Gavin and Beretta clinch GT1 Championship
Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Max Papis drove their No. 4 Compuware Corvette C6.R to a GT1 class victory in today's 1,000-mile Petit Le Mans endurance race at Road Atlanta. It was the sixth class title at Petit Le Mans for Corvette Racing, and the win clinched a third consecutive GT1 drivers championship for Gavin and Beretta. The trio completed 364 laps, finishing 50 laps ahead of the runner-up No. 27 Maserati MC 12, which retired after an accident. The No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6.R driven by Jan Magnussen, Johnny O'Connell, and Ron Fellows was sidelined in an accident after completing 15 laps.
"The traffic was suicidal at some points today," said Gavin. "People were doing the craziest stuff. I'm not sure whether it was the track, the conditions, or just people having a bad day, but there just were so many people going off the road. Fortunately everybody in the No. 4 car kept it on the road, the team did a fantastic job, and we came through without any issues."
The race was slowed by nine caution periods for accidents and off-course excursions. The first serious incident of the day occurred 20 minutes after the start when Magnussen was hit by Bryan Herta in the No. 26 LMP2 prototype in the high-speed downhill Esses. The impact sent Magnussen hard into the tire barrier at Turn 3, damaging the front end and left-front suspension. Magnussen got out of the car under his own power and was examined and released by the medical staff. Race officials subsequently penalized Herta for avoidable contact.
"I'm sore, but I'm OK," said Magnussen. "We had a great car and I was feeling really good about the race. Then something like this happens - he went for a gap that wasn't there. When you're half an hour into a 10-hour race, it's too big a chance to take.
"As far as wrecks go, this one ranks pretty high," Magnussen observed. "The fact that I can stand here now shows how strong the Corvette C6.R is. All of the safety devices built into the car absolutely did their job."
Course workers brought the car back to the paddock on a flatbed, and the Dan Binks-led crew surveyed the damage, which was too extensive to repair.
"There is no question that all of the safety systems, including the HANS device, performed admirably," said Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. "The crush zone in the nose box and the way the frame rail is designed to absorb an impact did exactly what they were supposed to do. When you build a car to that specification, the driver can avoid injury in a big hit like the one we had today.
"It was a huge disappointment for the No. 3 Corvette team because they had a great car for the race," Fehan said. "The upside is that the No. 4 Corvette ran flawlessly, the crew did eight perfect pit stops, and despite a great challenge from Maserati, Corvette once again prevailed."
Papis also had a close encounter of the prototype kind when he was hit by the No. 2 Audi LMP1 in the same corner where Magnussen was punted off course.
"I was pretty upset when I saw Jan's accident and my semi-accident with the Audi," said Papis. "There was absolutely no room to pass in that corner. People were taking a lot of risks, braking very late and diving under you at the last moment.
"We had a couple of very close calls, but we definitely deserved this win," Papis noted. "Even though we didn't have much opposition, we went as hard as we could to prove the Corvette is an invincible car. It's an amazing feeling to bring this car into the winner's circle. Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta are the two best teammates I could have."
Beretta extended his record for ALMS career victories with his 36th win today. He also became the first ALMS driver to win five championships - three with Corvette Racing and two with Oreca.
"It was unfortunate today that we lost the No. 3 Corvette C6.R because we could have finished one and two," said Beretta. "I'm very happy about winning in the No. 4 Corvette. Our biggest problem was to stay out of trouble. The car was quick, but I have never seen such traffic. I didn't have one lap where I didn't overtake or was overtaken.
"It's a very special moment to win the championship," Beretta continued. "The crew and engineers have done a perfect job since the beginning of the year. Everybody is working in the same direction. I have a fantastic teammate - Oliver is super quick, very straightforward, very clever, and a good guy. We work very well together; we don't even need to speak, we just understand each other from an expression or a gesture. We trust each other completely, and that is a very good thing."
"It's great to win the championship by winning here today," said Gavin, who tallied his 27th career ALMS victory. "This makes up somewhat for the huge disappointment of Le Mans. I'm delighted for everyone in the team, and especially for my engineer, Steve Cole, who's done a marvelous job all season. Ray Gongla, my crew chief, has been a rock, a real leader, with his cool head and his ability to keep talking us through the races. All of the team managers - Gary Pratt, Doug Fehan and Steve Wesoloski - have been at the helm, steering the ship along. Olivier has done a fantastic job, and it's marvelous to have Max back in the car."
Corvette Racing's next event is the Monterey Sports Car Championships at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., on Saturday, Oct. 20. SPEED Channel will televise the ALMS season finale live starting at 5:30 p.m. ET.