Four-time Le Mans class winner Oliver Gavin is the latest ‘Ask A Pro’ to answer your questions. Check out his responses.
Four-time Le Mans Class Winner and Factory Corvette Driver
A four-time class winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and a four-time American Le Mans Series Champion, Englishman Oliver Gavin is now in his 13th year as a Corvette Racing factory driver.
Teamed since 2012 with Tommy Milner in the USA, the duo now competes in the United Sportscar Championship. Gavin has also successfully raced Prototypes in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Holden Commodores in the Australian V8 Supercar Series and a variety of historic racing vehicles at the prestigious Goodwood Revival meeting in the UK.
He started karting as a teenager, competing in various national series before becoming British Formula 3 Champion and an F1 test driver for Pacific Grand Prix and Benetton. He made the move to sportscar racing in the USA in 2001 and hasn’t looked back since.
When he is not racing, Gavin runs marathons with a best time of 2hrs 54 minutes set in London in 2010, helping to raise over $150,000 for charity. More info on www.olivergavin.com.
Oliver Gavin answers your questions!
How can an amateur with little funding get started in racing?
Any driver will tell you how difficult it is these days; it’s never been easy but it’s even more difficult in today’s economy. Most people will start in karting to learn their race craft and that’s what I did. My Dad bought a kart for me and my brother and he used to run it, with us learning how it worked and how to work on it, all really good training for the future. From there I moved onto car racing, with my Dad paying the way to begin with and then with some sponsorship as I moved up. Getting sponsorship is mostly about who you know, rather than what you know, and think about what you can do for a sponsor instead of what they can do for you and you’ll have more success. Anyone can go karting, at any age, or you could do something like stock cars or dirt racing…do whatever you can within your budget and have fun. Good luck!
My son is a successful karter and at 12 years old has just won the 2014 IKF National Championship. We have limited finances for the next step in his career. Would you recommend moving into shifter karts or getting a head start in single-seaters by racing an F 500 car?
In my opinion you would be better off moving into single seaters as soon as possible. The transition from karting to cars can be a difficult one for some, I feel the earlier the better.
How do driving styles differ between European and American racing drivers? Which do you prefer to race against?
I wouldn’t say there is that much difference in style between American or European racers. Each driver has their own style and personality. I will be raced just as hard by someone like John Edwards, as I would Dirk Müller.
I am currently racing in Skip Barber and looking to move up to US F2000. When moving to a new team, how can I make sure I find the right team with a fast car and one that will fit with my personality?
You have to do your research carefully, find out all you can about the team rather than looking only at results, but to be honest at your level it’s as much about whether they like you as whether you like them. Don’t just look at the last season’s race results, but look at practice and qualifying too…they might have had a great car which is more than an equal to the eventual race winner’s, but the driver used to go to pieces in qualifying or something like that. Don’t just go to the team which has won, go to several and see how they approach racing so you can find the one that suits you. Talk to the engineer as well as the team boss, as you’ll spend more time with him than the boss!
I am now 15 years old and started karting just a year ago. I want to make the step up into junior single-seaters but don’t know how to go about this. I cannot bring much funding but I have strong results at a national level. How do I approach teams and what other things can I offer them?
It is a difficult situation but not impossible. You have to attract sponsors in order to bring in funding and that is very much about who you know. You have to think about what value you can offer to them instead of the other way around. You will have more success in gaining sponsors this way. If you have good backing and strong results, teams will naturally be interested in you as a driver.
After the first Formula E race, how do you feel about electric race cars? Do you think they will catch on and find their niche in motor sports?
I think it’s great to showcase new technology but will reserve judgment as to how well it will catch on. Motor sport is all about not only sights but also sounds and lack of noise is going to take some getting used to.
What was your main reason for signing with Corvette?
History, massive success and stability…who wouldn’t want to sign with a great name like Corvette?
The C7R is a very safe race car but how much weight does all the safety equipment add?
All the cars we race have to meet a minimum/maximum weight limit set by the regulations. Ideally you strip out all possible weight from a car so it is as light as possible and then you add it back in to reach the regulated weight in the form of lead ballast to help with the balance of the car. For Corvette Racing, safety is paramount so things like the crash box in the doors are part of the car’s design not an added extra.
How do the V8 Supercars compare to the Corvette GTLM that you normally race?
On the face of it they are quite similar, big muscle cars with V8 engines, but in reality they are quite different. There are the basics such as one being left and the other right hand drive, everything being on the opposite side to how you’d expect, and it’s also a lot more difficult to get in and out of than the C7.R for a tall bloke like me. As far as how it drives, the V8 Supercar has 100bhp more than the C7.R but the C7.R has more downforce and is on a better tire. Depending on the track layout, I believe the C7.R would be faster over a lap than the V8 Supercar.
As a big fan of Corvette, I would love to get involved with the Corvette Racing Team. I am currently studying for a degree in Mechanical Engineering so how would you recommend I pursue my dream of becoming a part of the Corvette family?
You’re definitely doing the right thing by getting a qualification, and I wish you success with your studies. Working for a professional works outfit like Corvette Racing usually means that you need to get some experience elsewhere first, in a smaller team. Take whatever opportunities you can, learn as much about every area of a race team because it will help you in the future to understand and get on with your team mate, and get to some races and talk to people. If you want to be a mechanic, work on as many different cars as possible to get experience, and if you want to be an engineer learn about data and telemetry as that’s a good way for junior engineers to start. Never think you know everything because you don’t and I don’t…never stop listening and learning. Be prepared to put in some very long hours and be sure that you are passionate about what you do because you’ll need that passion to see you through the highs and lows.
What was the most important lesson you learned coming through the junior formula ranks?
Follow your dream, never give up and never stop learning.
Which car, from any in history, would you most like to own and why?
There are many cars in history that are amazing and significant but on a personal note the car that took me to my first 24 Hours of Le Mans win has to be it: the #63 Corvette C5.R from 2002. I’ve got a lot of happy memories driving that car and getting my first win at one of the world’s biggest races, and sportscar racing’s crown jewel, Le Mans, was very special.
I recently upgraded my car to 785 hp but it scares me to death. I am 67 years old and want to race in autocross. What is the best and safest way for me to get comfortable in my new car?
Wow, that’s some power!! A session in a simulator could help but really getting to grips with a car with that much power will take time and patience. If there is a way of slowly increasing the power over a number of sessions, that could work. Maybe set a manual throttle stop and start off with running it at 50% throttle? Then each session increase it by 5-10%? This way you are slowly getting dialled into the power and performance.
Chris & Ben Ruehl
Racing in many different cars and series, you need to be diverse. How did you first approach this in your early racing career and how do your methods compare to what you do now?
When you start off you mostly follow one type of racing – whether that’s in single-seaters, rallycross, GT racing or whatever. You learn your race craft, how to start, how to pass, how not to be intimidated, how to win. You also learn about how different types of cars work, how to get the best from them and the tires, how to work with your engineer and so on. All this comes into play when you start to drive different cars. I suppose that now, I am in a position where my advice and opinion is sought out and I can offer a rounded view and bring something more to a team than just experience.
I am leaving the Army in 18 months and want to pursue racing. After I get my racing license, what is the next step?
Start saving, saving and saving. Racing is expensive, as anyone will tell you but there are karting options that are affordable so investigate everything available. Get in touch with your local ASN (National Sporting Authority) and find out what they offer, and get in touch with your local clubs.
What is the best way to make it as a professional racer or to get noticed by a big team?
The most obvious way is to be noticed is through your results because ultimately that’s what a team will look at to begin with. Contacts are vital so make sure you introduce yourself to people, without being too pushy, and give them contact details on a card or flyer. If you have a website keep it up to date, and be professional in every area – the way you look, the way you act and what you say, it all makes a difference. The most important thing is to never give up.
Who has been your favourite co-driver?
I’ve had many great teammates… like James Weaver, Ron Fellows, Marcel Fässler and more. They’ve all got great personalities and different ways of approaching their work, all of which you can learn from. I probably enjoyed myself the most when I did Daytona with James Weaver in 2002 in terms of having fun and learning the most, however I do have to say I’m enjoying driving with Tommy [Milner] at the moment. Having a younger teammate certainly keeps you honest!
What was it like racing for Callaway Competition and driving their Z06.R GT3 Corvette?
It was a really interesting experience and I’m lucky to have had the chance to do some racing in Europe for the first time in years. The GT3 Corvette was great fun to drive, more power and downforce than the C7R, which drivers always want! We had some tough races, but pole and winning everything at Red Bull Ring left me with very happy memories.
What are the biggest differences in racing in Europe to the United States?
Regulations and how the races are run apart, I would say that the biggest difference is off track. The paddocks are much more open in the USA because we work mostly out of awnings instead of garages, and that makes for a much friendlier atmosphere – for the teams, the drivers and of course for the fans. They get to see the cars being worked on all the time, the teams in action and that’s a great thing to be part of.
I have strong race pace but I always seem to struggle in qualifying. How would you recommend I improve my qualifying time?
If you’re race pace is good it’s probably more a case of mind management than the way around the track. You have to focus, not be distracted, and do some breathing to relax yourself and bring your heart rate down. The fastest laps come from when you complete them in an almost subconscious state. You don’t have to think about how you go through each corner, you just do it. A lot of drivers use visualization techniques – you imagine the perfect lap in your head as many times as you need, and then go and do it!