CORVETTE RACING AT SPA: What a Drive Back to Second Place!
Late heroics by Catsburg, team effort secure runner-up finish heading to Le Mans
FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (April 29, 2023) – It wasn’t a victory, but Corvette Racing earned the next best thing Saturday with a rallying drive to a runner-up class finish at the Six Hours of Spa in the third round of the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Nicky Catsburg, Ben Keating and Nico Varrone finished second in GTE Am with their No. 33 Mobil 1/SiriusXM Chevrolet Corvette C8.R – a remarkable result given some of the hardships working against the Corvette Racing team.
The team came back from 12th place early in the race along with the addition of 45 kilograms of success ballast for this race to keep its perfect run of podiums intact through the first three races – and more importantly keep its early-season momentum headed into the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
For the second race in a row, Catsburg took a starring role late. After a stellar defense two weeks ago to win at Portimão, Catsburg held off the faster car of Charlie Eastwood for second place. The result means that – against all odds – the Corvette team increased its GTE Am championship lead unofficially from 31 points to 39: 82 points compared to the No. 83 Ferrari team with 43.
Keating started fourth in class, but the big story even before the race began was the weather. With the track damp and mist falling, the Corvette team elected to start the race on wet-weather tires. Numerous cars on slick tires went off-track and race officials elected to begin the race behind the safety car.
The additional formation lap allowed the dry-tire cars a chance to get their tires up to temperature, putting the Corvette and other cars that began on rain tires at a distinct disadvantage once the race went green and the track began to try.
Keating made a pit stop for dry tires at the 30-minute mark to fall down the order, and the Corvette team caught another bad break when the pits closed for another safety-car period as Keating was set to come in again for fuel, tires and a driver change. Instead he had to stop for five seconds of emergency fuel near the one-hour, 45-minute mark and came in a lap later for the scheduled service.
Varrone took over for a double-stint from seventh place and steadily worked his way up into the top-five through a full-course yellow and the race’s third safety-car period. The initial stint on his tires was difficult to manage as the team chose to try a harder compound in his run, but changing to a softer tire put him back on the pace of the leaders heading into the final two hours.
That set the stage for Catsburg’s double-stint to the end. A fourth safety-car period brought the Corvette back to the lead pack, and he managed to find himself in first before the final stop with 54 minutes remaining. A fierce duel over the final 40 minutes began with Catsburg getting around Eastwood on the latter’s out-lap and racing out to a nearly eight-second advantage. It didn’t take long for the lighter and quicker Aston Martin to find its way back to Catsburg’s rear bumper.
The final 14 minutes saw the two cars run nose-to-tail with Catsburg keeping the Corvette ahead despite traffic from the overtaking prototypes. He crossed the line with a 0.249-second gap to third place.
Corvette Racing’s next event in the FIA WEC is the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 10-11. It is an event that Corvette Racing has won eight times.
NICKY CATSBURG, NO. 33 MOBIL 1/SiriusXM CHEVROLET CORVETTE C8.R – SECOND IN GTE AM: “Somehow we managed to find ourselves in the top-five or top-six before I jumped in the car. The Corvette Racing guys did great work again in the pitlane. We were in the mix with the front-runners, and I was able to pass some on the out-lap. I knew we didn’t have the pace to challenge for the lead, and I was never expecting to keep P2. But it worked out. It was déjà vu back to Portimão! I was struggling a lot to keep the Aston Martin behind. Charlie did a great job. He didn’t make any crazy moves and it was super-nice racing. An awesome feeling of two races in a row getting a good result. Great job to Ben doing the start in insanely difficult conditions. Nico… what people don’t know is that Nico had to drive on the worst tire compound we had available because we used him as a guinea pig to test! So it was very difficult for him, and hats off to him for keeping the car on the track and keeping it in contention. I’m super happy with the work they are doing and the team is doing. It’s super nice to have these big points.”
BEN KEATING, NO. 33 MOBIL 1/SiriusXM CHEVROLET CORVETTE C8.R – SECOND IN GTE AM: "This is another team win. Even though we came home second, with 45 extra kilograms this feels like it's better than a win. I came into Sebring with the idea that maybe we could win. I came into Portimao with the idea that a podium would be a success. I came into this race thinking a top-five would be good. I never dreamed we would be second. It's an unbelievable finish, especially given how we started.
“Normally in these races, you don't get the opportunity to make up lost time. We had three different times where we got a pass-around around the safety car. We were a lap down a couple of times because I made the choice to go out on rain tires at the start because I thought it was the conservative, safe choice. It turned out to be the wrong choice and had to come in for an early stop. Because of that, we were off-sequence with everyone and kept going a lap down. The safety cars came out exactly when we needed them to and we were able to get our laps back. It was a crazy race. It's hard to think that it was even crazier than Portimao! I'm just glad I have a good heart! This has been unbelievable to watch. The whole team was fantastic. Nico did a great job. I don't know how Nicky stayed in front of the Aston Martin because they were so fast all weekend. It's just an incredible job by Nicky two weekends in a row. I'm ready to go to Le Mans!"
NICO VARRONE, NO. 33 MOBIL 1/SiriusXM CHEVROLET CORVETTE C8.R – SECOND IN GTE AM: “This was a really hard race. From the beginning, we weren’t looking to be on the podium. A top-five would have been mega. But again the Corvette Racing team did a great job. We were lucky with the pass-arounds to get us back in the fight for the win. Nicky had great pace and did a great job defending again as in Portimão. Today was just fantastic. I can’t really believe it yet! It was a bit crazy. Big thanks to Ben and Nicky for the great job and to Corvette Racing for amazing pit stops and the engineers on the strategy. Everything was perfect.”