Corvette Racing spent the weekend racing – not really news – except for the first time it was at two tracks 5,768 miles apart.
First up, it was the third round of the IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship at the street circuit in Long Beach, California. After the two longest races of the season, the 24 Hours of Daytona and the Sebring 12-Hour race, Long Beach is the shortest race on the calendar at just 100 minutes. Being a temporary street circuit, passing is extremely difficult, so qualifying is critical for a good finish. Antonio Garcia in the GTD Pro Class #3 Corvette C8.R (GT3 Class) recorded a best lap of 1:18.329 which was only good enough for fourth place in the class and fifth among all GT cars as the Heart of Racing #27 Aston Martin of the GTD Class beat all of the Pro Class cars to take the overall pole – driven by ex-Corvette Racing driver Marco Sorensen.
The race almost inevitably started with a Full Course Caution as the #01 Cadillac GTP Class car of Sebastien Bourdais turned hard left into the concrete wall on the main straight just after the start/finish line on lap one as Bourdais tried for an optimistic late braking maneuver on cold tires with the unfortunate result. This left Corvette Racing with just 85 minutes to improve their position, and through sound strategy and great pit work, they managed to get the #3 Corvette C8.R up to second place in class before a late race caution squashed any chance of a victory.
The weekend’s second race took place at Portimao in southern Portugal – the second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) – and the GTE Am Class #33 Corvette C8.R (GT2 Class) was competing in Europe for the first time. It was Corvette Racing’s debut at the beautiful Autodromo do Algarve. All three drivers who had won the season’s first race at Sebring in the 1,000 Miles, Ben Keating, Nico Varrone, and Nicky Catsburg, had raced at the circuit previously. However, the Corvette Racing team had zero data for the Corvette C8.R at this track. Because the Corvette won at Sebring, they had 66 pounds (30 kgs) of “success” ballast to carry around every lap of the 2.891 mile, 15-turn circuit at the 6 Hours of Portimao race.
The Corvette C8.R was fifth, fifth, and eleventh during the three free practice sessions. So it was a major surprise when Ben Keating managed to place the Corvette C8.R on the pole position for the GTE Am Class with a best lap of 1:41.362 during qualifying for Sunday’s race.
The race started at midday in Portugal under clear blue skies, and it was the hottest day of the meeting, not good news for Ben Keating in the #33 Corvette C8.R as he was running on the softest tire compound, which he had chosen to help get him the pole position on Saturday afternoon in cooler conditions. Immediately the second-placed #21 Ferrari passed Ben on the run up the hill from Turn 4.
Ben Keating, rated as the amateur driver, did a masterful job for the entirety of his first stint in the car, managing to hold off the #85 Iron Dames pink Porsche driven by the all-lady line-up. Eventually, the Porsche got by the Corvette towards the end of the first stint, but quick pit work by the team got Ben back out ahead of the Porsche, and with new tires, Keating could get the best out of the Corvette. Keating was running fifth in the GTE Am Class by the end of his second and final stint in the car when he came into the pit, as some of the other teams now had their higher-ranked professional drivers running in the second stints.
Nico Varrone took over the #33 Corvette C8.R, and immediately – thanks to faster pit work – he moved up the GTE Am Class order to third place during his first stint and eventually up to second place. During Nico’s second stint in the car, he ran faster than his rivals and eventually got the GTE Am Class lead back.
Nicky Catsburg, the Platinum-rated driver, took over the Corvette for the final two stints and looked to have a comfortable cushion of about ten seconds over the #85 Ferrari until the only safety car period of the race bunched up the field with just over an hour remaining of the six-hour race. The final pit stop saw the Corvette increase its lead over the #85 Ferrari, and it was just as well as for the final hour of the race. The Ferrari slowly reeled in the Corvette and, for the last 15 minutes of the race, was riding the rear bumper of the C8.R.
Nicky Catsburg managed to hold off the Ferrari by 0.26 seconds to record a second victory this season for the #33 Corvette C8.R in the FIA WEC in only the second race for Corvette Racing in the GTE Am Class. With the pole position scored by Ben Keating adding an extra point, the team sits on 64 points after two races, and the second-placed car, the #77 Porsche, only has 33 points. The next race for the team takes place at Spa Francorchamps in Belgium on the 30th of April before the most important race of the season – the Centenary Edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours, which will take place in France over the weekend of the 10th/11th of June.