Nicky Catsburg said Corvette Racing “tried everything” to close the gap to the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo in the closing stages of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The Dutchman and co-drivers Jordan Taylor and Antonio Garcia settled for a runner-up finish in class, 41 seconds behind the GTE-Pro winning Ferrari, in the Le Mans debut of the Chevrolet Corvette C8.R.
“We gave it our all,” Catsburg told Sportscar365. “We did not change brakes, which made it tricky to drive. We did some stints where we tripled the tires, a full set. I don’t think they ever did that.
“They usually did two tires, left tires.
“We really tried everything to close the gap. Sometimes we would get close and a yellow would split us up again.
“We went from being 21 seconds behind to being 50 seconds behind again. But honestly even if we got there, it seemed like they were driving on reserve. They were very fast.
“On the other hand, so were we. We had some really good pace in the night. We gave it our all and for me it was super cool to be in the car a lot and fight with them.
“P2 is still a nice result.”
Catsburg believes that the Ferrari, driven by Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Come Ledogar, had a pace advantage that forced the Pratt & Miller-run factory squad to be on the offensive in terms of strategy.
“They kind of had an edge in the beginning and somehow they always made the right calls and we lost some time in some of the yellows and they didn’t,” he explained.
“We were never really close enough to make a fight. But I do feel like we put some pressure on in the end.”
It included not changing brakes on the No. 63 Corvette, a strategy that was hotly contested pre-race by the GTE-Pro manufacturers and drivers, including Catsburg’s co-driver Taylor.
“One of the last stints I did a triple and you always had to pump the brake,” Catsburg explained.
“It was getting noisy and the pedal was getting deep. You lose a bit of confidence. Also the performance is getting less.
“But it was still better than making a change or at least we felt like that was the right decision.
“I think it was. When you’re in the lead, you can quite comfortably just change your brakes and continue and you have more pace again.
“But we were chasing. So we couldn’t afford to do a longer stop so we had to give it our all and get as close as we could.”
Catsburg, however, was pleased with C8.R’s performance in its first Le Mans outing.
“The car, to be honest, it says a lot about it when you can just come here for the first time and feel good out of the box, which is so nice,” he said.
“Of course we had to do some small tweaks and some setup work but we were there straight away. Our car we didn’t really have any issues. We made it through the finish in the fight for the lead.
“I think Corvette can be very proud of themselves and the car that they’ve built. We’ll only be stronger when we return and personally I’d love to return with them.”
Ferrari on Brake Change Call: “We Were Forced to Do It”
Ferrari technical director Ferdinando Cannizzo said their decisive call to change brakes on the eventual class-winning No. 51 Ferrari with five-and-a-half hours to go was largely made out of necessity, although did not cost them the class lead.
“We didn’t know if we could go the race without changing the brakes,” he told Sportscar365. “At that point we found it to be very risky to finish the race without changing brakes.
“Eventually we were forced to do it. We train as a team with [a lot of practice] in order to minimize the time for changing brakes.
“I think we were able to change them in 40-45 seconds including tires. It was an excellent job by the mechanics.
“Knowing that they were able to do it, we said, ‘OK, we have an advantage that I think we need to exploit this advantage.’
“We finished the race in a very conservative way so we went to change brakes and came out still leading the race.”
Cannizzo said they were also able to take advantage of a Slow Zone at the time to gain even more ground on the Corvette.
“That was definitely lucky as we had ten seconds for free,” he said. “The job was fantastic. We came out of the pits with 28-30 seconds advantage and the Slow Zone gave us another ten seconds extra.”
Daniel Lloyd contributed to this report