After winning the Rolex 24 Hour race in Daytona at the end of January to start the 2016 IMSA Season, Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Marcel Fässler in the No. 4 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R won their second straight race at the 12 Hours of Sebring this weekend. Despite being saddled with additional weight, intake restrictions and a smaller fuel tank, Corvette claimed the victory to start the 2016 season 2 – 0.
The victory follows the pattern of last year in which Corvette won the Triple Crown of IMSA endurance races: 24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring, and 24 Hours of Le Mans. Saturday’s victory is the 5th endurance victory in a row, the 10th class victory at Sebring, and the third Sebring victory in four years for Corvette Racing.
Far from a dull 12 hour race, this year’s version had a Red Flag period due to lightning and severe weather, many Yellow caution flags, and constant lead changes. We nearly saw another Corvette-VS-Corvette finish (similar to Daytona); Jan Magnussen in the No. 3 Corvette had taken the class lead with five hours to go when the No. 911 Porsche rammed him at the entry to turn 1 severely damaging both cars. The No. 3 Corvette eventually reentered (after the pit crew rebuilt the sucker in under 45 minutes) the race to finish in ninth place.
Both BMW entries qualified faster than the rest of the class to start the race in P1 and P2. They were followed by Ferrari and then Ford and Porsche. Corvette qualified last! But there was only .7 seconds between 1st and last! There were ten GTLM cars in the field and all of them completed enough laps to earn points. Russia’s SMP Racing Ferrari that raced at Daytona did not appear in Sebring.
I was working around the house on Saturday, wearing a Corvette Racing shirt for good luck, and checking in on progress throughout the day. At one point the No. 4 Corvette was two laps down but the team never gave up. With about one hour to go Tommy Milner had a commanding 26 second lead, but a final Yellow flag period allowed the competition to close the gap. When the course went Green, Tommy drove the distance to finish mere seconds ahead of the second place No. 25 BMW (that had set a track record in qualifying).
Remember the old “Chevy VS Ford wars of the Muscle Car era? They are back. Don Kingery has asked me to remind everyone of the words of Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing Program Manager, “Ford is in this to win Le Mans and they will be a force to reckon with. Anyone who thinks different is very mistaken!” Doug went on to add, “Just when you think you’ve seen it all – with the tremendous wins at Le Mans and Daytona – Corvette Racing comes back from one of our cars being taken out and the other two laps down with six hours to go and standing here in Victory Lane… it’s a great team, great drivers, tremendous strategy and engineering, flawless execution on pit stops. It takes an effort like this to win in this race and in this series. We’re racing against the world’s best. And today we demonstrated why Corvette Racing is the world’s best GT racing team.”