Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan said practice and preparation ensured the team was ready when Antonio Garcia brought his damaged No. 3 Corvette C7.R behind the wall with his championship hopes on life support.
Garcia spun into the wall when exiting the pits under yellow with just over two and a half hours to go in Saturday’s Motul Petit Le Mans, inflicting significant damage to the car and causing the Pratt & Miller crew to put all of their training and experience to the test.
With their closest championship rivals, the No. 67 Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon still very much in contention, the team needed to act quickly to salvage any hope of a third-straight GT Le Mans drivers’ crown.
Remarkably, the car spent just five and a half minutes behind the wall, giving Garcia the chance to secure his and Jan Magnussen’s second consecutive GTLM drivers’ championship.
“Over the years, if you followed Corvette Racing, you know that our capabilities in times of need are pretty much unequaled in the entire world of racing,” Fehan told Sporscar365. “Today was no different.
“What you saw those guys do, taking that car behind the pit wall, tear that front end off and put a new one on, and get it out inside of two laps and have it run like it never had a problem at all is simply where the championship was won.
“It was won in the garage. That’s not to diminish the importance of the drivers, but today that’s what brought it home. It was an amazing spectacle.
“We choreograph that, we plan that, we know exactly where we’re going. Each guy has an assigned job. There’s always a little bit of chaos associated with it, but at the end of the day they all knew exactly where they needed to go.
“They know the sequence of the car coming apart and they know the sequence of the car coming together.
“They know when they get that new nose pinned on there, they know when the floor needs to be pinned up, they know that’s their assigned job. That’s the result of practice. Tonight, it paid dividends.”
Fehan said the triumph ranks among the most memorable in the 20-year history of the program.
“We’ve won races in a lot of different ways,” he said. “I have to say, tonight would certainly rank top three when it comes to the entire group pulling together to make everything happen.
“We only had a couple hours in which to do it. It’s not like we had six or seven or eight hours. This makes this one pretty special, and I think this gets logged in everybody’s mind, that never give up attitude.
“When you have to come back and make stuff happen and you do it a few times, you know you can do it. These guys knew they could do it.
“And by the way, I think our fans knew we could do it, too, and our competitors now know that we can do it.”
While Magnussen and Garcia took home the drivers’ title, Ford claimed its first GTLM manufacturers’ championship by just starting Saturday’s ten-hour enduro.
The No. 67 Ford of title rivals Briscoe, Westbrook and Dixon came home fifth in class after fading late.
Garcia Grateful to Overcome “Embarrassing Moment”
Garcia admitted he thought his championship bid was over in the moments after his accident leaving pit lane.
The Spaniard credited the team for helping him regain his focus and the sister No. 4 entry for its help in keeping the No. 67 Ford out of contention to steal the title away.
“It went from one of my best races to the most embarrassing moment of my career,” said Garcia. “That pit out really caught me.
“It was under yellow so I left my guard unattended for a fraction and I didn’t expect that. It was completely my own mistake, and I thought it was done. But that’s the thing about Corvette Racing.
“All the way to that point, the No. 4 car was our bodyguard, and from that point on they went on full charge. That’s the key thing about Corvette Racing: the team work.
“I have to thank Olly [Gavin], Marcel [Fassler], and Tommy [Milner] for keeping the pressure up on the No. 67 because they couldn’t cruise around to win the championship. They had to go for it.
“That led to some mistakes and instead of having a very easy race after my mistake they really had to go for it. I’m very, very grateful for the whole Corvette team.”