Corvette Racing Program Manager Doug Fehan has praised the FIA and ACO’s GTE-Pro class Balance of Performance from last weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, in what resulted in one of the most competitive races in recent history at Circuit de la Sarthe.
Cars from all five manufacturers finished in the top-five in the hotly contested category, led by Aston Martin Racing, which fought the Pratt & Miller-run Corvette squad for top class honors in a frantic final hour.
While the No. 63 Corvette C7.R of Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor were forced to settle for a third place class finish, after Taylor faded late on worn tires, Fehan still gave high marks to the Le Mans-specific BoP, which he said delivered a far more competitive race than last year.
“I think it’s a testament to the hard work that the sanctioning bodies put in for Balance of Performance,” Fehan told Sportscar365.
“I don’t think anybody can complain about what they saw over the last 24 hours as far as that’s concerned. [For us], great team, great race car, some good fortune, just not enough. ”
Aston Martin ended the race-long battle with class honors, thanks to an impressive closing stint by Jonny Adam in the No. 97 Vantage GTE that he shared with Darren Turner and Le Mans rookie Daniel Serra, who recorded the category’s fastest race lap.
All five cars were within six-tenths of a second in fastest race laps, compared to last year, which saw nearly a two-second delta between the manufacturers.
Prodrive Chairman David Richards, who celebrated on the top step of the podium in the British manufacturer’s first GTE-Pro class win at Le Mans, said it was an extraordinary achievement to have all cars in the fight.
“It was one of those races where it could have gone any way and right from the beginning, all the GT cars were very well matched,” Richards told Sportscar365.
“We had five cars on the same lap and five different manufacturers on the same lap at the end of the race, so I think people will look back on this as a very historic race.”
Ford and Ferrari, which dominated last year’s event in what AMR Managing Director John Gaw referred to a “two-tier” race, were also in the mix, although delayed due to various issues.
The No. 67 Ford GT fought back from a shifting issue to snatch second in class on the final lap, despite not having the ultimate race pace.
“I actually was thinking about it an hour or two before the end of the race, and just looking at the lineup there’s a Corvette, there’s an Aston, a Ferrari, a Ford. Everybody was up there in the mix,” Ford Chip Ganassi Racing IMSA Team Principal Mike O’Gara told Sportscar365.
“I’m not sure the ACO could have asked for anything more. I think the weather may have caught some people out with setup and tire selection and stuff like that.
“I think that some people thought we were just going to show up on race day and run away… but we’ve been pushing from the beginning.
“Hopefully this shows everybody that we just didn’t have the pace this year.”
Accidents for both the No. 82 Risi Competizione and No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTEs, meanwhile, put a major dent in the Prancing Horse’s hopes of victory, although the No. 71 car of Davide Rigon, Sam Bird and Miguel Molina came home fifth in class, one lap behind the class-winning Aston.
Porsche, which gave its mid-engined 911 RSR a fourth place class finish in its Le Mans debut, however, wasn’t as complimentary on the BoP, after struggling in the speed traps and getting only a 8kg weight break following qualifying in the only BoP change of race week.
Head of Porsche Motorsport Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser said the race, like last year, still ultimately came down to a battle between two manufacturers, although it was heavily improved.
“The outcome was these two cars were fighting for the final result is still something to do, I would say, but way better than what we’ve seen before. Way better,” he said. “This is a general positive I would say.”
Walliser said he would generally be supportive of again utilizing a Le Mans-specific BoP for the class in 2018, after the strides made from this year’s event.
“It worked, we have to go in more details,” he said. “We know the cars better, and there will be new cars [in 2018], so we will see. But in general, I would say [the BoP] was not so bad.”
And while being denied its 9th class win at Le Mans, Fehan said he was pleased that the Corvettes were at least in the hunt all race long, something he couldn’t have said 12 months ago.
“These people have worked very, very, very hard to try and come up with a plan that will provide what we saw today, and they deserve some serious credit for what they’ve accomplished,” Fehan said.
Ryan Myrehn and James Newbold contributed to this report