Le Mans: Larbre Competition score successive GTE-Am victories for Corvette
In 2011 the French Larbre Competition team brought two cars to Le Mans, a Porsche and Corvette. They competed in the Grand Touring Endurance (GTE) Am (Amateur) category. When the checkered flag fell the Corvette finished at the top step of the podium. It was a great day for brand because a factory Corvette also won the GTE Pro category. It was a one-two for Corvette and it was a nice celebration for the 100th Anniversary of Chevrolet.
The historic 24 Hours of Le Mans celebrated the 80th running of their classic race this year. Larbre Competition brought two ex-Pratt & Miller Corvettes to compete at the French classic. Their goal was clear: repeat their 2011 GTE-Am class victory for Corvette. The starting field was deep in both Pro and Am classes and competition was fierce among the leading manufacturers. In the Pro class, the #74 Corvette was at the top of the field for the first half of the race. During the night, there was drama for the nr74, when a crew member forgot to attach the left rear wheel nut securely. The wheel quickly fell off and Richard Westbrook slowly drove around the 8 mile circuit on three wheels. This caused major damage and the car lost a total of 120 laps for extensive repairs. The second factory car running third in class pitted shortly after the problem with their team car with a major mechanical problem. The #73 Corvette lost 10 laps during its pit stop. Both factory cars now had a big mountain to climb to repeat their 2011 win. “To win you must keep the car out of the pits" said Corvette Program Manager Doug Fehan. It was shortly after that, when the wheel nut incident happened to the #74 Corvette.
Fortunately for Corvette, Larbre Competition followed Doug’s advice and minimized their pit stops to stay out of trouble. Larbre had a hard fought battle with Anthony Pons in the #67 IMSA Matmut Porsche RSR throughout the race. The race came down to the final few minutes, as Pedro Lamy in the #50 Larbre Corvette turned in a series of blazing laps to catch the #67 Porsche. With less than 20 minutes remaining in the race the #50 Corvette was roughly 12 seconds behind the class leading Porsche. "I overtook him on the track and the team told me that I was passing the Porsche for the lead." said Pedro Lamy.
The race was not over yet for Larbre as there was late drama near the end for the nr50. The team had to pull Pedro Lamy into the pits at the last moment to put Julien Canal into the car after missing a driver swap due to a pitlane speeding incident earlier in the race. Within minutes of the checkered flag the Porsche had a left rear tyre go flat, which secured the victory for the French squad.
Larbre team owner Jack Leconte reckoned the #67 Imsa Porsche team would have protested the result, as Canal would have been 13 seconds shy of completing the minimum required track time for each driver. "We swapped because we worked out that the driving time was compromised," he said. "We thought Canal had done 13s too little and Porsche were going to protest. We had a pitlane speeding issue during the safety car and I was talking and doing other things during the pitstops. We knew that so we were lucky that they had a puncture, otherwise I don't know what would have happened."
"It is a nice feeling," said Pedro Lamy. "It was an intense struggle over the 24 hours of racing. It seemed more a sprint race, where we had to push as hard as we could. It was a tough race, but this win is very special. I am very pleased with this victory and I want to thank all the great support that Larbre Competition have given me over every moment of my career. This victory is not mine alone, is all of ours."
The team’s #70 entry was also able to record a strong result at the 24 Hours by taking fifth in GTE Am. The car’s all-French crew of Jean-Philippe Belloc, Pascal Gibon and Christophe Bourret endured a difficult Le Mans week as tyre issues blunted their qualifying pace. However, like the sister car they were able to unlock more speed during the race and, despite an at-times fraught run, brought the car home for a hard-earned finish.
Quote gathered by Tom Mallett