Corvette Racing began their endurance programme in 1999 and have won 16 titles across IMSA, the American Le Mans Series (ALMS), and most recently the WEC.
Moreover, the General Motors manufacturer has nine victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans including the centenary edition last month.
They pursued their maiden full-season WEC campaign last year in the former GTE-Pro class, before switching to the sole remaining GTE (Am) category.
Nicky Catsburg, Ben Keating, and Nico Varrone secured three wins and four podium finishes during the 2023 season which confidently landed Corvette Racing their 16th Teams’ title with the Fuji and Bahrain races to go.
A competitive start at the 1000 Miles of Sebring
The one and only Corvette C8.R started the season on a strong note when their bronze driver, and 2022 GTE-Am Champion and Le Mans winner, Ben Keating qualified the car second.
He was beaten by the #85 Iron Dames Porsche 911 RSR of Sarah Bovy, who secured pole position with a 1:58.949 lap time compared to Keating’s 1:59.345.
The race started in dramatic fashion when the #83 Richard Mille Racing of Luis Perez Companc rolled his Ferrari 488 after colliding with the tyre barrier after just one corner.
The #85 Iron Dames Porsche demonstrated strong pace during the opening half of the race and it was until Bovy ran off the road and hampered the bodywork when they fell out of winning contention.
The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche emerged as contenders for the win after the #57 Kessel Racing Ferrari made a late fuel stop.
Due to their consistency and lack of mistakes, combined with an optimised strategy, Corvette claimed 25 points and a home win at a circuit in reflected in memories of their famed 12 Hours of Sebring participations.
A hard-fought win at the 6 Hours of Portimao
At a circuit described by many drivers as a ‘roller-coaster’, the Autodromo do Algarve had already hosted previous invigorating appearances from the WEC and the European Le Mans Series (ELMS).
In tandem with the high track and ambient temperatures, tyre management was a key aspect on mastering the circuit even though GTE-Am cars have enough tyres to change all four at each hourly scheduled pitstop.
Corvette Racing may have secured another consecutive win, but on this occasion, it was richly earned.
When it came to the race start, the Corvette driven by Keating could not hold himself from the #21 AF Corse of Diego Alessi who started behind on the grid, and quickly made a move for the lead.
The #21, co-piloted by silver-rated Simon Mann and gold-rated Ulysse de Pauw, started strong but were not able hold the lead against the likes of the #85 and #33 Corvette towards the final hours of the race.
Nevertheless, they were all closely matched throughout the six hours as it came down to a fight between Alessio Rovera in the #83 Richard Mille Ferrari and Catsburg in the #33 Corvette.
Catsburg has an accolade of wins within the GT discipline including two Nurburgring 24 Hour wins, and a Rolex 24 class-win with Corvette, recently followed by a Le Mans class-win.
A thrilling duel ensued between the pair as Rovera had the upper hand with the fastest GTE-Am lap times set down before Catsburg.
Qualifying was close in GTE, resulting in four different manufacturers in top four order; Keating managed fourth position.
Inconsistent dry but damp track surface conditions led many teams to gamble either starting on the slick or the wet tyre compound; Corvette Racing went with the wet tyre.
Ben Keating’s controlled but opportunistic driving grasped the lead after five corners.
Alternating weather conditions between dry and damp rendered it difficult to favour either tyre, as slicks were difficult to maintain temperature but wets in drying parts of the circuit could risk overheating and graining.
Corvette played an alternative fuel strategy which meant they mostly ran in the middle of the GTE field.
Amidst an emergency service (five seconds of fuel) pitstop, and an added five second time penalty, and four safety car (SC) periods, they gradually made their way up the order and into podium contention.
With under two-hours remaining, Catsburg hustled the C8.R towards the sharper end of the GTE-Am class.
Yet again, Castburg found himself in a duel in the final phase, this time with Charlie Eastwood in the #25.
Throughout the unpredictable affair, the #33 trio claimed another podium where it seemed unlikely.
Furthermore, it highlighted the cunning efforts of their strategy paying off after they, especially Varrone and Castburg in the latter stints, asserted consistent and strong form in the pursuit of second place.
Corvette’s ninth Le Mans victory at the centenary edition
At the historic endurance round, double-points offered one of the most decorated Le Mans victories with the advantage of gaining promotion in the title fight.
Before the end of FP1, Varrone found himself in the gravel at Tertre Rouge after losing the rear and hitting it off the tyre wall.
Regardless of this initial setback, the mechanics ensured the C8.R was prepared for Qualifying Practice (QP).
In Hyperpole, Keating sealed the deal and took GTE-Am Hyperpole with a time of 3:52.376, over 1.5 seconds faster of the second-placed #25 Aston Martin.
After starting from pole, Catsburg maintained his lead until his first pit stop under the safety car.
The team were forced to replace the right-front damper in which the car was brought into the garage.
Despite the odds, and being two laps down on the leaders, they kept out where others fell victim to challenging wet conditions and introduced another SC.
Corvette pitted for wets before the SC, but lost out not being able to participate in the pass-around phase because a group of cars – including the GTE leader – was allowed to leave pit lane before the second SC passed the SC line.
It was not until into the night phase of the race when they entered the top-10 again, thanks to trouble-free triple stints alternating between Catsburg and Varrone, before Keating’s turn.
From thereon in, Corvette had sprung back into the upper end of GTE, finally claiming P1 just 17 hours after their damper-replacement job.
Once Keating completed his minimum drive time, Varrone drove the #33 to the quickest laps in the race so far.
Soon enough, from a 3:51.049, he set the outright fastest GTE lap time over the whole Le Mans race week, a 3:50.439 which held that status to the chequered flag.
The chances were high for Corvette to win the title at Monza: If they finished first or second, finished third so long as the #25 did not win, or if they finished fifth with either the #25 and the #85 not winning.
It was their weakest qualifying performance in the season so far at only sixth position, with 50 kg extra ballast compared to the pole-sitting Iron Dames, thus all was not sealed until the end of the six hour race.
The objective was simple for them: Secure the GTE-Am Teams’ Championship.
Keating began the race for them, and demonstrated encouraging pace after climbing two places on the opening three laps.
Prior to the SC deployed after contact between the #777 Aston Martin and #8 Toyota GR010 Hybrid, the Texan bravely overtook the #25 for second place.
The team’s rhythm continued as they switched drivers, until a drive-through-penalty was awarded for pit lane speeding.
Eventually, they finished fourth and were crowned champions and, unless one of the drivers were not to participate for the final two rounds, the Drivers’ championship will be wrapped up in due course.
Keating is the first WEC driver to win titles with two different GTE manufacturers, after last year’s GTE-Am honours with TF Sport’s Aston Martin before defending his crown this year.
Their season so far was strong with highlighted qualifying performances, but did not lack dramatic moments which required strategic decision-making and competitive pace as the sole Corvette in the field.
The driver crew regard the pursuit as ‘exciting’ and ‘fun’, unsurprising given the unfiltered thrills and spills of GTE-Am which encourages door-to-door racing, and little opportunity to escape the competition.
Despite having the title secured, expect their pursuit for success to continue at the technical Fuji Speedway and the heat of Bahrain International.