Oliver Gavin is a former British Formula 3 champion, F3000 racer and F1 test driver who made the move to sportscars in 2001. He has been part of the factory Chevrolet Corvette programme for 15 years, racking up numerous wins in the major international events. His CV includes five Le Mans 24 Hours wins and a similar number at the Sebring 12 Hours. Earlier this year he took his first win in the Daytona 24 Hours to complete the triple crown. He will contest the full WeatherTech IMSA SportsCar Championship, America’s top sportscar series, for Corvette Racing.
The climax to the first big sportscar race of the year, the Daytona 24 Hours, was pretty crazy. I was in the #4 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R that I shared with Tommy Milner and Marcel Fässler and we were embroiled in an incredibly close battle with the sister car, the #3 of Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller.
We’d had a really good run in the race, the first round of the WeatherTech IMSA SportsCar series, and were battling for the class lead in GT LM, having seen off the attentions of BMW, Ferrari and Porsche in what is a massively competitive class.
The last 15 laps came down to a humdinger between Antonio and me. His car had had a bit of a refuelling problem so I knew he’d have to stop again. I also knew that he’d be on a mission after that final stop. I was battling with Earl Bamber in the leading Porsche 911 RSR and realised that the longer it took me to get past him, the quicker Antonio would close up.
I eventually got past Bamber and, sure enough, Antonio was soon on my tail. I knew he’d get me as he had fresher tyres on. With three or four laps to go he towed up behind me out of the Bus Stop and round the banking down towards Turn 1 and squeezed underneath me. Crucially, he’d braked a few metres too late and ran a fraction wide. That was my last chance to outdrag him off the corner and get him back. So I did, just!
I got a bit of a break then and maintained the gap. On the last lap he got a tow out of the Bus Stop – again! – and drew alongside as we approached the line. I’d been a bit too cautious, not wanting to mess up, and it nearly cost me. As it was, I crossed the line 0.034s ahead for an epic win!
Antonio and I are good friends and go running a lot together, but on the track there’s no quarter given. In fact, I haven’t seen him since I pipped him at Daytona and we’re sharing a car together from Miami airport to Sebring for this weekend’s 12 Hours. That could be interesting…
Talking of Sebring: it’s a really special place for me. It’s where I made my American GT-class debut, in a Saleen in 2001. I had a great run, winning the GTS class in an S7R, and caught the attention of Corvette Racing. Fifteen years later I’m still here and winning races for them, so Sebring 2001 was a great moment for me.
Sebring’s airfield circuit is one of the classics. I’ve had five wins there and it’s still a tough one to tame. The track evolves constantly during the race, in terms of temperature and grip, and it’s very bumpy in places; it gives us drivers a serious workout. Physically, it’s more demanding than Le Mans or Daytona, despite being half the duration. It’s an old-school track and I love it.
GT-class racing’s in a great place at the moment, with a good number of brands all vying for honours. The manufacturers all expect success as their ROI, so the pressure’s on. And Ford’s back, of course, with the incredible GT, so we’re all watching our backs for when they get the car up to speed. They had a few reliability issues at Daytona, the programme’s a bit undercooked at the moment, but by the time of Le Mans in June they should be right on it. They’ve got a great roster of drivers, too, so we’re on guard.
I can’t wait for Sebring this weekend. Another win there, to add to my fifth Le Mans win last year and the Daytona victory a few weeks back, would be really cool and be great for the championship…
Lead image courtesy of LAT