Americans have long been fascinated with the 24 Hours of Le Mans and runners and riders from the continent have marked some of the finest hours of the race’s history. Here we look back at the Le Mans track record of one of America’s greatest sporting icons, Corvette.
Corvette came to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Briggs Cunningham in 1960 (see the fourth instalment in this series), with Marie-Claude Beaumont and Henri Greder in the 1970s, and with the Greenwood brothers in 1976, coinciding with the bicentennial of American Independence. Yet it is only really since the turn of the millennium that the American GT has truly made its presence felt in La Sarthe.
Teams built to last - As was the case with Audi in LMP1, Corvette Racing is extremely loyal to its drivers – and vice versa. Audi trio Frank Biela-Tom Kristensen-Emanuele Pirro took the top spot together in 2000-2001-2002, and similarly Corvette Racing took three wins with the same crew in 2004, 2005 and 2006: Monaco’s Olivier Beretta, Dane Jan Magnussen and Brit Oliver Gavin.
2005-2006: Corvette in the Top 5 twice - These three drivers placed the American icon in the overall Top 5 twice, coming fifth in 2005, then earning Corvette’s best ever Le Mans result the next year when they finished fourth behind three prototypes, two Audis (first and third) and a Pescarolo (second).
2011: two new classes and a double - The present-day LMGTE Pro and LMGTE Am classes were introduced at Le Mans in 2011 and Corvette triumphed in both, thanks to Olivier Beretta/Antonio Garcia/Tommy Milner (LMGTE Pro) and Patrick Bornhauser/Julien Canal/Gabriele Gardel (LMGTE Am).
2011-2012: Larbre Compétition, the French touch - To the factory team’s eight wins, Corvette can add another two, achieved by French outfit Larbre Compétition in 2011 and 2012. Their drivers included Le Mans-born Julien Canal, who won twice with Larbre before taking the World Endurance Championship title in the LMP2 class in 2015, and Portuguese driver Pedro Lamy, who has since joined Aston Martin Racing.
2015: a withdrawal, a victory and an anniversary - There was drama in the LMGTE Pro class in 2015: during the final qualifying session on the Thursday evening, Jan Magnussen ran into problems with the accelerator and careered off the track in the #63 car at the Porsche Curves. The damaged car was unable to compete in the race, leaving the #64 to fight Corvette’s corner alone... which it did brilliantly, taking the constructor’s tenth Le Mans win, 55 years after its first outing in La Sarthe.
2000-2015: 15 years, 8 victories, 9 drivers - Nine drivers have helped Corvette Racing to eight wins at Le Mans. Seven of them have won with the American team more than once: five victories for Oliver Gavin (2002, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2015); four for Jan Magnussen and Olivier Beretta (2004, 2005, 2006 and 2009); three for American Johnny O'Connell (2001, 2002 and 2009); two for American Ron Fellows (2001 and 2002), Spaniard Antonio Garcia (2009 and 2011) and American Tommy Milner (2011 and 2015); one for Americans Scott Pruett (2001) and Jordan Taylor (2015).
Other instalments in our Le Mans and America series:
Photo: Copyright ACO Archives - Corvette Racing’s Le Mans victories are often celebrated with a quick tyre-smoking burnout, like here in 2015.