Corvette Racing has been one of the most successful teams in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with eight victories since its debut in 1999.
A driving force behind that success is Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan, who has worked with the team throughout its participation at Le Mans. Last night, Fehan was presented with the prestigious Spirit of Le Mans Trophy, which is presented annually by the Automobile Club l’Ouest (ACO) – which organizes the 24 Hours of Le Mans – to a person who has been instrumental in the growth in stature of the legendary endurance event.
"I am deeply honored and grateful to receive the esteemed Spirit of Le Mans award," said Fehan. “To be in a group that includes some of endurance racing’s most famous names is extremely humbling."
The ACO has presented the award every year since 2001. Among previous recipients are legendary sports car drivers Derek Bell, Phil Hill, Jacky Ickx and eight-time winner Tom Kristensen; former General Motors program manager Herb Fishel; and American Le Mans Series founder and current International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) vice chairman Don Panoz.
LATE SWITCH FORCES BLEEKEMOLEN AND MACNEIL INTO “IRON MAN" DUTY
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a grueling test under the best of circumstances, with every team expecting a three-driver lineup to share the load over 24 hours of hard racing.
For IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship regulars Cooper MacNeil and Jeroen Bleekemolen, the task got a bit tougher on Saturday morning. Their teammate, Bret Curtis, crashed the No. 79 Porsche on Thursday evening, leaving it too badly damaged to be repaired for the race.
Yesterday, the team was able to secure another car with strong ties to the United States, as it was the same Porsche raced in last year’s American Le Mans Series by current TUDOR United SportsCar Championship team, Paul Miller Racing.
With the replacement car in hand, the team has planned to utilize its current regular driver, Sebastien Crubile, to complete the driver lineup. However, ACO officials would not allow Crubile to race, as he did not fulfill the required minimum amount of laps in night practice. With no other replacement drivers available, the team elected to go forward with only a two-driver lineup consisting of 2013 ALMS GTC champions, Bleekemolen and MacNeil.
The move also forced the team to move up from the GTE Am class – which requires three-driver lineups – to the GTE Pro class, which is dominated by factory-supported teams but does allow lineups of only two drivers.
“Because we’re moving to the Pro category, we could have added one of the drivers that dropped out of the No. 99 Aston [Martin], but Jeroen and I decided that we wanted to do it by ourselves, because it makes a good story," MacNeil said. “I think we’re up to the challenge. Hopefully, we don’t have any issues and just stay steady and keep running."
The team did have early challenges in the race, with Bleekemolen suffering from a cut left-rear tire that forced him to limp the car around the 8.469-mile circuit for an unscheduled pit stop. It was just another hurdle in a week with many twists and turns.
“It’s been crazy," Bleekemolen said. “We haven’t really known what was going to happen. We had no clue if we were going to be able to run at all, if we got a third driver or not, which class we would be in, and we only found out, like, five minutes before warm up. It was a bit of a crazy thing. I’ve never experienced that before."
TUDOR CHAMPIONSHIP REGULARS IN EARLY CONTENTION
Despite tricky conditions in which it rained off and on a couple times through the early stages of the 24 hours, two TUDOR Championship regular teams are well within striking distance of their class lead, albeit with a long way still to go.
The two-car Corvette Racing team ran 1-2 in the GTE Pro class for a period early in the race. With four-and-a-half hours gone in the race, the No. 74 Corvette C7.R driven by Tommy Milner held the class lead, while Jordan Taylor was running sixth and still on the lead lap in the No. 73 Corvette.
In the GTE Am class, the No. 77 Dempsey Racing-Proton Porsche entry led a substantial portion of the early hours, as Porsche factory driver Patrick Long opened the race with a triple stint behind the wheel. At the same four-hour and 30-minute mark, Hollywood star Patrick Dempsey was holding down third place in class.
And in the LM P2 category, OAK Racing – which is fielding a full-time TUDOR Championship Prototype team – held the class lead with Alex Brundle behind the wheel of its No. 35 Ligier-Honda prototype. Brundle is the son of legendary British racer Martin Brundle, who won the 1990 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 1988 World Sportscar Championship.