To catch up with Corvette Racing driver Oliver Gavin, you'd better be going at least 200 mph. Gavin is a hard man to keep pace with on the track, and he doesn't slow down much between races, either.
Recently, we convinced the blazing Brit to shift into neutral just long enough to speak with us on the record. Highly intelligent and personable, Gavin talked at length about the C6.R team, its past successes and the challenges it faces on the road to a sixth straight GT1 title. He even gave us some insight into his life away from the track and hinted at his plans for the future.
Vette: You're working on your third straight GT1 driver championship. What will it take to get there?
Oliver Gavin: It takes dedication, commitment, a lot of focus, and a really good group of people at Corvette Racing. And of course, it comes down to making as few mistakes as possible. The series is so close, it can just be that there's one slip-up in one race-that one thing that can throw your championship off. You might not make another mistake for the whole of the year because the race is so close between the two Vettes, as it was last year against Aston Martin. You're just thinking all the time, "Is that going to be the slip-up that costs us the championship?"
Fortunately, over the last couple of years, we haven't made too big a mess of anything, and that's one of the reasons we got the championship. But it's very tough, and I know that everybody on both C6.R Vettes is just as hungry for the championship. It doesn't come down to the fact that one [team] is more hungry than the other. It's just basically that there's going to be a winner, and there's going to be a loser.
Vette: What will be the easiest race this season for the C6.R teams, and what will be the hardest?OG: The hardest race of this year is going to be Le Mans. That's without a doubt. Every year it is the hardest because it's such a test for everybody involved-whether it's the guy who's doing food for the team, whether it's us, or whether it's the crew chief.
There are a number of things that we're trying to figure out from this track [St. Petersburg] and a handful of the others [that will] make that effort at Le Mans as solid and as strong as possible-whether it's with tires, brakes, or the new air-conditioning unit we have in the car. We're trying to make sure everything's as bulletproof as possible and that it's working to its absolute maximum to make sure that when we get to France in June, we're as fully prepared as possible.
Vette: Do you think it will be difficult to remain focused this year now that you have no real competition in GT1?
OG: No, not at all. Like I said, the two Corvettes are driving each other on as fast and as hard as they possibly can all the time. It's healthy. It's good. The team encourages it. Racing drivers are competitive. They want to be competitive in everything they do. Whether we've got just ourselves to race against, or whether we've got Aston Martins or Saleens (or others), we're always going to want to beat the other car. So it's important.
Vette: With that in mind, how critical is the intra-team competition between the Corvette Racing No. 3 and No. 4 cars?
OG: It is very important. The competition between the two cars drives you on. It means that we can't sit back, relax, and think that the results are going to come. Here in St. Petersburg, for instance, we don't have any competition, which is a shame, but we're using all of these ALMS races up to Le Mans to prepare for Le Mans.
Vette: Do you feel any changes to the C6.R engine will be required to win this year's series, or to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans?
OG: I think the C6.R engine has been extremely strong, and it's been reliable. It won the award last year for Global Motorsports Engine of the Year. Every year that we go to Le Mans, every year that we run the car at a big event-whether it's 12 Hours of Sebring or it's 24 Hours of Le Mans-you can always rely on the C6.R. You know it's going to be there for you. You know that it's going to be pulling strong. You have every confidence that the engine's going to last.
Vette: Have you ever seen a better engine in your experience as a race-car driver?
OG: No, I think [the C6.R engine] has been fantastic. In fact, that's the reason why it won the Global Award-because it's such a good engine.
Vette: In your opinion, who has the hardest job on the C6.R race team?
OG: Crew chief Ray Gongla, who has to keep fully focused for 24 hours. He's a spotter, he's a crew chief, and he's a motivator. I'd say he mostly has the toughest job on the team on our C6.R No. 4 car.
Vette: You mention the Astons. Do you miss driving against the Prodrive Astons?
OG: Yes, I do. They were a great team. I think we realized maybe over the winter and also towards the end of last year how good they were. They really came on strongly with their Pirelli tires. OK, there was squabbling over rules and regulations, but that aside, it was hard racing, it was fun racing, and they had four really good drivers in the ALMS.
We hope that they come back very soon, and maybe they will come back permanently after Le Mans. We're looking forward to racing them again, and again at Le Mans, because I think they're going to be very, very strong then. It's going to be very interesting to see how they've developed their car over the winter and, if they do come back, whether they come back on Michelins or Pirellis.
Vette: How does a winning team such as Corvette Racing come together?
OG: You have to work with each other. You just don't throw a team together like this overnight. You've got to see how one person does one thing and another person does another to see what their strengths are. I think our team has found out over many years that we've got the right people in the right places.
Vette: If Zora Arkus-Duntov were here today, do you think he'd approve of the C6.R race car team and its drivers?
OG: Yes, I'd say he'd approve of the work ethic and the amazing high standard that the C6.R Vette is prepared to. I think he would approve of the way that our whole team goes about running a race-whether it's the strategy, the pit stops, the driver changes, the drivers driving as far as they possibly can...but just within their limits so that they're not putting the car at risk. I think he'd approve of the way we make sure everybody's getting the maximum available to them, whether it's the driver on the track, or the engineer sitting in their engineering office going over the data, maximizing everything they possibly can, or the crew out in the holding, working on the C6.R, making sure everything's perfect for us to take the car out to the track.
Vette: Speaking of Duntov, do you have a classic or even a late-model Vette as a daily driver?
OG: I do not. And I really want to get one, but I have three small children, and I'm trying to pay for all of them at the moment. And I have quite an old house back in England-a 400-year-old house that I'm renovating at the moment, so most of my money is going into that. But maybe there will be a time that I do have a classic Vette.
Vette: And when that time comes, what year Vette will you consider?
OG: Max Papis, our fellow driver, has a '58 that's stunning. I love the look of that car, the red-and-white two-tone. It's got a great shape to it and a great look.
Vette: What would you say to the Corvette race-car drivers 20 years from now, who read about your wins in their history books?
OG: I hope that they perform to the maximum, and that they get as much as they possibly can out of their Vettes, as we do with ours. Perform and keep winning. It's a great heritage. It's great, the run that we're on at the moment. I just hope that it continues for many years.
Vette: And finally, if you win the ALMS championship this year, how will you celebrate?
OG: The biggest thing is to celebrate with the team, because they've worked so hard through the ups and downs of a long, hard season. We celebrate the good races and the bad races as a team. The last time I won the championship, we had a meal together and then a party. I'd like to do the same if we win another.