The three.741 miles of bumpy asphalt that makes up Sebring Worldwide Raceway is most actually distinctive. And in selecting it as his favorite observe, Oliver Gavin makes a number of references to the airfield venue’s one-of-a-kind nature that, in his estimation, narrowly elevates it above the Circuit de la Sarthe the place he took 5 class victories within the Le Mans 24 Hours.
Former Corvette Racing stalwart Gavin raced at Sebring between 2001 and 2020, in yearly of his American sportscar profession apart from 2000. However regardless of professing to not be the most important fan of “very humid and sizzling” Florida and having “a little bit of a love-hate relationship” with the previous Hendricks Military Airfield website, it proved a cheerful searching floor for the Briton.
Gavin received the GTS division on his first go to in 2001, including additional class victories within the 12 Hours in 2002, 2006, 2007, 2013 and 2016. He and Tommy Milner additionally triumphed at Sebring in July 2020 when it staged the primary spherical after the COVID-enforced hiatus, a two-hour 40-minute thrash, by simply 0.480 seconds over the sister Corvette C8.R of Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor.
Till the union between the Grand-Am Sequence and American Le Mans Sequence fashioned right now’s IMSA SportsCar Championship in 2014, January’s Daytona 24 Hours was by no means on Corvette Racing’s schedule so Sebring was historically its first spherical of the yr. Subsequently, Gavin says “it’s a observe that I ended up driving so much, testing at relentlessly”, which gave him a wonderful really feel for its many nuances.
“It’s received quite a few traits about it that simply made it actually particular to me,” muses the 1995 British Formulation 3 champion. “It sort-of book-ended my American racing profession and I simply grew very keen on the observe.
“It’s actually a singular place. Nowhere else on the earth is prefer it when it comes to the bumps, the corners, the sand that you simply inevitably get on the observe in sure spots, and working the 12 Hours there you do get some fairly distinctive moments. Should you occur to be within the automotive when the solar goes down, you’re driving proper into the sundown down into Flip 17 and that’s a reasonably particular expertise I had quite a few occasions.”
Photograph by: Scott R LePage / Motorsport Images
Spectacular sunsets are half and parcel of the Sebring expertise and contribute to its distinctive really feel together with vicious bumps and warmth
The well-known remaining flip Gavin references, an extended, 180-degree right-hander, is one which he places on a par with Manufacturers Hatch’s Paddock Hill and the Eau Rouge-Raidillon advanced at Spa attributable to its completely distinctive strategy. A nook that “you’ve received a very long time to consider” down the again straight, Gavin says each part of Flip 17 is troublesome as the necessity to proceed turning underneath braking means the automotive is habitually unsettled, a phenomenon which the bumps don’t assist, whereas the road is “virtually unimaginable to see” so he sometimes can be “driving by really feel”.
“Expertise there may be crucial,” he says. “Having executed it so many occasions, you have been making an attempt to put the automotive within the pure spot the place you knew that you may thread your means via the least of the bumps and probably the most grip.”
Expertise pays at different components of the observe, too. Gavin says the quick Flip 1 left-hander requires acute judgement “to show the automotive in a bit bit blind, simply aiming for the wall on the left-hand facet” within the information that “the bumps are excessive and there’s an enormous one proper on the exit”.
“I liked the problem of the observe, the problem of the race, competing towards different automobiles there. It’s one of many hardest races on the earth to win and it may be completely heart-breaking” Oliver Gavin
Through the years, Gavin additionally discovered to watch out approaching the Flip 10 proper, which is “notoriously difficult on the brakes, you’ll be able to simply lock rears”, and to anticipate that when tyre life deteriorates for the automotive to complain via Flip 11: “A flat-out left-hander that in each Corvette that I ever drove, it was all the time difficult the traction on the automotive”.
Gavin calls Sebring “a rhythm observe” that “you’ll be able to drive simply utilizing the bumps and the transitions via the completely different bits of tarmac”.
“You in a short time recognised what was proper and what was incorrect round there,” he explains. “You knew while you’d received the automotive actually connected and also you have been on an excellent lap simply by how on its toes it was, its skill to get the corners rotated and executed in only a actually environment friendly, well timed trend in order that earlier than you knew it, you have been out of the nook and onto the subsequent straight.”
The harshness of the bumps, mixed with the stifling warmth, means Sebring isn’t extensively in style even when its problem is extensively revered. It’s some extent Gavin accepts: “I can see why many drivers simply hate the place as a result of it’s so bodily and it’s so aggressive on you as an individual, it’s aggressive on the automotive, it’s aggressive on the crew.”
Photograph by: Eric Gilbert
The apex for Flip 1 is blind and requires large dedication
However, to Gavin, it’s exactly the “simply brutal” nature of Sebring that makes it so interesting to overcome.
“That’s what I appreciated about it,” he says. “I liked the problem of the observe, the problem of the race, competing towards different automobiles there. It’s one of many hardest races on the earth to win and it may be completely heart-breaking.”
Maybe probably the most shocking of Gavin’s Sebring successes got here in 2001, his first go to in a Saleen S7-R run by Franz Konrad’s crew that kickstarted “my love affair with the observe”. Poleman Gavin had solely accomplished eight laps within the automotive previous to arriving at Sebring however, along with Konrad and Terry Borcheller, completed a lap forward of the most effective Corvette C5-R in a exceptional sixth general because the American-built automotive took its first main competitors win.
“The price range was small, we have been up towards the may of Corvette and we didn’t actually stand an opportunity,” he recollects. “The automotive had solely run for 3 hours continuous in testing with out a problem, so to do 12 round a spot like that – which is notoriously one of many hardest racetracks on the earth – was actually an extended shot.
“However the automotive hung collectively, however at one level we had the rear deck hanging off and the radio was damaged and Franz couldn’t hear us, there was all types of craziness happening. If that rear deck had flown off, it will have damaged into about 100 items and we didn’t have a spare one so we’d have been out of the race. However one way or the other we managed to get Franz into the field and get it mounted, which he did himself. We received again out of the observe and we ended up profitable!”
He prevailed once more at Sebring on his first outing with a Pratt & Miller-run Corvette in 2002, when Saleen was pegged again with 70kg ballast and 15% smaller air restrictors for failing to fulfill 2002 eligibility guidelines. The C5-R he shared with Johnny O’Connell and Ron Fellows completed ninth general.
After a propshaft failure with a bit over two hours to go denied a probable victory in 2003, clutch issues sidelined the automotive wherein he’d charged from the again of the grid to the lead by the third hour in 2004. One other potential win went begging within the new C6.R in 2005, when a 40-minute delay repairing harm inflicted when Olivier Beretta tangled with a backmarker opened the door for Prodrive’s Aston Martin DBR9, as Gavin’s automotive might solely end third within the GT1 class.
Photograph by: Richard Dole / Motorsport Images
Sebring has been a cheerful searching floor through the years for Gavin, pictured celebrating GT1 victory in 2007
However his 2006 victory after three years of damage was greater than definitely worth the wait as, along with Beretta and Jan Magnussen, Gavin completed third general in a race greatest remembered for the landmark first win of Audi’s R10 TDi diesel racer. On the top of the legendary rivalry with Prodrive, which Gavin says “drove the crew on, whether or not that was in technique, the pitstops, the execution of these by all the fellows”, the consequence was a “fairly spectacular” accomplishment.
Though it wasn’t within the 12 Hours, Gavin’s remaining victory for Corvette at Sebring in 2020 additionally stands out amid the distinctive circumstances as COVID-19 continued to actual its horrendous toll. It was his solely victory within the C8.R earlier than asserting his retirement from driving in direction of the tip of the yr, and one way or the other solely becoming that Gavin received on the observe in each mannequin he’d ever raced for Corvette – having pipped BMW to the highest spot with the C7.R in 2016.
“COVID was completely raging at the moment, however we received again racing and Florida was the place to go,” remembers Gavin, who now runs his personal driver administration company and driving academy. “It was very particular that day to have the ability to get that victory and that was victory quantity 51 for me with Corvette Racing, and I’m very pleased with that statistic.”
Photograph by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images
On the scene of his first victory for Corvette in 2002, Gavin collected his final in 2020 with the C8.R