolet… we see it increase every year. It's been a fantastic journey for the last 20 years.
“There are some Corvette customers in the Corral this weekend who were here with Doug and I in 1999 when we were here. They parked their Corvettes on the backstretch. We rented the two suites that used to be back there, and they stayed up with us all night in support of us. Many of them are still here, and there are a lot of new ones who joined us along the way.”
JAN MAGNUSSEN: “It's a great feeling every time we go and visit the Corvette Corral and see all the cars that they drive to support us. There's always a lot of new faces, but there also are a bunch of people who come year after year, and race after race. It's the same people you meet at each track. I've been with the team for the 15th season, and we are all very friendly with each other. They are so happy to be there, to ask about the race and how our families are doing. It's a very nice feeling. There are a lot of jobs for drivers on the weekend. Most of it is stressful and you don't want to do it! You want to concentration on what you are supposed to be doing. But the Corral is a very nice place to go to see people who are there rooting for you, that are there for you, winning with you and losing with you.”
OLIVER GAVIN: “All the fans in the Corvette Corral are very passionate. They're always asking us about stuff on the racecar but also on things like the new Corvette ZR1 that just came out. That was a pretty exciting car that I managed to do a little bit of work on with Tadge and the team at Michelin. That car has now come out so there are questions about that phenomenal piece. That absolutely sums out how the Corvette Racing program has worked with the road car guys in developing and bringing that technology from the track to the road – whether you're looking at aero pieces or tires technologies. Those are the things they want to ask us about and talk about. You feel like it's part of a passionate family. It's fantastic.”
DOUG FEHAN: “We have to think about something here when we talk about Corvette Corral. In our last full year of production, we built and sold 40,689 Corvettes. For all intents and purposes, our advertising and marketing is here at the racetrack and at the Corvette Corral. When a marketing department talks about knowing their customer, they can tell you that he or she is 54 years old, has an average income of some number, two kids in college and one pet. At Corvette and Corvette Racing, we know our customers as Jim and Charley and their dog, Herbie… all of which at some point in time we have autographed or autographed something for them! The Corvette Corral gives us a very unique glance into our customer. It gives us the ability to drive that passion in them to continue to buy our product. We are here for one reason: to sell cars. That's the bottom line. We just happen to use one of the most exciting environments in the world to do so. It's been very effective for us at Corvette Racing. The Corvette Corral is far more than just glad-handing. It's our marketing tool. We bring in those customers in and we make them feel part of our family. We have achieved that, and those sales numbers are a testament to that. The Corvette Corral is an invaluable tool for us to sell vehicles.”
JIM, GIVEN THAT THE DAYTONA 500 IS COMING UP IN A COUPLE OF WEEKS, WHAT IS YOUR GOAL FOR THE NEW CAMARO (ZL1 IN THE MONSTER ENERGY SERIES)?
“We are definitely looking forward to bringing the Camaro ZL1 to the racetrack. If you look the Gen Six car, which was the Chevrolet SS, that vehicle on the road had a fuel-injected V8, rear-wheel drive and manual transmission for the showroom. The race car was a fuel-injected V8, rear-wheel drive and manual transmission for the track. It was the most authentic entry in NASCAR from track to showroom. We wanted to keep that principle intact as we went forward, and Camaro was the right place for us to do it. The ZL1 is a very special moniker within Chevrolet. In the first generation, it was the highest horsepower Camaro we offered. We brought the ZL1 moniker back in the fifth generation as the most powerful and most capable Camaro. And we did it again in 2017 with the sixth-generation of the Camaro with the ZL1 and ZL1 1LE, which we actually introduced here at Daytona. That connection point is very important. And by the way, we race Camaro in the Xfinity Series, we race it in the Pirelli World Challenge GTS category, and we race it in the NHRA Stock, Super Stock Sportsman classes and up through Funny Car. This is another logical extension for us with racing the Camaro in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series.Comment