Corvette Racing entered last year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona in a state of newness. But with a year of development of the new Corvette C7.R in the bank, the 2015 Rolex 24 and for that matter the rest of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season should make for a smoother experience.
Consider the factory Corvette squad hadn’t raced at Daytona since scoring its overall win in 2001. Also consider the C7.R was making its debut, as was the TUDOR Championship as a whole with the amalgamation of the American Le Mans Series and GRAND-AM Rolex Series.
Still, there were promising signs from the outset that laid the groundwork for a near-championship winning first season in the GT Le Mans class.
Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Robin Liddell took the No. 4 car into podium contention, before encountering gearbox issues in the final hours. A transmission bearing failure resigned them to fifth after running second.
“Once we got into the swing of things, in races last year we were competitive, strong, and able to fight the Porsche,” Gavin told Sportscar365. “It looked like into the last three hours, we’d be stronger than Porsche, and we’d be able to overtake them and beat them. But the transmission issue ended our challenge and our race.
“The beginning of last year was unusual and different for everyone in the series, because of the combination, a lot of teams coming here that hadn’t run at Daytona before or for a long time, and understanding what the C7.R would take and what it needs to be quick. Now, we have all of that in the bank.”
The sister No. 3 of Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Ryan Briscoe dealt with overheating issues in the race and wasn’t a real factor.
However, typical chassis, aero and engine developments have followed over the last 12 months.
Signs of the team’s progress occurred this offseason with a solid three days of testing at NOLA Motorsports Park. A second test at another circuit was halted after a day due to rain.
Gavin and Milner went winless in 2014, while Garcia and Magnussen reeled off the year’s most impressive run in any of the four classes, as the only pairing to win four races in a row, achieved from Long Beach through Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
Their championship challenge tailed off after a midseason Balance of Performance adjustment helped bring the field closer, particularly the Dodge Viper SRT GTS-Rs.
The Corvettes gained 25 kg ahead of the Indianapolis round and were never on the leading pace from there, even despite a later pre-Circuit of the Americas adjustment where the Corvettes were issued a 15 kg minimum weight reduction in addition to a 0.3 mm larger air restrictor.
Still, Garcia looked back on the 2014 season with fondness rather than frustration.
“Altogether, it still was a very nice year in GTLM last year,” he said. “The good point is that we just got to carry over the good races from ALMS anyways. We took that into the new series and we showed GTLM was very competitive and fun racing.
“It’s definitely a shame that Viper is no longer with us. They were very strong last year. To lose a factory is not good for sure. Still with Porsche, Ferrari and BMW, we have three pretty decent rivals in GTLM, with very professional teams and drivers.”
Now with another restrictor increase (0.6 mm) and the 25 kg minimum weight reduction for 2015, as well as the testing improvements, Garcia is optimistic the car’s in a much better spot now than it was this time a year ago.
“It’s definitely way better than it was last year,” he said. “Nobody knew how the car would behave during the race. Then it didn’t go the way we needed it to. At some point we hit trouble, with some minor things. But in GT you cannot have anything go wrong!
“After a season, we proved we could do well and by Le Mans we had an almost trouble-free race. We have a lot more data. We’ve done a lot of work on the car, and that’s a good point on the preparation.”
Briscoe returns with Garcia and Magnussen in the No. 3 car, while newly signed Team Penske IndyCar driver Simon Pagenaud alongside Gavin and Milner in the No. 4. Gavin spoke highly of Corvette Racing’s newest recruit.
“Simon’s record speaks for itself,” Gavin said. “He has so much experience, and is so quick in so many different cars. Now he’s a Penske driver in IndyCar, and Roger will never employ someone that’s not absolutely top-dollar.”
Corvette felt confident enough with its two days of Roar testing to pack up early after Saturday’s running.
The team didn’t lead any of the six dry sessions, but was rarely more than two or three tenths of a second off the pace.
The lessons gained and typical level of preparation should see the team in podium contention once more to kick off the 2015 campaign, and determined to overturn some of the disappointments that peppered 2014.