Catsburg, Keating, Varrone lead total team effort in WEC victory
SEBRING, Fla. (March 17, 2023) – Corvette Racing made an emphatic statement with a convincing GTE Am class victory in the 1,000 Miles of Sebring to open this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship.
Nicky Catsburg, Ben Keating and Nico Varrone drove the No. 33 Mobil 1/SiriusXM Chevrolet Corvette C8.R to a two-lap victory at Sebring International Raceway to start its new program in the class. It was the 14th win for Corvette Racing at the 3.74-mile, 17-turn rough-and-tumble circuit since 2002.
Friday’s victory also was the second for Corvette Racing as a full-time WEC entrant, the first coming last season at Monza in the GTE Pro class. The team now has 123 worldwide victories.
That number is easy to understand when looking at the totality of Friday’s race. Each of the three drivers drove error-free stints with no contact and no risks taken. The engineering team rotated the three drivers through consecutively in order of ranking so neither Keating, Varrone or Catsburg had to get back in the Corvette.
The Corvette Racing crew also was the fastest of the GTE Am teams in the pitlane with a six-second advantage on the next-quickest team.
“No one at Corvette Racing could ask for a better start to our FIA WEC program than this win at Sebring for Ben, Nicky and Nico,” said Laura Wontrop Klauser, GM Sports Car Racing Program Manager. “All three put in excellent drives, the crew was the best throughout the class in the pitlane, and our engineers called a perfect race strategy. Ben really set the tone for this race with his opening three stints, and the performance continued from there with an incredible mid-race triple stint from Nico and then Nicky’s drive to close it out. Winning the first race of the season, in the United States and at Sebring is a storybook start that we will remember for a long time!”
The fight of the race early was Keating’s battle with Sarah Bovy in the No. 85 Porsche. Familiar competitors from last year’s WEC, the two swapped the lead in the opening laps before the Corvette settled in to a close second position for the first couple hours.
The Porsche gained a slight advantage by making its second stop near the 90-minute mark during a full-course yellow period while the Corvette made its second stop under green. Undeterred, Keating clicked off consistent, fast laps to keep the C8.R in the hunt and never dropped lower than second in class.
Last year’s winner in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the reigning GTE Am WEC champion, Keating made quite the debut in his first race with the Corvette program. He drove two hours, 40 minutes before handing over to Varrone for a triple-stint and nearly three hours in the C8.R.
He moved the Corvette into the lead when the 85 Porsche suffered rear damage and lost multiple laps. From that point on, Varrone increased his pace and more often than not was the fastest driver during his time in the C8.R. His only challenge came from the No. 77 Porsche, which got as close as 14 seconds to the lead after gaining a similar pit stop advantage under yellow as the No. 85 earlier in the race.
Varrone pressed on and continued to pound out sub two-minute laps while the Porsche’s pace fell off during its mid-race driver rotation to its Bronze-ranked driver. By the time of his iron-man three-plus hour stint, Varrone gave Catsburg the No. 33 Corvette – and a 90-second lead – for the final two hours.
It wasn’t a coast to the end, however. Catsburg had to contend with the usual late-day Sebring sunset and Hypercar entries that attempted to make desperate moves to keep track position in their own race. Like his teammates, he drove clean and measured stints to deliver an undamaged C8.R to victory.
Corvette Racing’s next event in the FIA World Endurance Championship is the Six Hours of Portimão on Sunday, April 15.
NICKY CATSBURG, NO. 33 MOBIL 1/SiriusXM CHEVROLET CORVETTE C8.R – GTE AM WINNER: “There’s so much to say about today. If you look at the execution, it’s not like we were out-pacing everyone by so much. We just made zero mistakes. In the pitlane, I feel like we were by far the fastest team, which is a big credit to the guys. They’re working out so much… four days per week. It pays off. It’s super-nice to start the season off like this. Those guys (Keating and Varrone) in their first race for Corvette and their first win, I think that’s pretty cool. They did a flawless job so big hats off to everyone!”
More on Keating and Varrone: “This was the plan. But for them to do triple-stints in your first race with Corvette, it’s a lot more difficult than you think. It’s three hours in the car and it’s going to hurt at some point! But they each did a fantastic job.”
BEN KEATING, NO. 33 MOBIL 1/SiriusXM CHEVROLET CORVETTE C8.R – GTE AM WINNER: “It was mayhem out there, really. I started in second place, was able to gain the lead and then gave it up again. We got the early safety car that kind of changed the strategy up a little bit for us. It was not easy, for sure. Our car was sliding a lot more than it had in practice, so it was a lot more to handle and I think that was true for the other GT cars that I was watching while I was either following or looking in my camera to the back.
“I’m really proud of the way we won the race today. If you look across the field and you look at how we got to be two laps up on the field. It wasn’t because we were the fastest car. It was because we stayed out of trouble. Almost everybody had some sort of issue, and it was really tough with all the traffic. I’m sure (the other winners) would say the same thing. Especially as the race wore on, it really got into one line and the track got more difficult. I’m just really proud of all three of us that we were able to have a clean race.
“It’s really special for me to be driving something I sell and to be representing an American brand and winning the only American race for the World Endurance Championship and taking advantage of what I feel like is a home-field advantage. It was a really great job by everyone at Corvette.”
More on the win: “This is the only WEC race in the United States, so it’s really special here! The guys, the team did a great job. All the drivers just didn’t make any mistakes, which is pretty tough to do with all that traffic out there. And like I said with, I guess, five hours to go, I said it’s mayhem. And so we just stayed out of it. And pretty much everybody else ended up having some problem or another. And so it’s a nice way to win and also it’s really special. Hearing the American National Anthem and being under an American flag… I couldn’t ask for more. To all the fans, I would say thank you!”
NICO VARRONE, NO. 33 MOBIL 1/SiriusXM CHEVROLET CORVETTE C8.R – GTE AM WINNER: “What a dream. At Sebring with Corvette and winning the 1,000 Miles of Sebring, I’m super happy. I couldn’t ask for a better debut with the brand. A big thank you to all the guys, all the mechanics, all the engineers. Corvette Racing did a great job all week long. Ben did a great job with the start and in his first three stints. He got us to P2. Then I jumped in the car for three hours, which was tough. Then I handed it over to Nicky, who is a legend. We all know that he knows what to do. He brought it home safely and now I can’t be happier!
“This was a very difficult race for me. I had to do a triple stint in the middle. I’ve had to do a triple stint at Le Mans, but I have to say that Sebring is much more difficult! Ben did a great job at the start to get the car to me. The track was changing a lot during the whole race, so we had to figure out what was happening. Corvette Racing did a great job with that. They did a great job all week long. It’s a dream come true.”
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