In the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, Corvette Racing appears to have a bullpen that would be the envy of any manager, including the apparent Mariano Rivera of race closers, Antonio Garcia.
Quiet and modest, but ruthlessly quick and efficient, Garcia is often behind the wheel in the final stages of a tight race like the recent Rolex 24 At Daytona where the margin of victory after 24 hours was a scant 0.478 seconds over a fast closing BMW.
Whether protecting the lead or relentlessly closing and pressuring the leader to create an opening, Garcia and co-driver Jan Magnussen are both consistently able to deliver in key situations.
Traditionally calm on the radio, Garcia’s laser like focus and ability to bring the car home are a perfect complement to the feisty Magnussen’s determination and ability to create passing opportunities that would otherwise appear nonexistent.
Since Long Beach 2014, Garcia and Magnussen have taken their #3 Corvette Racing C7.R to five GTLM class victories in the past ten TUDOR Championship races, including the season opening Rolex 24 At Daytona where they teamed with IndyCar ace Ryan Briscoe.
Garcia’s success is not limited to North America. He has three GT class victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the most recent in 2012 when he helped Corvette Racing’s Tommy Milner and Olivier Beretta close out a come from behind win.
Magnussen has four Le Mans wins. The two combined to win the 2013 American Le Mans Series GT class driver championship.
Ironically, Corvette Racing does not always plan to have Garcia in the car in the closing stages.
“Jan and Antonio alternate qualifying, and the IMSA rules require that the qualifying driver start the race so that certainly sets up the rotation at the shorter races,” said Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan.
“When we start the long races at Daytona or Sebring, we have no idea if we will be leading or chasing at the end.
“We just see how the race unfolds. We have Jan and Antonio as our regulars in the #3 car and Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner in the #4 car.
“Everyone on the team is totally comfortable with any of our drivers. That’s why they are Corvette Racing factory drivers!” said Fehan.
Here at Sebring in 2013, it was Gavin and Milner mounting a heroic late race charge to chase down the race leading Ferrari and take the GTLM class victory.
“I told Antonio that I was glad he was in the car at the end of Daytona,” laughed Magnussen.
“That was getting too close for comfort, but we believe in each other and in the team.”
And that is how champions get to the finish first.