[C7RCENTRAL] RACING: Corvette, a ray of sunshine at the 24 Hours of Le Mans | ACO – Automob
This year, the Corvette Racing team is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and has been participating in the 24 Hours for 19 of those 20 years. The American marque has a special relationship with Le Mans, as does driver Oliver Gavin with program manager Doug Fehan.
The American marque knows how to win when the odds are stacked against it. In 2015, after losing a car in a qualifying session, the entire team dedicated itself to the other car: “The feeling I got when I crossed the finish line was extraordinary. It was truly a team victory,” admits Oliver Gavin. Doug Fehan adds: “A win in the spirit of Le Mans.”
When Herb Fishel, the legendary head of all General Motors sporting activities, hired Doug Fehan in 1988, he had one goal in mind: to see a Corvette on the starting grid at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It took 10 years for the dream to become a reality. And so was born a memorable shared history. Doug Fehan: “To be invited to Le Mans in 2000 was an enormous honor, culminating in the third step on the podium as the icing on the cake. The next year, Corvette pulled off a one-two in the rain. Back then, the gearbox and starter were relatively fragile. We had a comfortable lead and the smart move was to replace both in order to go the distance, but I didn’t want Corvette to be accused of winning in an unsportsmanlike way. So I asked someone in race direction if it was ok to bring the car in to change out parts. They said yes, we did it and we won. I decided to get up on the podium with the drivers, which hadn’t been done before. To see that huge, overjoyed crowd gathered at the bottom of the podium and especially the mechanics with tears in their eyes, it was unforgettable. Probably the best memory of my entire life!”
Probably the best memory of my entire life!
— Doug Fehan
The following year, British driver Oliver Gavin joined the American team whose cars are assembled and run by Pratt & Miller. “I won Le Mans for the first time with Corvette as a rookie with Ron Fellows and Johnny O’Connell. It was the best. We were battling the Ferrari 550 Maranello fielded by Prodrive and it was merciless. It’s a wonderful memory, though the win in 2015 is just as special after losing the sister car during qualifying.”
The team almost lost a car back in 2003 when the livery of the two C5-5s was light blue in celebration of the marque’s 50th anniversary. Doug Fehan remembers: “One of the cars returned to the pit at the end of the first lap, and even though we finished in second and third places, it’s a bad memory because a good deal of staff had come from the U.S. to support us. I can tell you there will never again be another blue Corvette at Le Mans!”
True to his word, the C5-R, C6.R and C7.R (two of the latter fielded this year in the LMGTE Pro class) have always been the iconic bright yellow for which Corvette is known. It’s a perfect symbol of the bond between the American marque and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.