It was double-duty for Corvette Racing at Sebring International Raceway in Florida for the traditional Spring Break for race fans. The 67th running of the 12 Hours of Sebring, round two of the IMSA Weathertech Series, was preceded by the North American round of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) which was run on Friday.
Corvette Racing ran a spare C7R chassis (C7R-004) as the #63 in the WEC race with regular #3 car drivers Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, and long-distance race recruit, Mike “Rocky” Rockenfeller doing double duty. The three drivers raced the 1,000 miles of the Sebring race on Friday, which started at 4 p.m. and ran until midnight.
The WEC race saw the #63 Corvette pound around for eight hours and finish Eighth in the GTE PRO Class. It started to rain 3o minutes before the scheduled finish and inevitably, someone crashed. The race finished behind the safety car. The #63 Corvette was a lap behind the top seven finishers after an early pit stop. The unscheduled stop for blistered tires put the Corvette off-strategy compared with the rest of the 11-car GTE PRO field.
The drivers and pit crew for the #3 Corvette only had eight hours off before the morning warm-up for the 12 Hours of Sebring at 8 a.m. on Saturday. Following the warm-up, the pit crew discovered the #3 Corvette chassis (C7R-007) had a shift-actuator problem. They had to work hard to get the actuator compressor and lines changed in the 42 minutes between the end of the warm-up and the time to get the car to the grid before the 12 hour race. They made it with literally minutes to spare.
The #4 Corvette C7R chassis (C7R-006), with regular IMSA Weathertech drivers Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner and third driver Marcel Fassler “only” had the 12 Hours of Sebring to worry about. Qualifying for the race saw the #4 car take Fifth with Tommy Milner doing the driving, and Antonio Garcia in the #3 took Third. Both cars moved forward a place, after the Second-placed GTLM Class Porsche driver forgot to stop in pit lane after qualifying and drove straight back to the garage area, which was an instant penalty and the car was relegated to the back of the class for the start.
Sebring Race – A Rare Soggy Start
Saturday started out very wet with rain. It was only the second time in the history of the race where it started in wet conditions. The other time was the first race back in 1952! The weather was so bad IMSA decided to start the race behind the safety car So, for the first 40 minutes of the race Corvette was leading the 12 Hours of Sebring overall, as they were supplying the C7 Z06 safety car.
IMSA eventually released the field to race and it was awesome once they did. The driving standards were incredible with all drivers and teams coping with the extremely difficult conditions without crashing. The racing in all four classes was close, and ebbed and flowed just as the rain did throughout the first three hours of the race. Eventually, the rain stopped. Thanks to the high ambient temperature and porous-concrete track surface, a racing line soon appeared but offline, it was still treacherous with puddles and discarded rubber littering the track.
Problems For The #4 Car
The first driver change for Corvette signaled a major problem for the #4 Corvette. The pit crew instantly had the rear body off the car as Olly Gavin jumped in the seat. It became clear it was not going to be the work of a moment to fix the problem, so back to the garage area the car went. They lost about ten laps to the rest of the GTLM field, effectively ending their race. The next nine hours of racing for the #4 saw them complete the race, but in Eighth place in the GTLM class.
Steady As She Goes For #3
The #3 Corvette C7R ran a steady race with no mistakes by any of the drivers, despite having run the 8 hours of the WEC race on Friday. The pit crew executed great pit stops as usual, and the five over-the-wall guys were the same five for both races. The car ran in Fifth place during the wet part of the race and steadily improved to be either First, Second or Third, depending on the pit-stop cycle.
An Interesting End
The #67 Ford GT seemed to be the class of the GTLM field and led 270 laps out of 330 raced. That is, until the final hour, when the #911 Porsche literally appeared from nowhere to win the class. They had been two laps down after two hours of the race and their best lap during those two hours was six seconds slower than the rest of the GTLM class! The #3 Corvette C7R finished Third behind the #66 Ford GT. The #67 Ford GT spun on the first lap after the final full-course caution, 15 minutes from the end of the race.
The next round of the IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship for Corvette Racing will be at Long Beach on April 13th. The next round of the FIA WEC Super Season will be the final round at Le Mans, the weekend of June 15th-16th.