Engineering strategy, quick pit work help return Corvette to GTE Am podium; post-race penalty elevates team from third to second
OYAMA, Japan (Sept. 10, 2023) – Corvette Racing returned to the GTE Am podium on Sunday with a second-place finish for the No. 33 Mobil 1/SiriusXM Chevrolet Corvette C8.R.in the FIA World Endurance Championship’s Six Hours of Fuji.
Drivers Nicky Catsburg, Ben Keating and Nico Varrone continued their historic run in this year’s championship with their fourth podium finish in six races. It adds to a phenomenal year in which they locked up the class Drivers and Teams titles in the previous round at Monza and took key victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and 1,000 Miles of Sebring.
In its second appearance at Fuji – last year’s debut ended with a fifth-place finish in the GTE Pro category – the Corvette Racing team elected for an aggressive strategy of completing the race with only four pit stops compared to five for most of its competitors. That line of thinking appeared to be the winning call… were it not for two questionable in-race penalties that cost the Corvette team two minutes in the pitlane.
Keating began on pole in class following a stunning lap in Saturday’s qualifying session. He drove a pair of 70-minute stints while a majority of other GTE Am cars stopped 10-15 minutes earlier. His fuel economy with the Corvette’s flat-plane crank V8 engine put the team in prime position for a fourth victory of the season.
Unfortunately toward the end of his stint, Keating was involved in side-to-side contact with the eventual race-winning Ferrari that resulted in a damaged right-hand door. The crew quickly repaired the hinge system and swapped out the door on the C8.R’s second pit stop as Keating handed over to Varrone.
Adding insult to injury, though, Keating was judged by the race stewards to be responsible for the contact. The Corvette received a 30-second stop-and-go penalty, which Varrone served shortly after he got in the car at the two-and-a-half-hour mark.
The never-give-up spirit of Corvette Racing was evident once again as Varrone’s pace and fuel savings meant he was able to cycle back to the lead inside the final 90 minutes. However, the Corvette was assessed a 10-second pitlane penalty for contact with another GTE car toward the end of his stint.
That left Catsburg to drive the final 65 minutes with aims of moving from third to second, but a late-race full-course yellow period hurt his chances and slowed his progress. He crossed the line third in class, but a 10-second, post-race time penalty to the No. 57 Ferrari elevated the Corvette to second.
Corvette Racing closes its season in the FIA World Endurance Championship with the Eight Hours of Bahrain on Saturday, November 4.
NICKY CATSBURG, NO. 33 MOBIL 1/SiriusXM CHEVROLET CORVETTE C8.R – SECOND IN GTE AM: “It’s nice to come out of here with a podium. But it was clear that we should have won the race. Without the penalties, we by far had the best strategy. Ben and Nico did an amazing job fuel-saving. We had, I would say, two questionable penalties and without those we would have won by a country mile. It’s a shame but those are part of it. At least we have won the championship already, so we can’t complain too much. Those races are part of it as well. And it’s nice for the Ferrari boys to win as well. It was a good weekend in terms of execution but a bit of bad luck. But it doesn’t matter. It was a really nice time that we had here at Fuji, and I’m looking forward to coming back.”
BEN KEATING, NO. 33 MOBIL 1/SiriusXM CHEVROLET CORVETTE C8.R – SECOND IN GTE AM: “I think everything went according to plan. We came into the race hoping to do only four stops but it was five because of the penalty. But I still think we did our job the way we exactly planned to do it. I did 2.5 hours in the car; us and the 86 were the only two cars to go on that strategy, and I think it was the right strategy.
“The contact with the 54… I can understand why they (the race stewards) viewed it the way they did. To me, we came together. I was right up next to him (Thomas Flohr) and it was my intention to make his braking line tighter. As I went to get close to him, he came over to get into the braking line and the fact is that we came together. But because the normal line is to go out wide for the brake zone, they deemed I went into him more than he went into me. I felt like it was a racing incident.
“All I care about is our race and how we finished. I was not happy with the retaliation, either. They turned him up and gave him some extra speed. Then he caught up to me and ran me off the track at the last turn. I don’t feel like that was the right way to go about a solution. I’m sure he’s mad at me, and I’m mad at him. It’s not the first time we’ve had this conversation. But I feel really good about the car and about our strategy.”
NICO VARRONE, NO. 33 MOBIL 1/SiriusXM CHEVROLET CORVETTE C8.R – SECOND IN GTE AM: “It was a good stint and we managed to recover some time. Both stints were about saving fuel. I think we were doing good because as we saved fuel, we could start pushing and going for our target. We did a great job, and the car was very good. There were some penalties for Ben and me that we don’t agree with and I don’t think were fair. So that made us fall back. But I was really happy with the pace. The team was really, really good.”
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