By Thursday evening, Corvette Racing’s chances of victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans was in doubt, following a heavy accident that resulted in the withdrawal of its No. 63 car and leaving only one factory Corvette C7.R to fly the flag.
While the odds were stacked against them, the Pratt & Miller squad persevered, with Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor not only driving a flawless race, but taking their Corvette to GTE-Pro class honors, breaking a four-year dry spell at LeMans.
For Corvette Racing Program Manager Doug Fehan, the team’s 16th consecutive trip to the French endurance classic was one of the most memorable yet, based on how well they performed under pressure.
“It creates adversity,” Fehan told Sportscar365. “As I said to the crowd, on several of the speeches I gave following that, for us, and for me and for the team, we’ve tried to develop an attitude that suggests that adversity is just opportunity dressed a little different way.
“That huge amount of adversity caused us to do our normal thing. The normal response is that we gather up, and rather than dwell on the fact that we have a car that’s severely damaged and we’re not going to be able to race it, let’s look at what that entails.”
Fehan credited the safety features of the production-based C7.R for allowing Jan Magnussen to walk away from the massive accident in qualifying, which was triggered by a pebble that got into the foot box and caused the throttle to stick wide open.
With no spare chassis, the team went to work focusing entirely on its No. 64 car, which has historically struggled in terms of performance in recent years, both at Le Mans and in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.
“The eyes were upon us because we were down and out,” Fehan said. “We only had a single car, one bullet in the chamber, what were our chances?
“But I said, ‘Guys, there’s only one step on the top of the podium.’ We only needed one car to do this and we were the only team there that I thought was truly capable of pulling together.”
As arguably the most experienced and successful team in the modern era at Le Mans, Corvette went to work to ensure that every aspect of its now single-car entry was perfected, with the crew from the fallen No. 63 car also lending a helping hand.
“That was the attitude we took going into the whole deal,” Fehan said. “We’re going to show the world we can do this with a single car.
“All of the guys pitched in on Friday and went over that thing with a fine-tooth comb. They took their time, every inch of that thing was massaged. Then we put it on the grid.”
While having started second-to-last due to a disappointing qualifying effort, Fehan knew they’d be in a solid position if they kept to their plan.
“The guy who spends the least amount of time in pit lane is going to win and that’s exactly what we did,” he said. “Fuel, tires, driver [change]. One brake change. That was it. The hood or rear deck never came off the car.
“We’ve done that several times before and each time we have done that, we’ve won.”
That proved to be key, as the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia, which the No. 64 car had battled all race, suffered gearbox failure in the closing hours, giving Gavin, Milner and Taylor clear sailing to take the win.
It was a special day for Corvette, with Ed Welburn, GM’s VP of Global Design, in attendance at Le Mans for the first time, where he witnessed the factory squad’s eighth class victory thanks to a perfect execution of the race.
For Fehan, it’s a weekend he’ll never forget.
“You only get the first win once, which is always the most emotional,” he said. “Then the rest of them group together because any win at Le Mans is incredible.
“But I would say for me, this would be the second-most important win we’ve had, just because what we had to do to pull it together to make it happen.
“We were also coming off a dry spell. We had never gone three years in a row without winning. That hadn’t happened in our history.
“That’s kind of imposing, that level of pressure. Especially when you lose a car, you think, ‘Man, my luck has turned to s*** here.’
“We needed this win. We needed this win for ourselves internally. We needed this win for our drivers. We needed it for Jan, for Olly, Jordan and Tommy.”