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Corvette Racing Drivers - All The Answers

How Well Do You Really Know Corvette Racing's World-Champion Drivers?

Christopher R. Phillip Nov 4, 2010
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You've watched their every race on SPEED TV, studied their every statistic on, and read every article ever published about them in VETTE magazine, but how well do you really know Jan Magnussen, Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta, and Johnny O'Connell, the four full-season drivers who embody Corvette Racing's core race team?

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To answer that question, we posed a plethora of fact-finding questions of our own-most of which had never been asked of the C6.R pilots before-and asked the quantum-quick quartet to reply.

"It's great when fans get to meet us at American Le Mans Series (ALMS) paddocks, Corvette Corrals, tech talks, and autograph sessions and get to know us," O'Connell tells VETTE. "But there are millions of fans across the world who can't make it to the live events and only see us on TV. For them, and for all Corvette Racing fans, this interview can give them a better understanding of how we tick."

Author's note: Due to time constraints, all four drivers did not answer every question.

Vette: If you could go back in time to any period in Corvette's 58-year history and order one new, what year and model would it be, what engine/transmission would you pick, and what options would you order?

Magnussen: A '53 Corvette because it looks incredibly cool for the time, and it represents its era so well. I'd take it even with the six-cylinder engine and two-speed automatic.

Gavin: I'd have one like the ['60] Corvette that John Fitch drove at Le Mans in 1960. It was a great-looking car-very unique and a great style.

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Beretta: A '63 split-window Sting Ray. That is the design I like the best. When I was a kid, I never imagined that I would be a driver for Corvette Racing, but this is the car that I would pick. I would like it in Sebring Silver with the biggest engine that can fit!

O'Connell: I would go with a '63 split-window Sting Ray, too, but make mine Tuxedo Black with a non-production gray interior. It would be under the radar. I'd tint the windows, go with every option that I could, and make sure that I never sold it.

Vette: If you could give your Corvette Racing race car a nickname, what would it be?

Gavin: "Jake."

Beretta: "Never Give Up," because if you look at the races at Le Mans, we have come back from a problem with a car that is faster than before the problem.

O'Connell: The first Corvette that I raced in 2001, I called "Sweetness," and I call the one I'm racing now "Rockstar."

Vette: When you're 100 years old and tell the same Corvette story to your great, great grandchildren over and over until they never want to hear it again, what story will it be?

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Magnussen: In 2004 at Le Mans, I was taken off the track by one of the Audis and had a big crash, and then we had another problem. We were six laps down to the leading Ferrari. We made up one lap by driving faster, but we needed some luck. Just as I was getting ready to get in the car, the leading Ferrari had a broken upright or bearing and locked up a front wheel. It took them five laps to fix it. Both cars came off their jacks at the same time, and I was in the lead by about five car lengths with two hours to go. We pulled away and won.

Gavin: The last race at Le Mans-we had a great battle with Jaime Melo in the Ferrari. We raced so close and so long-it was a great time.

Beretta: This year-the experience with the 50th anniversary at Le Mans with John Fitch [pictured with O'Connell, bottom of facing page.] I hope to be like him in 60 years.

O'Connell: If I were telling this story to my great-grandchildren, it would have to be G-rated. There are a lot of stories-the first win at Daytona with the Earnhardts and the first Le Mans win are two. [Also] the times when the whole team visited the U.S. Armed Services, landing on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. There have been some incredible life experiences with Corvette Racing.

Vette: If you could pick any race, any place, and any time in history, where would it be, what race, and what would you drive?

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Magnussen: I would have loved to have been the third guy in the battle between Gilles Villeneuve and René Arnoux in the 1979 French Grand Prix at Dijon. That would have been fantastic.

Gavin: I think the British Grand Prix at Silverstone with the old circuit in the mid-'80s in a Williams Formula 1 car. Keke Rosberg had the fastest overall lap at the time, over 160-mph average speed. That would have been amazing.

Beretta: Le Mans, for sure. Fifteen years ago we could manage the endurance; now it is a sprint race. I would like to have driven the Peugeot with the Formula 1 engine, and without the chicanes.

O'Connell: First of all it would be in a Corvette with this team. History is going to remember this team as one of the most successful and significant teams in sports-car racing. I'd love to race this car at Le Mans before the chicanes in the Mulsanne Straight. That would be cool.

Vette: If you could pick a famous person out of history-a king or queen, president, celebrity, warrior, inventor, or other famous person-and personally teach him or her how to race a Corvette, who would it be and why?

Magnussen: Johnny O'Connell!

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Gavin: One of the original Apollo astronauts would be very cool. They were driving Corvette Sting Rays, and they seemed to be amazing people. It would have been huge fun to teach one of them how drive a race car.

Vette: What personal preparation routine do you go through one hour before a race?

Magnussen: I just try to collect my thoughts and focus on what I need to do in the race.

Gavin: I make sure I've got enough fluids, try and relax, think about what we're going to do in the race, talk through the strategy with the team and Olivier, and focus on things.

Beretta: I just relax and get my stuff ready.

O'Connell: I generally goof around with the guys as we're getting ready, do some stretches, and think about what we need to do.

Vette: What was the very best lap of your career in a Vette?

Magnussen: The most memorable was when we got the record around the Nürburgring in a Corvette. I had to be faster than [Corvette engineer] Jim Mero.

Gavin: In 2002 in qualifying at Le Mans, we were a little back of the Ferrari. I did a banzai lap on soft tires, and I was on the grass in the first Porsche Curve. I didn't know whether I was going to get it back before the next turn, but fortunately I did. My teammate, Andy Pilgrim, was behind me, and as he came through the first Porsche Curve he saw grass on the track, and he was sure the next sight would be my car rolled up in a ball. That lap really got the adrenaline going!

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Beretta: There is not one; every event has been nice. Le Mans 2004 and 2009 were fantastic.

O'Connell: It's hard to remember one lap, but certain races stand out. Anytime any driver on the team gets a pole, that was a good lap.

Vette: If not a driver, what would you be, and why?

Magnussen: I have no idea; it's never crossed my mind. I was a welder once; maybe I could go back to that.

Gavin: I really don't know. My father and grandfather were engineers; perhaps I'd go into something mechanical like that.

Beretta: When I was a kid, I dreamed about being a jet-fighter pilot because of the speed and discipline.

O'Connell: This is a really difficult question, because in my entire life I've only wanted to be a race-car driver. It's not a question I could answer.

Vette: Chevrolet taps you to design the next-generation Corvette for the world. It can have any body, engine, drivetrain, options, and features, and only you can decide what they are. What would it look like-retro or ultra-futuristic-what would power it, and what options would it have?

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Magnussen: It would be a mid-engined chassis with the engine we have now, which is fantastic in the road car. We'll be racing super-strong Ferraris and Porsches next year, so the mid-engine design could improve our package.

Gavin: I've seen some artist impressions of what the C7 might look like, and it looks quite futuristic. The car has been front-engined for so long that putting the engine anywhere else would be going against the grain.

Beretta: I am just a driver, and there are many more clever people who could choose the engine, gearbox, and equipment better than me. For sure the next generation will be a fantastic Corvette.

O'Connell: I like the direction that Chevrolet has been going with the Corvette. I'd keep it a front-engined car, and I might make it a little wider and swoopier. I'd incorporate a lot of the technology we have in the Corvette C6.R race cars. I'd make the cockpit more like a race car, with a racing-type steering wheel and a sequential shifter.

Vette: You have the opportunity to develop a new racing league for the Corvette to participate in-something that will eventually become a household name in motorsports as big as Le Mans or the Daytona 500. What would your new race include, what kind of track would it use, and what kind of Corvettes would compete? Would it be Corvette-only or open to other brands?

Magnussen: Definitely Corvette ZR1s, but I don't know which tracks.

Gavin: It has to be for the ZR1, an all-ZR1 championship. It should go the circuits we race in ALMS, and in Europe as well, with a one-off race at Le Mans before the start of the 24 Hours. We'd have to race at the Nürburgring, too. It has to be global.

O'Connell: It would be very cool to have a Corvette-only series with four races on road courses, two on paved ovals, and throw in a rally event and a dirt-track oval. That would be a little bit of everything.

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Vette: A new race called the Corvette Triathlon is created, which has you racing your Corvette on the dragstrip, the road course, and the circle track. What would you do to win, and which race would be the easiest? Which would be the hardest?

Magnussen: It depends on whom you are up against. The European champion in Top Fuel dragsters is Danish, and he's invited me to drive his race car, so that would be fun.

Gavin: I think the oval would be the most difficult, and the road course would be the easiest. The ZR1 would be strong in a drag race.

O'Connell: I would win it by having (crew chief) Dan Binks prepare the car, and we would cheat like crazy!

Vette: You're chosen as the first race-car driver in the history of the sport to go into space. What message do you send back down to the people of Earth?

Gavin: Once you got out there, you'd be inspired.

Beretta: I'd have to go there first.

O'Connell: There's no McDonald's up here.

Vette: What one memory in your career with Corvette is most fond to you?

Magnussen: The first Le Mans win.

Gavin: Standing on the top step at Le Mans. Any one of those four victories is special.

Beretta: Each year when we go to Le Mans, because it is something special you cannot explain until you go there.

O'Connell: One would be my very first race with the team when we won at Daytona. Getting an overall win with Corvette in my very first race with the team was an incredible beginning. That same year, getting the team's first win at Le Mans was very special.

Vette: When you judge cars in the Corvette Corrals, what are you most looking for in the winning car?

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Magnussen: I tend to vote for the classics. My favorite era is the '50s and '60s.

Gavin: Something unique or unusual, whether it's the color, the wheels, the age of the car, or the condition it's in.

Beretta: The look and the color. If it is an old Corvette that is good-looking, I will pick it.

O'Connell: It's guaranteed that if I see McDonald's french fries on the floor of a Corvette, I will choose that car because it's like mine! I've picked them because they're messy, and I think it's awesome because that means the owner is like me. I've picked them because the tires are really feathered on the edges, which means the owner is really driving it. The strength of the Corvette is its athleticism, and I like it when people take advantage of that.

Vette: Where in the world have you never raced a Corvette, but would like to, and why?

Magnussen: I have never raced a Corvette in Denmark, and I would like to do that very much.

Gavin: The Nürburgring. I've never raced there-never driven a Corvette there. I would really love to race the Nürburgring 24 hours in a GT2 Corvette.

Beretta: Monaco, because I have raced there in F1 and Formula 3-not because I was born near Turn 1 at Monaco and it is my country, but because the Grand Prix is such a fantastic event. It has history and flair.

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O'Connell: That's a really easy question. I've always wanted to race in China. With the arrival of the new Le Mans Intercontinental Cup series that will race in China, maybe we'll get that opportunity. China is a very strong market for Chevrolet and GM, so it would be a great thing to do.

Vette: What one specific thing are you most proud of as a driver for Corvette?

Magnussen: I am proud of being part of the team that is time and time again the benchmark.

Gavin: The four victories at Le Mans stand out as the things I am most proud of.

Beretta: Just to be part of a great organization that represents an American brand.

O'Connell: The manner in which we represent the love affair that every Corvette owner has for Corvette on the racetrack. People who buy Corvettes appreciate that the car has a racing history, and a little bit of what we do on the track goes into their personal cars.

Vette: In your home country, what do the local fans like most about the Corvette?

Magnussen (Denmark): The masculine look of the car and the fantastic sound.

Gavin (England): The noise; they love the sound of the engine. British fans are always telling me they love the sound of the car.

Beretta (Monaco): Ten years ago, they had no idea about the Corvette, except what they saw in the movies. Now they know the car because of Le Mans and other European races, and now they appreciate it.

O'Connell (USA): It's America. Most kids grow up wanting a Corvette, whether a guy or a girl. Corvette is a world icon. What makes the car so special worldwide is the love affair that people have with Corvette. It's the only car I know of that has its own specific museum, and that says it all.



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