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LE MANS, France, June 11, 2012 – Corvette Racing comes into the 80th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans as the defending champion in the GTE Pro category. Last year the No. 73 Compuware Corvette C6.R driven by Tommy Milner, Antonio Garcia, and Olivier Beretta scored a come-from-behind victory to capture Corvette Racing’s seventh class title in the world’s biggest sports car race.
Ranked by National Geographic as the world’s top sporting event (http://on.natgeo.com/Mn2hyg), the 24 Hours of Le Mans is a contest of skill, speed, and stamina that overshadows the Olympic Games, World Cup Soccer, and the Super Bowl according to this prestigious publication. Now Corvette Racing, the most successful team in the history of the American Le Mans Series, is ready to take on the challenge of the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the 13th consecutive year. With updated Corvette C6.R race cars and a revised driver roster, Corvette Racing is primed for the long-running battle at the Circuit de la Sarthe. The competition will again be formidable in the GTE Pro category with factory-supported teams representing Ferrari, Porsche, and Aston Martin.
The twin Corvette C6.Rs have been updated in accordance with the ACO rulebook since the team’s last appearance at Le Mans. They are two inches wider than the preceding version, with corresponding changes in bodywork and suspension to complement the increased track width. The rear wing is mounted 75mm higher than last year and the Michelin tires have been optimized for the Corvette chassis. The 5.5-liter Chevrolet small-block V-8s are equipped with intake air restrictors that are .4mm larger than in 2011.
“The engineering team ran extensive computer simulations to evaluate the effects of a wider body,” said Corvette Racing team manager Gary Pratt. “There is a fine balance between the aerodynamic drag produced by a larger frontal area and the handling improvements that come with a wider track. We expected that the wider body would be better at many of the circuits in the U.S., and the simulations indicated that it would be an improvement at Le Mans as well.
“Although Le Mans is a big, high-speed track, a significant percentage of the lap is spent cornering and braking,” Pratt explained. “With the chicanes on the Mulsanne Straight and fast corners like the Porsche Curves, the wide-body design is beneficial.”
The driver lineup has been shuffled as well. Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen are teamed with third driver Jordan Taylor in the No. 73 Compuware Corvette C6.R. Tommy Milner has moved to the No. 74 Compuware Corvette C6.R alongside Oliver Gavin and Richard Westbrook. These six drivers have a combined total of 12 class victories at Le Mans.
“I’m really looking forward to this year’s Le Mans with all of the new developments on the car,” said Magnussen, a four-time Le Mans winner. “I think we have a better understanding and feel for the car than last year, and it seems to be more stable. Le Mans is about a lot of things – top speed is only one of them. I’m confident that we will be able to go to the front again.”
“I think we are in a really good position,” said Garcia, who notched his third Le Mans win last year. “I’m happy to be back with Jan because we won together in 2009, and it will be good to have Jordan in the car. From what we have seen in testing, the car is more predictable and that should give us the opportunity to be a touch more relaxed – although at Le Mans, ‘relaxed’ is not the word!”
The race is not always to the swift, as was proven again last year. The No. 73 Corvette was one lap down when an accident sidelined the class-leading No. 74 Corvette in the early morning hours, but endurance and an error-free run carried the day for Chevrolet. Milner made the pass for the lead with two hours to go, and Garcia brought the Corvette home in first place.
“Being consistent and not making mistakes are crucial at Le Mans,” said Milner, who scored his breakthrough first victory with Corvette Racing at Le Mans. “Last year we didn’t have the fastest car in the class, but it was consistent. The team didn’t make any errors, and when our competition had just one small issue, it put them on the back foot. If the speed is there, that’s great – but the way to win it is to stop only for fuel, tires and driver changes. That will put you in the best position at the end of the race.”
Oliver Gavin has competed 11 times at Le Mans, winning four times. After a streak of three straight wins with Magnussen and Beretta in 2004-06, he’s been denied another victory by accidents and mechanical problems that were beyond his control. The Englishman’s experience has given him perspective on the race.
“This race is like no other,” Gavin said. “It’s exceptionally long, exceptionally tough, and high pressure for everybody in the team. It’s a highly charged atmosphere in that pit box for the entire 24 hours. You just cannot let up, take your eye off the ball for a single moment, or the 24 Hours of Le Mans will bite you. You must be smart, be consistent, and use your head.”
As the 24 Hours of Le Mans celebrates its milestone 80th running and Chevrolet celebrates 60 years of Corvette production, the stage is set for another classic race in the French countryside.
Corvette Racing’s next event is the 24 Hours of Le Mans in Le Mans, France, on June 16-17. The race will start Saturday at 3 p.m. local time (9 a.m. ET). SPEED and SPEED.com will provide 25 hours of continuous coverage starting at 8:30 a.m. ET on June 16.
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