This weekend at Shanghai is turning into a real learning experience for Corvette Racing, which has entered a wild-card C7.R into the FIA WEC’s Pro class, giving the team its first taste of a standard six-hour World Endurance Championship race since 2014.
The team on site is a mix of the IMSA personnel who run the team’s GTLM cars, with full-season drivers Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin sharing the wheel. Only a couple of the mechanics have been to Shanghai before, supporting Larbre’s GTE Am efforts with Corvette some years ago, and neither Milner nor Gavin had driven the circuit until yesterday.
Team Manager Ben Johnson has been impressed with the process so far, explaining to RACER that the FIA has tried to make sure the process of entering its car and getting everything sorted logistically was as seamless as possible.
“The logistical challenges were daunting,” he said. “There’s been a lot of back and forth between the WEC and DHL, but everyone has been so helpful. It seemed like it would be a real mountain to climb initially, because everything about this trip is new to us, but actually it hasn’t been too bad. We’ve been able to draw from our experience racing at Le Mans and IMSA to get through it.”
Corvette isn’t used to racing with just one car at events; in fact, the last time it entered a single car was back in 2000 when racing at Texas Motor Speedway in the American Le Mans Series. But Gavin feels the team is still capable of challenging for a good result on Sunday despite the team racing at an unfamiliar circuit, up against five full-factory two-car teams.
“We are approaching this in a straightforward way,” Gavin told RACER. “Yes, we only have one car so we’re restricted in what we can learn each session, as we’re down 50 percent. But we’re running a car we know, just on a new track.
“The tires are different to the IMSA Michelins, but they are the ones we used at Le Mans, so we’ve got a bit of a read on them. The only issue is we haven’t had much running in IMSA this year in wet conditions. We just have to get dialed in with the conditions and focus on extracting the maximum we can out of the car.
“The first sessions were all about getting Tommy and I used to the track.”
Weather has played a big part so far though, with light rain all day on Friday meaning the team hasn’t been able to tackle the circuit in any sort of optimal condition. However, the forecast remains bleak for race day, so getting as many laps in as possible in the wet should prove valuable in the long run.
“It’s slippery and slick, tricky conditions, but we got to experience the car on the wet tire, and briefly the slick at the end of FP1,” he said. “I think if it’s changeable then we may stand more of a chance than if it’s dry, but we’ll see.
“There’s areas of the track with good flow, but there’s areas with corners that for our sort of car, go on too long. Turn 1-2, it’s too long for us, and the turn that runs onto the back straight is probably 45 degrees too long. Our car is at times struggling with that, but it’s the same for everyone.”
A big draw in terms of racing in China is the market size, and its importance to GM. Corvette has a lot of guests on site for the race, and will look to impress those trackside and watching on TV.
In addition, getting a feel for racing in the WEC is a clear objective here, whether for a future WEC program, or the odd event such as a potential entry in the WEC race during the Sebring doubleheader.
Make no mistake, Corvette is taking this weekend very seriously.
“Any experience we can get with the championship, with its competitors, with the tires, with the different sporting regulations, you’re always logging that, so the next time we go to Sebring, or Spa, or anything, you at least have those tools in the tool box,” Johnson said.
“[Corvette program manager] Doug [Fehan] isn’t here, which is rare. It’s odd because he’s an emotional leader in the team. But we’re still really well drilled and everyone understands the situation. I’m getting regular emails and texts from him, asking me to get him up to speed.
“Ultimately this feels different, but it’s a really good experience. This is an event that works for our schedule, in a market that suits GM and Chevrolet. We want to make sure that we do a good job, being near the front and competing with the regular competitors is a goal, there’s no reason we can’t fight for a big result.”