Corvette Racing and SMP Racing have taken the GTE-Pro and GTE-Am class victories in the 83rd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Corvette’s trio of Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor took the GTE-Pro victory in the No. 64 Corvette C7.R, their first as a trio and the first for the team at Le Mans since 2011. It’s Gavin’s fifth, Milner’s second and Taylor’s first win at Le Mans.
A race-long battle between the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia and the Corvette was building towards the finish, primarily due to different strategies.
The No. 51 Ferrari moved ahead on strategy into the lead past the halfway mark after its change of brake pads, but after a restart Toni Vilander suffered a puncture that required an extra stop.
Milner made it out ahead of the Ferrari on that pit stop, and as the race progressed, the final battle was shaping up to come down to Vilander and Gavin for the win.
But it didn’t occur as planned after Vilander exited the Mulsanne corner more slowly than normal with the left rear corner.
The Finn pitted the Ferrari and the car went behind the wall for repairs to the gearbox. Tensions in the garage appeared to run higher – and faster – than any repair work as the car lost six laps in nearly half an hour behind the wall.
Corvette’s trio went on to win by five laps over the sister AF Corse car, the No. 71 Ferrari of Davide Rigon, James Calado and Olivier Beretta. That trio lost four laps early in the race to change the starter motor, but pressed on.
The No. 51 car of Vilander, Gianmaria Bruni and Giancarlo Fisichella ended third in class, ahead of the No. 95 Aston Martin, No. 91 Porsche 911 RSR and No. 99 Aston Martin, which were all running at the finish but severely delayed throughout the race.
GTE-Am lacked much drama until the final hour, when an accident occurred for the class-leading and race-dominant No. 98 Aston Martin Vantage V8.
Paul Dalla Lana sustained a hard crash entering the Ford chicane, just before the front straight. He did get out of the car, but it cost Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda their third straight win to open the season.
It marked the second major accident for Aston Martin in the race, after Roald Goethe’s hard accident earlier in the race as well. Goethe was released from the track medical center but was taken to hospital for x-rays, awaiting results.
With the Aston out, the No. 72 SMP Racing Ferrari F458 Italia inherited the win after a mostly faultless drive from Andrea Bertolini, Victor Shaytar and Alexey Basov. It’s the first win for a Russian-entered team at Le Mans.
Two American-heavy lineups completed the podium following the Dalla Lana accident. The No. 77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR and No. 62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari F458 Italia were contending for the final podium position, but both wound up on the podium as it turned out.
Patrick Dempsey shared the No. 77 car with Patrick Long and Marco Seefried, while Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Jeff Segal shared the No. 62 car. It’s the first podium for five of those six at Le Mans, with the exception of past class winner Long.
Long and Bell were separated by mere tenths of seconds in a tooth-and-nail fight for third. Bell spun at one point exiting Mulsanne corner, but the Le Mans rookie rebounded with a spirited charge back before handing over to Segal.
The No. 53 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GTS-R was also in podium contention but retired with late race gearbox issues.
RESULTS: 24 Hours of Le Mans