A Conversation with Oliver Gavin, Corvette Racing Team, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY STEVE PHIPPS • SEPTEMBER 17, 2019 • PHOTOGRAPHS ON THIS PAGE ARE COPYRIGHT © FAMAMOCA LLC 2019 AND MAY NOT BE REPUBLISHED WITHOUT LICENSE
Driver Oliver Gavin, Corvette Racing Team. Just out of pit lane at Laguna Seca.
Oliver Gavin is a five-time class winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In 1991, he won the McLaren Autosport Young Driver of the Year Award. In 1995, he was the British Formula 3 champion. He is in his eighteenth season racing with the Corvette Racing team. He has driven more than 190 races with the team, with fifty race victories. We caught up with him after Friday's FP2 and got his thoughts about the character of a winning team, and what he'd like to drive at Rolex Monterey.
[Steve Phipps] The issue I'm thinking of happened in a different race series. A car came in for a tire change, and the interaction between two crew members is what brought me to this question, about the character of a team.
The mechanic is over the wall, managing the tire. And behind the wall is this junior crew member. He was about eighteen. He was a big body behind the wall, muscular. But still clearly a teenager. And he is standing on the hose that they need over the wall. And the guy is screaming, "GET OFF THE *-ING HOSE! GET OFF THE *-ING HOSE!" So the stop completes, the car leaves, the mechanic picks up the tire and he literally throws it over the wall at this kid. And you could hear it hit him in the chest. Through my safety earmuffs, I could hear how hard it hit him. And then the kid got a screaming rebuke.
But the team did well. First and second in a two-race weekend. It brought me to this question: Olly, where does the character of the team come from?
[Oliver Gavin] I think that it comes down to many many parts. It's not just an individual, it's not just there being a very strong leader at the top. It's all about building that group of people and trying to slot the right people into the right places. And there's no point in trying to put a round peg in a square hole or other way around. It's all about finding the right people for the right jobs.
And that's what Corvette Racing has been so good at so many years. Whether you are looking all the way up, and down. Whether it's the likes of Doug Fehan, running the program. Whether it's the likes of Ben Johnson, team manger. Or whether it's the likes of Brian Hoye. The crew chiefs. Everybody has their spot, their place. They understand their job. And they are all vital roles. They are all people who have a significant part to play in the performance of the team. And also the performance of the car on the racetrack. So that chemistry is important. And it's important that that person continues to deliver in their role. You can't be carrying anyone.
Headed for Scrutineering.
Corvette Racing Program Manager Doug Fehan.
That's one of the things that we're constantly looking at at Corvette Racing. We're not there resting on our laurels. We're not sitting there saying, "Since we have been so successful for so many years." We know to stay in front of our competition, we have to constantly be evolving and looking to see how we can improve ourselves. Or improve the team in a way that they run. How we interact with the series. How do we work with our partners in Mobil 1 or Michelin moving forwards to the future. Whether that's next generation cars, or whether it's going to be another sponsor coming on board. Or whether it's going to be us racing in different races. There's lots of things. You have to keep constantly assessing where you're at.
But having a stable and solid platform of the team, and a group of people that we know, and who can operate, gives you that ability to be flexible and react to things that are moving and changing a little bit. You know you've got a great group of people there to react and fix problems.
I think you're also saying there's a low turnover.
There has been, yes, for a very long time. And that's been one of the successes of the program. It has been a very low turnover. Whether it's personnel in the team or the engineering.
I think even the drivers.
Yes. The drivers have been very stable for some time. So that's certainly been a key thing. And I think other manufacturers have been shopping and changing and moving people in and out, and they've looked at us because we won the championship three years in a row, and they've gone, oh maybe there's something in this.
Headed for pit lane.
Since you first started coming to Laguna Seca, where are the big changes in how you race this track? I'm thinking about things like the evolution of the racing surface and grip, how tire technology has advanced, how equipment has improved.
When I first started racing here, I was racing a C5. So that was 2004. And now, racing a C7, the car is significantly different. We're running with a different tire manufacturer in Michelin.
The circuit has changed a little. Layout is fundamentally the same but curbings are different. The way that you sort of drive the track is a little bit different. But fundamentally the feel here is very very similar because it's always been a polished surface. It's always been rather slippery and slick.
One of the biggest advances that we made as a team, I feel, was when we went from Goodyear to Michelin tires. That was a huge step forward in performance. And then as we have gone up from C5 to C6, and from C6 to C7, each time we've taken a really big step forward in terms of performance. In terms of how we can find a balance with the chassis. How we can tune the car. How we can operate it within a window for that performance over a stint.
We've continued to work very hard with all of our partners at Michelin and Mobil 1 to make our car faster and more durable. Tougher, stronger. They've made the car safer. So all of these things are a big cornerstone of improving and making sure that we're evolving as a group, as a team. And also as a manufacturer.
Just out of Turn 11.
We have to keep improving that way because all the other manufactures that we are racing against are improving the performance of their car. They're all the time looking at how they can beat us because we've been the top of the tree for quite some time. When you're up there you're always king. You are the ones everyone is aiming at.
So this track is kind of fun because you kind of know each year when you come here what you're going to get. You know that it's generally going to be hot. It's going to be sunny. It's going to be a slippery turn of sandy polished surface. Relatively low grip. Car is going to be moving around, going to be sliding. The racing is usually close and tight and fun. But it makes for great spectacle. And you get some great racing here. And it's a fantastic finish.
So I think that engages with the fans and you get a very good turnout. The TV guys seem to like it as well. It's got that special sort of California feel to it.
From the C5 to the C7 you are driving now, the process of data logging and the use of data in racing has really advanced. Talk a little bit about how that has changed your job.
When I first started in the C5, yes there was data there, but no way as much or as in depth as it is right now. It's a very thorough process that we go through now. And you're not only looking at the data that you can gather within the car but you are also looking at the data of what the drivers are doing. In terms of segments on the track, whether that is an actual segment or a micro segment. They're looking at all of those bits of data and they're trying to build that sort of perfect lap. And then they're comparing driver to driver.
There is so much to look at and pour over that it is — sometimes you kind of have to step back and not get lost in it a little bit. And just get back to the basics. Sometimes just watching a bit of onboard footage, or just looking at some basic traces and not getting too deep into it. It's important, I think you can sometimes get lost in the detail of it. But yeah it has moved massively.
And that's another reason why things have moved on so quickly and they continue to evolve very fast. You have to have it. If you don't, you're going to be fall behind.
So the vintage Rolex Monterey races just wrapped here. If we could get you a ride in anything — you can have a 1919 Packard, whatever you want — what's your ride for Rolex Monterey?
If there's one of the very first generation Grand Sport Corvettes that were raced. There were five of them that were ever produced. If I could get in one of those, that would be amazing. So I don't know. Am I setting the bar too high?
→ Go on to part 2 of the interview, a photo gallery.
Our thanks to Oliver Gavin. The interview was condensed and edited.
Our thanks to Ryan Smith at Corvette Racing.
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Links and More Information:
IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship
WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca
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