How important is continuity to a championship racing team?
Just ask Corvette Racing, which won five races (Daytona, Sebring, Lime Rock, Road America and VIR) and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship manufacturer, team and driver titles in 2016.
The four primary drivers for Corvette Racing enter 2017 competition having been together for seven seasons and with the factory team for a combined total of 40 years.
And they are not alone. Chevrolet, Pratt & Miller and program manager Doug Fehan have been together since the inception of the program.
Michelin has been with Corvette Racing since the end of 2003.
“Starting the season with the same group, same team, is an advantage,” said Tommy Milner, who teamed with co-driver Oliver Gavin to claim four wins and the 2016 WeatherTech GTLM driver championship.
“Oliver and I know each other well. He is such a great teammate.”
“Continuity is how we work,” adds Antonio Garcia. “It helps to have the same drivers. It is one less concern as you know all the drivers are competitive and consistent.
“Everybody knows what the other expects and what every driver needs,” said Garcia, who co-drives with Jan Magnussen.
People and Processes
“Continuity in racing is the primary building block to success,” said Fehan. “You build a nucleus. You have an atmosphere of success that people respect and you adopt it throughout the program. That helps when you bring in the new guys.
“All business is based on people. You can have the greatest product in the world, but if you don’t have great people it won’t remain successful.
“We can’t change much on the cars due to homologations and technical rules,” said team boss Gary Pratt. “So we work on the people and processes.
“When you have the same people, everyone knows what each person does and their strengths and weaknesses.
“We tune up the engineering staff a little each year to stay on the leading edge and spend more time in simulations.
“We work on areas where you can be better; we always work on refining our pit stops and our race strategies. Electronics are so complicated that we are always working to improve that area.”
But when a program has been successful for a long time, how do you keep everyone fresh?
“We try to keep our guys sharp –Ben Johnson (team manager) had the idea to set up CrossFit training three times a week for the team to keep everyone strong,” said Pratt.
While in some quarters familiarity breeds contempt, at Corvette Racing and at Michelin it breeds success.
Psychology Today reported in 2010 that: “In relationships, the problem is not with familiarity, but more about that to which we’re acclimating. For example, disrespectful, dishonoring, and negative energy all too often become familiar territory in relationships.
“These are the elements that cause contempt. Perhaps we’d be better off saying mediocrity or unhappiness breed contempt. When we feel valued by our partners, our relationships are inclined to thrive.”
“The competition provides all the catalysts anyone needs,” said Fehan. “The pride level runs so deep – you don’t want to let the team or your teammates down.”
“We develop personal relationships and leverage those relationships to help each other. We’ve stayed with Michelin and we know each other. The element of trust and bonding is unbreakable.”
“When we go to a new track, or have new cars, new rules or different conditions, we have a base of knowledge and the relationships to work from,” said Chris Baker, director of motorsport, Michelin North America.
“We’ve had long relationships with Porsche, Ferrari, Corvette and BMW and, now Ford CGR has done a great job of building trust and confidence as evidenced by their winning the race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on a tire strategy.”
Still the “New Guy”
With a dozen race wins, two IMSA championships and a pair of Le Mans victories on his Corvette Racing resume, Milner enters his seventh season with the team in 2017, yet is still the “new boy” at the team and low man on the Corvette Racing driver seniority list.
The 2017 season will be the 16th at Corvette Racing for his 2016 WeatherTech GTLM co-driver champion Oliver Gavin, the 14th season for Jan Magnussen, and the 9th for Antonio Garcia.
“I can’t believe that this is Tommy’s seventh year with Corvette Racing,” said Fehan. “I would have guessed fifth year. It has been great to watch him grow. Seven years and he’s still the newest regular driver.
“Maybe this year we should let him drive the team golf cart to the lunch tent or the Corvette Car Corral or something.”