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“Everything Went” in Corvette’s Direction for First GTE-Am Win

Nicky Catsburg, Nico Varrone, Ben Keating win in Corvette Racing’s GTE-Am debut…

Photo: Richard Prince/GM

Nicky Catsburg and Ben Keating said that Corvette Racing benefitted from the misfortunes of several other competitors to claim a clear-sailing class victory in Friday’s 1000 Miles of Sebring.

Catsburg, Keating and Nico Varrone teamed up to win in the first GTE-Am race for the Pratt Miller-run team, taking their No. 33 Chevrolet Corvette C8.R to a two-lap victory in the FIA World Endurance Championship season opener.

The trio, who combined to lead a race-high 159 laps, saw their main rivals all fall by the wayside early in the eight-hour contest.

While the No. 83 Richard Mille AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo of Luis Perez Companc flipped in dramatic fashion in the opening hour and the No. 25 ORT by TF Aston Martin Vantage GTE suffered a puncture, damage from an off-course excursion for Rahel Frey in the No. 85 Iron Dames Porsche 911 RSR-19 eliminated Corvette’s primary competitor in the third hour.

Frey’s co-driver Sarah Bovy, who started on pole, enjoyed a spirited battle with fellow Bronze-rated driver Keating, with the Porsche in a 30-second lead until Frey’s accident in Turn 1 that resulted in a damaged floor and diffuser for the Iron Dames entry.

“It was a lot of fun. Sarah and I have raced against each other for all of last season as well,” Keating told Sportscar365.

“We were on the front row for the last four races of the season [in 2022] going back and forth with the pole and always racing well with each other.

“She had a really good start. But she made a mistake in Turn 1 and I took advantage of it. Then I made a mistake in Turn 17, she took advantage of it.

“Then we short-filled in our stop to get track position. We had the luck of being at the very end of pit lane so we could see them coming.”

Keating said he was unsure if they would have been able to make up the deficit to the Iron Dames Porsche had Frey not had her incident.

“They made the correct call to come in right before they called FCY,” Keating explained. “They had a 30-second gap on us and I didn’t know if we were going to make it up.

“With the new [FCY pit lane] rule changes, there’s no way to make it up other than being faster on track.

“We were matching our times pretty closely with them. I don’t know if we would have made up 30 seconds.”

Both Keating and Silver-rated Varrone completed triple-stints to open the race, which resulted in only two driver changes.

“From my perspective it was really tough,” Varrone said. “I have done triple stints in Le Mans, which I have to say was much easier.

“Here with the bumps and everything was really hard. I just had to do it. Even when I was feeling like I had no more power to do it, I was breathing and said, ‘OK, there’s still one hour to go.’

“That was the race. We were pushing a lot and then had a little bit of a gap. It was a little bit easier for us from that moment.”

Corvette factory driver Catsburg, meanwhile, brought the car home to the finish, two laps ahead of the second-placed No. 77 Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche.

The Dutchman along with Varrone both claimed their first career WEC class victories.

“The minimum drive time for both Nico and Ben was 2 hours and 20 minutes, so depending on what happened, was usually three hours,” Catsburg explained.

“I had an easy life. They both did long runs and I just had to do two hours in the end.

“I felt like everything went in our direction today and some of the main competitors eliminated themselves.

“All the guys, the team, Nico, Ben, everyone did a flawless job. I think we were fastest by a lot in the pit lane.

“I don’t know how we found ourselves a lap ahead in the end. But I didn’t want to let [Daniel] Serra pass, so at least I had something to race for. We were both pushing and it was good win.”

Keating added: “I feel like the main thing we did right was just not screwing up, just keeping it on the track, which was difficult with all of the traffic out there. The track got really dirty.

“It was hard to stay out of trouble for eight hours but it was good practice for tomorrow!”

Keating, Varrone Eying Sebring Double Win

Both Keating and Varrone will be seeking to become the first driver to win both the 1000 Miles of Sebring and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring on the same weekend.

Keating is set to start on LMP2 class pole in his No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson tomorrow, with Rolex 24 at Daytona LMP3 class winner Varrone in one of AWA’s Duqueine D08 Nissans.

“Last year was the toughest thing I’ve ever done physically,” Keating said. “I lost 12 pounds and burned 11,600 calories in the two days.

“I’ve really been preparing much better this year. I’ve been eating as much as I could possibly eat and trying to stay cooler and drinking more and really trying to stay on top of it.

“I feel a lot better now than I did last year but we’ll see how I feel in the morning when I wake up.”

Varrone added: “Luckily tomorrow I’m finishing the race so I think I will jump in the car at 2 p.m., so I will have some rest. But it will be tough.

“It’s going to be one of my toughest weekends but we are ready for the challenge and we will make it.”

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for and SPEED Channel and has contributed to numerous other motorsports publications worldwide. Contact John

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