The first race of the 2024 IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship took place over the weekend at the Rolex 24 held at the Daytona International Speedway. The race marked the start of a new chapter in the story of Corvette Racing.
Pratt Miller Motorsports, who are now part of Oshkosh, are tasked by GM to build all of the GT3 specification Corvette C8 Z06 GT3.R chassis. Corvette Racing by Pratt Miller Motorsports entered chassis numbers C8Z06GT3.R-003 and C8Z06GT3.R-004 as the #3 and #4, respectively, in the GTD Pro Class of the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship. Chassis numbers C8Z06GT3.R-005 (#17) and C8Z06GT3.R-006 (#13) were entered by Canadian team AWA in the GTD Class. This was the debut race for the brand new C8 Z06 GT3.R, and we can expect many more chassis to appear at race tracks across the globe over the next few years.
The AWA #13 Corvette had an electrical problem at the start and dropped many laps in the first 20 minutes of the race, eliminating them from any chance of honors. The #13 eventually got going but was retired after completing just 308 laps. The sister car, the #17, ran better by completing 508 laps until they, too, had a problem (a power steering issue). The AWA team decided to retire both cars in the nineteenth hour of the race rather than risk further damage to their brand-new cars. The #17 car was classified with an 18th place finish with the #13 car being classified 21st at the end of the Rolex 24 Hours.
In the GTD Pro class, Antonio Garcia started in the Pratt Miller Motorsports (PMM) #3 Corvette C8 Z06 GT3.R and, after a couple of hours, handed the car over to Alexander Sims, who in turn handed the driving duties over to new driver Daniel Juncadella in the fifth hour of the race. Tommy Milner, who had spent all of 2023 testing the new GT3 specification Corvette, started the race in the #4 C8 Z06 GT3.R. Nicky Catsburg took over just before the two-hour mark, and the third driver, Earl Bamber, got to drive the new Corvette for the first time about four hours and fifteen minutes into the race.
In the first quarter of the race both the PMM GTD Pro Class Corvettes ran strongly and were consistently in the top three in class. The early leader and pole sitter in the class and last season’s champions, the #14 Lexus, was eliminated early on by a huge accident not of their making. At the six-hour mark, the first set of Michelin Endurance Cup points were awarded, with the #3 Corvette sitting in third and the #4 in fourth.
Alexander Sims was leading the GTD Pro Class by 67 seconds with eleven hours and fifteen minutes completed in the race. However, eight minutes later, after pitting, Sims was down to fourth as a Full Course Caution (FCC) was called for debris on the track. The race went back to green and within two laps there was another FCC because the #40 GTP Acura ground to a halt at Turn 6.
Sims worked his way back into the class lead and handed the #3 Corvette over to Juncadella, who continued to lead with Earl Bamber in the #4 Corvette nineteen seconds back in fourth place. With just over eleven hours to go, another FCC was called as the GTP Class #24 BMW came to a stop on the infield. During the pit stop under caution the PMM crew did a scheduled brake change on the #4 Corvette. Another FCC was called almost immediately after the race went back to green as the #01 GTP Cadillac had an issue on track and it was subsequently retired.
The #3 Corvette with Daniel Juncadella behind the wheel was pulling away from the GTD Pro class in the cool of the night to a lead of 4.2 seconds when he pitted for fuel and tires with just over ten hours to go. Tommy Milner jumped back into the #4 Corvette taking over from Earl Bamber. Juncadella pitted again this time just for fuel from the GTD Pro lead with nine hours and nine minutes to go.
Eight hours and fifty-two minutes to go and Tommy Milner pitted for fuel, there was a slight stall leaving the pit stop from Tommy, dropping him behind the #1 BMW.
Antonio Garcia got into the #3 C8 Z06 GT3.R replacing Daniel Juncadella after a triple stint, the #1 BMW was leading GTD Pro and pulling away from the #4 to the tune of 30 seconds, and the #3 was a further minute behind the #4. Nicky Catsburg replaced Tommy Milner in the #4 – another FCC brought the #3 back to within about 18 seconds of the class lead with the #4 9 seconds behind the #1 BMW.
Six Hours to go and the #4 was running second in GTD Pro and #3 running in fourth but with a slightly sick car dropping fluids – mainly oil and some transmission fluid. A pit stop just a minute after the six-hour point for the #3 as Alexander Sims took the Corvette back from Antonio Garcia, ten minutes later and Nicky Catsburg pitted for fuel and continued.
The leaking oil from the #3 meant it eventually had to head for the garage to allow the PMM team to fix the persistent fluid leak. The external oil tank had sprung a leak and it took about fifteen minutes to replace it – the #3 rejoined the race but now seven laps behind the GTD Pro Class leader. Then the #4 also had to head for the garages after Earl Bamber reported steering problems as he cut across the Le Mans chicane. Earl Bamber rejoined – after the PMM team had to fix the Power Steering – 16 laps down on the GTD Pro Class leaders.
The #3 C8 Z06 GT3.R was classified fifth in the GTD Pro Class at the end of the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona with the sister car, the #4, classified in eighth. A very frustrating result for the Corvette Racing by Pratt Miller Motorsports team given that both of the Corvettes showed great pace in their debut, but ultimately mechanical failures kept them from being in the hunt for victory in the final moments of the race. The GTD Pro Class was won by the Risi Competizione #62 Ferrari 296 GT3 and GTD Class honors went to the Winward Racing #57 Mercedes AMG GT3.
The next race for the new Corvette C8 Z06 GT3.R will be at Qatar in the opening round of the FIA WEC when TF Sport debuts their new cars on the 2nd of March. The next race for both Corvette Racing by PMM and AWA will be the 12 Hours of Sebring on the 16th of March.