The final race took place at the Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta this past weekend, competing in the Motul Petit Le Mans, the 22nd edition of this now-classic race. This was the finale of the IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship for the 2019 season. The race started at 12.05 p.m., which was later than is traditional, we assume because of NBCSN scheduling. This meant more of the race took place in the dark, which is a good thing. There is something very special about watching race cars at night!
Corvette c7.R #3 qualified second, but was sent to the back of the GTLM field after failing post-qualifying technical inspection. Four pieces of gravel lodged themselves under one of the wing supports between the undertray and the pylon, raising the wing height by 1.3mm, which meant the car failed inspection. The C7.R #4 car started from seventh place in the nine-car field. The Risi Ferrari being the ninth car in the field, returned to IMSA competition after having missed most of the season. The Ferrari wound up qualifying on pole position, thanks to a generous Balance of Performance (BoP) adjustment.
Before the race start, Tommy Milner did a lap of the track in the new C8.R Corvette, mid-engined race car. Olly Gavin, therefore, started the #4 and Antonio Garcia started in the #3. Olly pitted after just 26 minutes of the race. His efforts suffering from a slow puncture or a wrong choice of tires for qualifying. Apparently, the team went too aggressive on the compound.
Antonio Garcia stayed in the #3 Corvette when he pitted at a more expected 48 minutes for the first fuel and tire stop. Olly Gavin pitted for full service at 1hr 34 minutes into the race, handing the car over to Tommy Milner. On Tommy’s out lap, the first full-course caution (FCC) happened when the leading LMP2 car was taken out at the Esses by one of the Acura DPi cars. Helio Castroneves, the driver of the #7 Acura, was accessed a penalty for causing the accident.
All the other GTLM cars pitted as part of the FCC procedure, cycling Tommy to the GTLM class lead. The #3 Corvette pitted from 5th but left in 4th place as Antonio handed the car over to Jan Magnussen. A second FCC quickly followed and the Corvette race team took the opportunity to top off the #4 car’s fuel just before the race returned to green. This dropped the #4 car back to 7th position in the GTLM Class, but now with about 3 more laps of fuel over their rivals.
Marcel Fassler was at the wheel of the #4 C7.R during the fourth hour of the race when it was clipped by one of the JDC Miller Motorsports DPi prototypes. The contact caused damage to the nose, resulting in understeer for the rest of the race. The JDC car had to replace its tail section and was assessed a penalty for the contact. But, all of the #4 C7.R drivers had to endure an evil-understeering Corvette for the rest of the race. This would drop them two laps behind the leaders at the finish with a disappointing Seventh Place in the GTLM Class.
The #66 Ford went off-track at Turn 1, causing another FCC and dropping the Ford from Second Place and out of contention for the win. By 5hrs 40 minutes into the race, Mike “Rocky” Rockenfeller had cycled to the front of the GTLM field as different cars were on different fuel strategies. The driver rotations for the two Corvettes were: #3 Corvette – Antonio, Jan, Rocky, Jan, Antonio. For the #4 car, it was Oliver, Tommy, Marcel, Oliver, Tommy.
Antonio Garcia climbed back into the #3 C7.R with two hours to go, taking over from Jan Magnussen who had driven the #3 C7.R competitively for the final time. Jan you will be missed by all of us who have gotten to know you over the last sixteen years of loyal service to the Corvette Racing family. Jordan Taylor will have big shoes to fill.
The final pit stop took place during the final FCC at 32 minutes to go. The race went back to green with only 25 minutes to go.
Antonio was set to full-attack mode by the team, with enough fuel and a new set of Michelins. Despite his best efforts and the attack on the #912 Porsche by Pipo Derani in the winning DPi #31 Whelan Cadillac, the best the #3 Corvette C7.R could do was finish just off the podium in Fourth Place.
The C7.R has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2015, the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in 2015 and 2016, the GTLM Driver’s titles in 2016,2017,2018 and the GTLM Manufacturers titles in 2017, 2018, the GTLM Team titles in 2016,2017, 2018 and the Patron Endurance Cup in 2015 and 2016. Overall not a bad resume for an iconic race car.