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Published on 03/21/2019

Perfect Match: Why Sebring is a Second Home for Chevrolet and Corvette Racing

WORDS:

DAN HODGDON

PHOTOS:

LUCAS PRIAMO and MATT BEST

There are certain circuits in the racing world that only require one name. Sebring is one of them. Say the word to any sports car fan, nay, any race fan, and there is a chance a wry smile will cross their lips. It’s likely the direct result of a personal story that has been sworn to secrecy, or, some will claim, a story they heard.

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vehicles, parts, events, racing
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TAGS:
Published on 03/21/2019
vehicles, parts, events, racing
WORDS:

DAN HODGDON

PHOTOS:

LUCAS PRIAMO and MATT BEST

Perfect Match: Why Sebring is a Second Home for Chevrolet and Corvette Racing

There are certain circuits in the racing world that only require one name. Sebring is one of them. Say the word to any sports car fan, nay, any race fan, and there is a chance a wry smile will cross their lips. It’s likely the direct result of a personal story that has been sworn to secrecy, or, some will claim, a story they heard.

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The track lies in rural countryside in Central Florida and is known in equal parts for its treacherous and bumpy surface and its massive parties catering to the Spring Break crowd -- the epicenter being Turn 10 on the 17-turn, 3.74-mile road course.

This year on the third weekend in March, the IMSA-sanctioned 67th annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring takes place on its traditional Saturday date, but for the first time it is joined by the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) for a 1,000-mile contest the day before. The two massive events draw teams and spectators from all corners of the world.

Corvette Racing has achieved staggering levels of success at the track in the two-car team’s 20-year history, having claimed 11 class wins in the 12-hour race. The team features the bright yellow, V-8-powered and naturally aspirated C7.R, with drivers Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Mike Rockenfeller behind the wheel of the No. 3, while Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Marcel Fässler pilot the No. 4 machine. The team and crew are made up of a staff of veterans and young engineering talent, who keep the program both competitive in the present and ever-evolving for the future.

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The Corvette Racing team watches from the pits.

This year though, Corvette Racing takes on an additional challenge, with Magnussen, Garcia and Rockenfeller also steering the No. 63 C7.R in the 1,000-mile WEC race on Friday. They finish eighth in the GTE Pro class, using the race as a measuring stick for the WEC competition the team will take on again in June during the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“We lack a little bit of experience that the regular WEC teams have, but I think we’ve shown that our pace is right there with them,” Garcia says in a post-race interview.

The same drivers then pilot the No. 3 car to a third-place finish in the Twelve Hours of Sebring on Saturday. The No. 4 C7.R, meanwhile, finishes eighth in class.

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L-R: Mike Rockenfeller, Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen on the podium.

Two endurance events in two days is a tremendous undertaking, but one that seems fitting at Sebring for Corvette Racing. The team has, after all, won three consecutive driver and team championships in IMSA.

“Our team’s notoriously well prepared for anything, this is one of the most challenging [events] for them and they use it as one of the benchmarks on how they perform for the rest of the season,” says Todd Christensen, Strategic Marketing and Operations, Chevrolet Motorsports.

Around the track, Bowtie signage brands Chevrolet as the “Official Vehicle of Sebring International Raceway,” Corvette hats and shirts are spotted everywhere and the Chevrolet display in the midway across from the start-finish line features Chevrolet vehicles, Chevrolet Performance crate engines and accessories, along with an up-close look at the iconic Corvette marque ranging from show cars to simulators.

“Our team’s notoriously well prepared for anything." - Todd Christensen

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Todd Christensen - Strategic Marketing and Operations, Chevrolet Motorsports

Clearly, this race and part of the country is important to the Bowtie.

“Florida’s a great market for us in general for Corvette on the production side,” says Chevrolet Motorsports Marketing Manager, Mike Stouffer. “I think that’s a big part of it. But the history here, the winning here, to me it’s probably the most historic track that we go to, it’s the birthplace of [American] sports car racing in a way. It’s a great venue, the people here are great, we’ve had a great relationship here for many, many years … I think it just all fits together.”

"We’ve had a great relationship here for many, many years.” - Mike Stouffer

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Mike Stouffer, Chevrolet Motorsports Marketing Manager

By Thursday afternoon, fans are already pouring in and the track is lined with RVs and campers, filled with folks who will stop by the Chevrolet display at some point during the weekend. That fact is not lost on Christensen and Stouffer.

“Corvettes typically are not primary cars for most people, so I think they’re interested in the full portfolio when they come out here,” Stouffer says from the Chevrolet display featuring a variety of street vehicles as practice sessions scream by on the track.

Christensen echoes that sentiment, adding that race enthusiasts who may driver other brands are a specific target.

“We have a pretty good line of communication with our current Corvette owners and our Chevy diehards, it’s the people that are on the fringe,” he says. “There are a lot of people here who don’t own Chevys so it’s an opportunity. They might have an affinity for the yellow cars going around the track, but now we get a chance to show them what they can put in their driveways.”

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As for those yellow cars, the Sebring race is a historic one for Corvette Racing, from the time when the first Corvettes were being developed as race cars in the late 1950s through Corvette Racing’s dominance in the last 20 years.

It’s not just the brand and the team’s success though, but also the people behind it, who are a reason for the dedication of Corvette fans and Chevrolet customers. It’s common for drivers and the team to mingle with the fans in rowdy Green Park and Turn 10, and to simply provide a level of engagement with fans and vehicle owners few other manufacturers can match.

“They’re not just autograph signers, they actually go out and talk to people and really like to build relationships,” Christensen says.

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Tommy Milner greets fans in the Corvette Corral.

Those relationships are particularly prevalent in the Corvette Corral, where enthusiasts gather whether they are fans of the original C1 platform, current C7 generation, or anything in between. During that time, Corvette owners are treated to driver appearances, visits by Corvette engineers and other prominent figures from Chevrolet and race team partners.

On display throughout Super Sebring weekend in the Corvette Corral are four Corvette Drivers Series editions. These are recently introduced Grand Sport models, each one bearing one of the names of a Corvette Racing full-season driver.

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Multiple time Sebring winner and popular driver Jan Magnussen considers it a privilege to be associated with anything Corvette-related.

“It’s a fantastic honor to have a Corvette street car with my name on it,” he says. “I absolutely love being part of Corvette. I’ve been part of Corvette since 2004. It feels like family. So obviously, I’m super proud to have my name on the car.”

"It feels like family." - Jan Magnussen

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