Corvette Racing has a long history of competing at Daytona International Speedway. They debuted their C5-Rs at the 1999 Grand-Am Rolex 24 Hours. This was followed with a second-place overall finish in 2000 and a First place overall finish in 2001. 2001 was the last time Corvette Racing competed at Daytona until 2014. Starting in 2002, Grand-Am created two new classes, Daytona Prototype (DP) and GT. The C5-R was not eligible for the GT class, so Corvette Racing competed in the American Le Mans Series (AMLS). When ALMS and Grand-Am merged at the end of 2013 it was renamed the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship (USCC). One of the classes the USCC created was called GTLM (Grand Touring Le Mans). The Corvette C7.R is eligible for GTLM and they were competitive when they returned to Daytona in 2014, but teething problems kept them off the podium.
Corvette Racing came to Daytona in 2015 determined to capture a GTLM Daytona victory. Ten cars were entered in the GTLM class, and Oliver Gavin in the No. 4 Corvette C7.R captured the class pole with a 1:43.488 lap. His pole time was 0.407 seconds quicker than the second place Ferrari. Gavin thanked Corvette driver Jan Magnussen after he secured the pole, “Jan towed me around and helped me get the pole position.” The quickest Corvette DP this year was fourth fastest with a 1:39.568 compared to last year’s Corvette DP pole position of 1:38.270. A Honda and two Ford Prototypes were quicker this year. The difference in this year’s lap time compared to last year’s was due to subtle changes in the BOP (Balance of Performance). The other three Corvette DPs qualified 7th, 9th, and 24th.
The green flag fell for 53 competitors under cool, sunny skies at 2:10 pm. At the end of the first hour Ford DPs were First and Second with a Corvette DP in Third. Corvette C7.Rs were First and Second in GTLM. The battle among the 10 GTLM entries was intense. Pit stops for DP and the GTLM entries took place every 42 to 50 minutes. The Corvette C7.R’s superb pit crew were able to add fuel and change four tires in under 1 minute, 15 seconds. An unfortunate pit stop occurred for the No.31 Whelen Corvette DP at the 1-hour, 23-minute mark when they had to go back to the garage to replace the steering rack. When they resumed racing they were in 51st position, 13th in DP.
By the fourth hour, the No. 10 Konica Minolta Corvette DP was in the lead and setting a quick race pace. The No. 3 Corvette C7.R led GTLM in 13th place overall after starting 29th. Gavin lost 15 seconds when he was hit by a Prototype Challenge entry at Turn 4 and spun off course. Corvette DPs began to show their speed by the end of the eighth hour. They held the top three positions (No. 10, No. 5, & No. 90). However, the No. 01 and 02 Ford EcoBoost DPs were close behind. As the race neared the ninth hour, the second place No. 5 Corvette DP ground to a halt between Turns 3 and 4. The Corvette DP was towed back to the garage for repairs. A loose fuel pump wire was discovered and it took three laps to make a repair.
After 14 hours, a Ford DP (02) led, followed by a Corvette DP (10), a Ford DP (01) and a Corvette DP (05). The No. 25 BMW GTLM held a 0.339-second lead over the No. 3 C7.R Corvette. The No. 31 Whelen Corvette was now up to 8th in DP and 14th overall. After another quick Corvette Racing pit stop, No. 3 driver Ryan Briscoe reported, “I’m really impressed with the GT Le Mans class and how competitive every car is. Right now I am happy. We have not had any crashes or damage, so that is the important part.” Shortly before, at the 15-hour, 28-minute mark, both Corvettes pitted for new brakes. The No. 3 crew completed their work in 2:25 and the No. 4 crew took 2:52. This change put the BMW into the GTLM class lead.
Late in the race drama hit the front-runners. At 18 hours, 4 minutes, Gavin made contact with a Prototype Challenge contender and damaged his C7.R’s left-front fender. This put the No. 25 BMW into the GTLM lead. Gavin pitted for 3:30 to have the damage repaired. Shortly after Gavin’s incident, the leading BMW entered the Turn 8 Bus Stop chicane too fast and ripped the rear bumper off as it left the track. This gave the GTLM lead back to the No. 3 Corvette driven by Jan Magnussen; the BMW resumed the race in Third. The Corvette DPs were First, Second, and Fifth. The drama for the No. 4 C7.R continued at the 20-hour mark when Tommy Milner collided with the No. 66 DP exiting Turn 6. This caused extensive damage to the C7.R’s right-front fender and bumper. The Corvette Racing crew replaced the nose and fenders in a little over seven minutes. However, the No. 4 team lost three laps to their teammate and the pesky BMW.
As the race drew to a close, the battle for the overall lead was between the No. 02 Ford DP, No. 10 Corvette DP, and the No. 5 Corvette DP. The Ford DP led the No. 10 Corvette by 0.33 seconds. Suddenly, at 23 hours, 49 minutes, the No. 10 Corvette pitted for an unexpected driver change because driver Jordan Taylor exceeded his four-hour driver time. Because of this rule infraction, they were dropped to the back of the field. This infraction gave the race win to the No. 02 Ford as the No. 5 Corvette DP did not have the pace to pass in the closing minutes. The Ford DP won by 1.33 seconds over the No. 5 Corvette DP and the No. 90 Corvette DP was Third. The No. 3 Corvette was Fourth overall and First in GTLM, finishing just 0.478 seconds ahead of the Fifth place No. 25 BMW. The No. 31 Whelen Corvette DP finished an impressive Sixth. Fortunately, Corvette Racing earned the C7.R an impressive Daytona victory. In addition, this team won the DEKRA Green Challenge Award for their Rolex 24 race performance. This award is given to the most environmentally clean, fast, and efficient GT Le Mans competitor. Hopefully their victory will kick-start them towards a 2015 GTLM championship.