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BRASELTON, Ga., Oct. 20, 2012 – The race for the GT class victory in the season-ending Petit Le Mans came down to speed versus fuel economy. With the No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6.R driven by Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, and Jordan Taylor cutting seconds from the No. 01 Ferrari’s lead with every lap, Ferrari driver Toni Vilander made it to the finish without a final fuel stop. Thus the No. 3 Corvette finished second for the fifth time in 10 American Le Mans Series races this season.
The winning Ferrari and the runner-up Corvette both completed 375 laps on the 2.54-mile Road Atlanta circuit, with the Ferrari 30.676 seconds ahead at the checkered flag after nine hours and 37 minutes of intense racing. The championship-winning No. 4 Compuware Corvette of Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, and Richard Westbrook pitted from the lead just before the six-hour mark with a steering problem, and lost 26 laps to the leaders while the Corvette crew replaced the rack, ultimately finishing 12th.
Garcia drove the final two-hour stint in the No. 3 Corvette, taking the class lead at eight hours into the race. Vilander pitted the Ferrari for fuel at 8:28 in the race, and Garcia made his final stop 13 minutes later. Vilander emerged with a 60-second lead, but Garcia cut that to 30 seconds in the closing laps. Two years ago, Corvette Racing won Petit Le Mans when the class-leading Ferrari’s fuel cell ran dry on the final lap; this year the outcome was different.
“It was a good gamble for them,” Garcia said. “At the end they stretched it, and they got the victory. Corvette Racing did what we had to do, we ran our plan perfectly, and all three drivers did all we could.
“I learned a lot this year, and I appreciate all that the team did for me,” said the Spaniard after his first full season with Corvette Racing. “We just need to learn and come back stronger next year.”
“It’s hard not to be a little disappointed, but that’s how it is,” Magnussen said. “Tonight’s result was an indication of how our season has gone – so close and yet so far. We had a fantastic car, we just missed out at the end.”
The Corvettes started third and fourth on the grid after the pole-winning No. 02 Ferrari was disqualified for a infraction in post-qualifying technical inspection. At the green flag, Gavin grabbed second behind Scott Sharp in the No. 01 Ferrari, while Garcia made it safely through the first lap in sixth. Garcia methodically moved forward, gaining fifth on lap six, fourth on lap eight, and third on lap 12. Gavin and Garcia were then running second and third behind the No. 01 Ferrari. Gavin took the lead at the 40-minute mark with a pass in Turn 7.
“At the start I managed to get a jump on the BMW and followed Sharp through,” Gavin said. “There was a bit of banging and bumping behind us, so I wanted to just hang with the Ferrari and get away. Sharp got up on the curb in Turn 6, then I nipped inside into Turn 7 and got by him.”
“We made it through the first turn and the first lap, that’s the important thing,” Garcia laughed. “I just waited to see how the car felt, and when I saw my opponents starting to make mistakes or have problems, that’s when I made my charge, one by one.”
Driver changes just before the first full-course caution at the one-hour mark saw Magnussen take the lead in the No. 3 Corvette with Milner second. At 90 minutes, Johannes Van Overbeek in the No. 01 Ferrari passed the Corvettes to take the point in GT. Both Corvettes then pitted under the second full-course caution, dropping to sixth and seventh behind several cars that did not pit. After the cars cycled through their pit stops, Magnussen was second and Milner third after 2.5 hours of racing.
“I made a mistake in Turn 5 and went for a big ride over the curb,” Milner reported. “I got too greedy with how much curb I thought I could use. It spit me out pretty far, and I’m glad I got away with it.”
“We were developing the car throughout the day so we’d have a good car at the end,” Magnussen said. “The traffic was crazy, crazy, crazy, and not just the new guys.”
The next round of pit stops came at 2:45 into the race, with Richard Westbrook getting into the No. 4 Corvette and Jordan Taylor into the No. 3 Corvette. They ran second and third, respectively, through their stints. Garcia replaced Taylor at 3:42, while Westbrook did a double stint before handing off to Gavin at 4:34 in the race.
“I spent a lot of time in traffic around guys who didn’t want to get passed even though they were a couple of laps down,” Taylor reported after his first race laps at Petit Le Mans. “It was frustrating and I lost a bit of time. We were still on the lead lap, and that’s what mattered at that point.”
Both Corvettes pitted during the race’s third full-course caution, with Gavin replacing Westbrook in the No. 4 Corvette and Garcia staying in the No. 3 Corvette. Gavin took control of the race at the midpoint, extending his lead to 17 seconds with only himself, Sharp, and Garcia on the lead lap after five hours of racing.
“It’s just extremely busy out there,” Westbrook explained. “You get 10 laps in clean air and feel like a hero, and then you get 10 laps in traffic and that brings you right back down to Earth. You have to fight hard to stay out of trouble, as strange as that may sound.”
Fortuitous timing of the race’s fourth full-course caution at 5:27 in the race helped the Corvette cause. Both cars reached pit lane before the pits were closed, while Sharp had to wait for the pits to open before pitting. When racing resumed, Milner was in the lead in the No. 4 Corvette and Magnussen second in the sister No. 3 Corvette.
At 5:56 in the race, Milner radioed to the crew that he had a problem with the steering. He was called to the pits, where the crew inspected the front end. Milner went back out for an exploratory lap, and with the problem persisting, he then took the car to the transporter. The Corvette crew replaced the steering rack and Milner returned to battle 45 minutes later, 26 laps down to the leader.
“Everything was going to plan, and then something happened with the steering,” Milner said. “I had a big dead zone turning left that made the car very difficult to drive. More importantly, if there was something broken internally, it could put our car and other racers at risk. They made the right decision to replace the steering rack, and we went back out. This team never gives up!”
With the No. 4 Corvette’s mechanical misfortune, Magnussen became the GT leader in the No. 3 Corvette. Magnussen lost the lead to the No. 01 Ferrari on a pit stop exchange at 6:34 in the race, then shadowed the Ferrari as a series of caution periods interrupted the race. Three cars were on the lead lap in GT: No. 01 Ferrari, No. 3 Corvette, and No. 55 BMW.
“I had a good first stint, but it was a shame that the second stint was mostly behind the safety car,” Magnussen said. “We put ourselves in good position to fight for the victory at the end, and that was really what it was all about.”
Magnussen handed off to Garcia at 7:39, and Antonio promptly passed the No. 01 and No. 02 Ferraris on his out-lap. Running second in GT behind the No. 55 BMW of Joerg Mueller after the pit stop sequence, he held off van Overbeek’s Ferrari. When the No. 55 BMW pitted, Garcia took the lead and held it until his final pit stop at the 8:41 mark dropped him to third. After the BMW was assessed a stop-and-go penalty for improper refueling procedure, Garcia took off in pursuit of the class-leading No 01 Ferrari, now driven by Vilander. He cut the Ferrari’s lead in half, but the Italian car won its gamble on fuel, running the last hour and 11 minutes without a pit stop.
The No. 3 Corvette C6.R won the 2012 Michelin Green X Challenge championship in the GT class. Overseen by the Green Racing steering group comprised of representatives of the U.S. Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, SAE International and the sanctioning International Motor Sports Association, Corvette Racing won the “race within the race” with the best score for clean, fast, and efficient performance.
Petit Le Mans GT Results (Top 10)
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