Corvette Racing stepped into the well-known with the unknown this past weekend.
The Corvette Racing team sent the #63 c8R (chassis C8R-004) over to Europe to compete in the Spa Francorchamp round of the FIA WEC Endurance Championship in May 2021 but because of travel restrictions, most of the team stayed Stateside while the car was run by Larbre Competition personnel. The chassis stayed in Europe and competed as the #63 C8R at Le Mans in the hands of Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor the regular IMSA season drivers plus Nicky Catsburg the dutch driver who is drafted in for the longer endurance races.
The #64 C8R (chassis C8R-005) was making its racing debut at Le Mans with the team and was piloted by Tommy Milner and Nick Tandy plus Brit Alexander Sims the third driver for the endurance events.
The official test day for Le Mans “Journee Test” took place on the Sunday before Le Mans and Wednesday night there was a new one-hour qualifying session followed by a new Hyperpole thirty-minute session on Thursday for the top six cars from the qualifying on Wednesday night. In between times on Wednesday and Thursday, there were a number of test sessions allowing the Corvette Race team to dial in both cars ready for the endurance classic.
The week started badly for the #63 C8R Corvette when it stopped at the entrance to the Porsche Curves with Antonio Garcia onboard. The problem necessitated an engine change depriving the team of valuable testing time as the car only made an appearance again towards the end of the afternoon session. The #64 ran throughout both the morning and afternoon sessions providing the team with valuable data.
Wednesday night qualifying went badly for the #63 car as it lost both of their new sets of tires to slow zones during the frantic hour, this resulted in them finishing eighth and last in the GTE PRO class field missing out on the Hyperpole session whereas the #64 made in through to Hyperbole in the hands of Nick Tandy with a best lap time of 3:47.074 good enough for fourth. In the Hyperpole session, Tandy again set the best time with a 3:47.093 which took third place in the GTE PRO class.
The old-style Le Mans qualifying was split into two x two hour sessions on both Wednesday and Thursday and your best time during those sessions set your position on the grid for the start of the race. Now the Hyperpole times set the top six places by class and the other times were taken from the Wednesday night qualifying hour – so despite a slower time on Thursday the #64 qualified one place higher than the time it set on Wednesday would have placed it. All very confusing.
The race start was back to its traditional time of 4 pm Central European Time and just to spice things up it rained for about 30 minutes prior to the race start necessitating the race to start behind the Safety Car. The race was flagged green after two pace car laps and the 61 car field was released. By the start of the fourth lap, the two Corvettes were running 1-2 at the head of their GTE PRO class despite having started third and eighth!
If only Le Mans was a three-lap sprint Corvette Racing would have been celebrating a famous victory. Sadly it isn’t as in a bizarre incident the #51 AF Corse Ferrari starting behind the #64 ran into the back of the C8R breaking part of the diffuser and causing the team to have to change it during Alexander Sims first driving session putting the car more than two laps down on the GTE PRO Class field. Further work was then required later in the race to rectify gearbox and alternator problems caused by the initial contact from the Ferrari. To add insult to injury the #51 AF Corse Ferrari went on to win the GTE PRO Class from the #63 Corvette C8R which ran pretty much faultlessly through the whole 24 hours but could never quite match the outright pace of the Ferrari.
A creditable effort by all at Corvette Racing to take second place in their class and to get both cars to the finish in front of the limited crown of approximately 50,000 spectators. the overall victory went to the Hypercar Class Toyota #7 ahead of the #8 Toyota and third place went to the #36 Alpine. The two American Glickenhaus cars finished fourth and fifth overall and in the Hypercar Class, a great effort for such a new team running a completely new design – which looks fabulous by the way and you can see some pictures of it in the gallery below.