Lasting memories, contending and continually learning
The 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season was one to remember for Oliver Gavin. The highly experienced and successful Briton won his fifth Driver’s Championship as part of Corvette Racing and second with Tommy Milner. The two won four times in their No. 4 Mobil 1/SiriusXM Chevrolet Corvette C7.R and also won the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup title.
In your mind, what was the lasting moment of the 2016 season?
“I have to say the last 10 laps at Daytona were the ones that will stay with me for a very long time. To get that victory in the way the last 45 minutes unfolded… it was one of the most intense and extraordinary experiences I’ve ever had in a racecar. We had been racing and driving so hard for 24 hours, and I was racing a very fast teammate and our team car, which had slightly less fuel and newer tires. Sometimes that’s the hardest car to race; you can’t necessarily defend and pick out the spots where it’s particularly weak because you have the same strengths and weaknesses. It was tremendously hard. I had to draw on every second of experience with any Corvette I’ve ever driven to get me through that to fight cleanly with Antonio (Garcia). He’s a fantastic guy and one of the fastest teammates I’ve ever had. To come over the line that close after 24 hours, I don’t think I’ll experience a finish quite like again in my career.”
When did you feel that you and Tommy had a chance to win the GTLM title?
“Lime Rock. That was the race where we managed to turn the tide. The (No. 67) Ford had been outscoring us for three races, and at Lime Rock it was looking like it was going to be tough again to beat them. But our car was very good and very strong. It looked like we had good pace to take them, then the race-leading Ferrari had trouble late and we ended up with Corvette Racing’s 100th win. That was exceptionally special having been with the team for so long. It was my 47th victory with the team, and it was delightful to be in the car that point. But it was then that I thought we could do this and be there at the end of the year fighting for the championship. “Of course you never knew what was going to happen later in the year, but it looked like at that point it was coming down to a two-horse race. The great thing at that time is that we were getting fantastic support from the No. 3 Corvette; they were restricting the amount of points the 67 could get. That was very, very big for us.”
Was there a moment that you could have back and have a redo, what would it be?
“You can always go back and examine how things would have worked out. But ultimately what we did, we capitalized on every opportunity we had and never stopped working at making our Corvette better and improving our position at every single race. Whether you look at how Road America ended or even a race like COTA, you’re all the time trying to work through the imbalances in the car or something that happened on a particular pit stop. That was the thing that ended up winning the championship – the ability to keep adjusting and being flexible enough with our strategy and thinking during the race. We kept digging but also limited the amount of mistakes we made. This was an absolute 100 percent team effort all season.”
Was there a reason for swing in fortunes on the No. 4 Corvette in 2016?
“The configuration of this version of the Corvette C7.R really suits Tommy and I. We can regularly find something we are happy with, certainly in race trim. We are always strong in the races, it seems. We continue to have a good way of working with Chuck (Houghton, No. 4 Corvette engineer). There have been some changes in the team and the way the team works. Certainly having Ben (Johnson, team manager) has been a very positive thing and has helped with the way our cars function and work. Brian (Hoye, crew chief) and the crew are in a really good place. They’ve been incredibly solid. The fact that we just missed six laps of 2,217 we could have done this season in the class is a big reason why we are champions. Having the wins at the start of the year gave Tommy and I a lot of confidence, and we should have won at Long Beach. We knew we could do this.”
Even after winning six championships, are there still things you learn and pick up on each weekend?
“The thing I’ll take away from this year is that you can never, ever lift off the pedal. It is that tight. There are nine or 10 cars in our class with full-on professional drivers who are flat-out trying to beat one another. The competition is absolutely ferocious, and it feels like it has been cranked up another notch this year. You feel like you have to keep slowly adapting your style of driving but also the way you go about the races and understanding how the racing develops – the little nuances of fuel-savings and trying to eek things out to the end of the stint while going as fast as possible. The racetracks in North America are slowly evolving, but they are still the best tracks to compete on for the full year. They are second-to-none in how they are in their original nature. Everyone enjoys that. They all have their unique points, challenges and things that get you motivated each time you go. Then you understand how the car now has evolved in a certain way and style of driving that will affect how you approach the style of track and on a certain tire. That’s what you have to keep learning and learning. It keeps you working, thinking and on your toes.”
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