With a new car and renewed hopes, Richard Westbrook is upbeat about Corvette Racing’s chances in this weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The GM factory driver, who joins Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin at the wheel of the new Pratt & Miller-built No. 74 Corvette C7.R, is looking to rebound after a disappointing outing in 2013, which saw the previous-generation C6.R struggle against the FIA World Endurance Championship regulars in GTE-Pro.
“It was very frustrating last year, but in some ways, it wasn’t as bad as 2011 and 2012 when we had very comfortable leads [and had it slip away],” Westbrook told Sportscar365.
“They’re the two years I look back on. 2013, I just scratched that from my head immediately. That was just a one-off. It didn’t work out and that will never happen again.”
Westbrook, who drives Spirit of Daytona’s Corvette DP full-time in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, got his first taste of the C7.R last month at the team’s traditional pre-Le Mans private test at Road America.
The Englishman immediately felt an improvement over GM’s predecessor, which was the dominant force in North America the past two years, having claimed back-to-back ALMS GT titles, not to mention class honors at Le Mans in 2011.
“When I look back at compared to the C6.R, it was the quickest we got up to speed,” Westbrook said. “It was more difficult to get the confidence in the C6.R. Obviously once you were up to speed, it gave you quite a bit of confidence but with the C7.R, you could just hop straight into it. I felt much more at ease.
“I feel like it handles more like a racing car. There’s less vertical movement in the car. The C7.R has much lower center of gravity, and you can really feel that as a driver. There’s a hell of a lot of lateral grip. That’s the thing that really struck me. That’s what you want at Le Mans.”
With class wins in the last two TUDOR Championship races at Long Beach and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in the hands of Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen, the Corvette C7.R is quickly making and name for itself Stateside. But it’s a totally different set of cards at Le Mans, according to Westbrook.
“It’s a brand-new car and has only been under development for six months,” he said. “I think they’ve come an incredibly long way in a short space of time. Obviously the two recent victories has given the mood in the camp a massive boost.
“Le Mans is so different than anywhere else in the world. It’s really difficult to say To have expectations is very difficult because the car has only run in America under IMSA rules.”
The pair of factory Corvettes will be pitted up against works entires from Aston Martin and Porsche plus the factory supported AF Corse squad, which is coming off class victory in last month’s FIA WEC round at Spa.
While the Corvettes were within reach of the competition at the test day, Westbrook knows it will still be a tough challenge ahead as the boys in yellow search for their eighth class win in the famed twice-around-the-clock French endurance classic.
“I’m quietly optimistic for Le Mans but you can’t speak for the competition,” Westbrook said. “They’re all manufacturers now and you don’t know what they’ve got up their sleeve. It will be difficult being up against the WEC challengers.
“We are the only ones hopping over from America. It does make a difference as we saw last year. The guys doing WEC, week in, week out, in Europe and on the [same spec] tire. It’s obviously different for us. But Corvette Racing is full of good people and we’ll get there.”