This year’s 24-hour endurance test reprised the drama of last year’s battle. The No. 63 Corvette C6.R and the No. 009 Aston Martin DBR9 were in lockstep from the start, separated by less than a lap in the running order for hour after hour. The turning point came in the 22nd hour when the green Aston Martin went to the garage with a mechanical problem. At 2:09 p.m., Jan Magnussen officially took the lead – a lead that Corvette Racing would not relinquish. The winning Corvette completed 355 laps, made 25 faultless pit stops, and won by a five-lap margin of victory.
“You have a one-lap cushion, the Aston is in the garage, and you are five laps ahead of the next car,” crew chief Ray Gongla radioed Magnussen when he took the point. “Do you copy? Can you hear us?”
“Yes, I can hear you,” the Dane replied, “but I just can’t believe it!”
Joining the three Corvette Racing drivers on the victory podium were Luc Alphand, Patrice Goueslard and Jerome Policand, who finished third in their independent Corvette C5-R with 346 laps completed. The No. 63 Compuware Corvette C6.R of Ron Fellows, Johnny O’Connell and Max Papis finished seventh after encountering drivetrain problems.
The No. 63 Corvette’s star-crossed weekend continued when it pitted at 1:20 p.m. in a cloud of smoke from the transmission. The crews from both cars went to work, removing, rebuilding and reinstalling the overheated gearbox. One hour and nine minutes later, Johnny O’Connell rejoined the fray.
“The rules don’t allow you to replace the complete transmission, but you can rebuild it,” explained team manager Gary Pratt. “We had a gearbox issue in Sebring, but we didnâ€™t expect it here, and it might have been the result of one problem creating another problem.
Corvette Racing Quotes:
“The key to our success was to never give up. Once again Le Mans proved to be race that isnâ€™t won until the checkered flag is out. We had a difficult moment during the night when Ollie hit an LMP car and we subsequently got some vibrations. Then we had a refueling problem and all of a sudden we were almost a lap down. We decided to push and a couple of hours from the end we started biting big chunks out of their lead. Then they hit problems and the race fell back our way. ”
“As always it was a fantastic race, super hard all the way against the Aston Martins. And once again everybody dug deep. This race is a testament to everybody involved who has worked so hard. Itâ€™s been a truly remarkable result to win three in a row against a super professional team like Prodrive. There were moments when you thought, this is going to be tough, when you felt the race falling away from you, but we just hung in there until it came back to us.”
“It was a very tough race, all 24 hours of it. We pushed all the way, and after we hit problems we didnâ€™t sit back. We didnâ€™t want the race to run away from us. By daylight we were almost a lap down but we just kept pushing and pushing until the Astons failed, and eventually they did. We never got any presents, we earned this win!”
Photo Credit: Philippe Chemin – ACO/Nikon
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