If you’re a motorsports fan, having titles and championships decided at the final race is always the icing on the cake. If you’re a Corvette fan, that serving was doubled up at this year’s running of the Petit Le Mans (PLM), the 10-hour classic that wrapped up the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship on the fabled Road Atlanta road course. This event was also the final round of Patron North American Endurance Cup (TPNAEC), the championship within the IMSA championship for the endurance events on the schedule.
With four Corvette DPs in the Prototype class and two C7.Rs in the GTLM category, the Bow Tie brigade was well represented and fully prepared to battle for the championships at stake. In the DP ranks, it wasn’t a matter if a Corvette would win—it would come down to which one would win the Driver’s Championship. Both Action Express cars and the Wayne Taylor Racing DPs had a mathematical chance at claiming the Team and Driver’s Championship. The coveted Manufacturer’s Championship in the prototype class wasn’t as nebulous. By simply starting the race, Chevrolet would win that title, and with four cars on the grid, that was virtually guaranteed. In the GTLM class, coming into this race, the No. 4 C7.R squad of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner led in the Driver’s point’s battle with a small margin over the Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe pair in the No. 67 Ford GT. Close behind was the No. 3 C7.R of Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia who still had a mathematical chance over the Ford GT for the second spot in the championship, assuming the Ford did poorly in the race. As with the Prototype category, the Manufacturer’s title in GTLM was also wrapped up for Chevrolet coming into the weekend. Still on the table were the Driver’s and team titles. The No. 4 Corvette needed to finish 7th or better to claim the remaining titles.
Leading up to race day, in the Prototype class, the Honda-powered Ligiers had topped the practice and qualifying results followed by the Mazdas. As with the other endurance events during the season, the smaller-displacement LMP2-based cars were exceptionally fast and equally balanced with the Corvette DPs, ensuring that close racing would take place. On the grid, the No. 31 Action Express DP was 3rd, followed in the 5th spot by the defending series champions in the No. 5 Action Express machine, ahead of the No. 90 VisitFlorida.com Corvette DP. The No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing DP was poised in the 16th position. In the GTLM category, the No. 67 Ford GT had the in-class pole with the No. 3 Corvette C7.R in the 2nd spot. The No. 4 Corvette would start the race from 7th. Overall and class poles amount to nothing more than bragging rights and have virtually no significance in the final outcome of the race. Most teams will tell you that, in an endurance race like PLM, the actual racing takes place when the sun goes down and the race is in its latter stages.
At the drop of the green flag, as expected, the LMP2 spec cars took the lead. The GTLM pack took off moments later with the No. 67 Ford GT at the front. By the first hour the No. 31 Action Express had inherited the lead in the Prototype class with the first round of pit stops in the books, while the GTLM lead was handed to the No. 62 Risi Ferrari. The No. 3 Corvette C7.R was forced to pit due to throttle issues, which dropped them four laps behind. By the third hour, the No. 31 Action Express DP was still in the lead with their No. 5 teammate a close second. The No. 90 Corvette DP had drifted out of contention due to electrical issues. The No. 4 C7.R had inherited the lead as a result of faster pit stops. At that point the track also began to break up at Turn 3, which brought out an extended yellow. Yellow flag sessions accounted for over an hour of the 10-hour race, which forced the entire field to bunch up numerous times. Just past the midway point in the race, the No. 4 Corvette C7.R, driven by Marcel Fässler, had an off-track excursion that dropped it back to 5th in class, while up front in the Prototype pack the top three spots were now occupied by Corvette DPs. The No. 5 car was at the front, followed by the No. 31 and the No. 10.
With two hours left in the race, the play for positions started to become clearer. The No. 60 Honda-powered Ligier was now at the front with a 35-second lead over the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP. The No. 31 Action Express Racing Corvette DP was running 4th, which would be enough to clinch Prototype championship. A left-rear puncture for the No. 5 Action Express Corvette DP put the car nearly two laps behind and out of the championship battle with three hours and 45 minutes to go. In the GTLM battle, it turned into another Ford vs. Ferrari battle in the final hours of the race. The No. 4 Corvette C7.R had moved up into 3rd, which was more than enough to clinch all the championships they were chasing, followed close behind by the sister No. 3 C7.R in the 4th spot.
With the checkered flag waved on the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, in the Prototype category, the No. 31 Action Express pair of Dane Cameron and Eric Curran secured the Driver’s title with a three-point advantage over the Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi duo in the No. 5 sister car. Claiming the third spot were the brother pairing of Ricky and Jordan Taylor in the No. 10 Corvette DP, with the VisitFlorida.com Corvette DP squad placing fifth. Action Express also won the Team championship, claiming the top two spots, while the Team and Driver’s titles in the TPNAEC championship were claimed by the No. 5 squad. In GTLM, it was also an all Corvette affair with the Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner pair taking home the Driver’s title in the No. 4 C7.R, while Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia in the No. 3 C7.R claimed the third spot in the standings. Corvette Racing also won the Team Championship. The No. 4 C7.R drivers also won the Driver’s championship, along with the Team and Manufacturer’s titles in the TPNAEC championship. Corvette Racing had the perfect season by sweeping every championship within the series for 2016.
Looking forward, 2016 was the last year for the DP platform. For 2017, the Corvette name goes away, to be substituted by the new DPi category, which will consist of LMP2 based cars skinned with a bespoke Cadillac body and powertrain as the GM entry in the top class. Wayne Taylor Racing will campaign one car, while Action Express will field two in the new class. In the GTLM class, the C7.R returns for another year. Rumors all year of a mid-engine Corvette have been the buzz on the grid; if and when that happens is yet to be determined. The Corvette Racing squad will have an even tougher fight on their hands in 2017.