Guiding the #63 C6.R in this year’s race was veteran crew chief Danny Binks. In racing, he’s seen and done it all, winning everything he ever touched—except Le Mans. In all of his eight years with Corvette Racing, Binks’ car had never won the French classic. Driver Johnny O’Connell had been there, too, racing and winning with Corvette Racing since the beginning. He was the veteran, with two Le Mans wins, including the team’s first, and the only American shoe on the roster. O’Connell had had a long dry spell; he hadn’t won Le Mans since 2002. In 2004, a gaggle of top European drivers had been brought onboard, and since then they had dominated. The talented Brit Oliver Gavin had four Le Mans wins to his credit, while the wily Frenchman Olivier Beretta and the steady Dane Jan Magnussen had three each. More than ever, O’Connell wanted to bookend his final Corvette GT1 run at Le Mans with a win.
Everyone on the team had a score to settle, a point to make. The sameness of running almost unopposed in the ALMS for two years and then getting beaten twice in the last two years at Le Mans by Aston Martin had Corvette Racing wound up and looking for a chance to redeem its honor. When Aston Martin suddenly switched its focus to LMP1 this year, using three Prodrive-modified Lola coupes, the two C6.Rs were again faced with the rather dismal proposition of racing ostensibly against themselves. The factory C6.Rs’ only competition at Le Mans this year would come from privateers, a single Austrian-entered Aston Martin DBR9 and two C6.Rs run by the French Luc Alphand Adventures team.
Teamed with his co-driver of the last two seasons, Magnussen, and young Spaniard Antonio Garcia, O’Connell seemed to have a real shot at victory. Mags had clinched the GT1 pole in qualifying with a time of 3:54.2, a full half-second faster than the team’s sister car with the two Ollies, Gavin and Beretta. The #64 car, painted black this season, also had a third driver, Swiss Marcel Fassler, on board for Le Mans.
The race started innocently enough, with the O’Connell/Magnussen/Garcia #63 leading for the first 18 hours. Magnussen’s pole had automatically placed him in front, and the initial hours had gone like clockwork. Then, in the midst of a long night, Magnussen became ill. The remaining duo’s challenge became exponentially harder, as the difference between using two drivers and three in a 24-hour race is larger than it seems. With three drivers, one driver is assured of getting a period of uninterrupted rest. With only two available, the driver not in the car must be ready at all times to take over in case of problems. It’s an exhausting situation, but O’Connell and Garcia never dropped their pace and continued to lead.