The final installment in an eight-part series of articles highlighting each champion driver in the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, “Making of a Champion” shares some previous experiences and “backstory” that led to this driver becoming a champion.
It's widely considered that the three crown jewels in endurance sports car racing are the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The list of drivers who have won all three races over the course of their career is fairly short. Drivers who have won all three over the course of one year is even shorter.
And then there’s Antonio Garcia, who in the span of one year (June 2008 to June 2009) won Le Mans twice, in addition to winning the Rolex 24 and Sebring. Oh, and he did it in three entirely different cars, taking Le Mans 2008 in an Aston Martin, the 2009 Rolex 24 in a Porsche-powered Riley Daytona Prototype, and both Sebring and Le Mans in 2009 in a Chevrolet Corvette C6R.
So, why – as 2017 draws to a close – are we dredging up Garcia’s accomplishments from nearly a decade ago? Because they had a direct impact on the launch of the Spaniard’s career with Corvette Racing, with whom he won his second IMSA championship in 2017. But those wins are only half of the story of what ultimately brought Garcia to Corvette Racing.
“I was able to discover America when I joined Cheever Racing with Christian (Fittipaldi) and Eddie (Cheever), basically,” Garcia said. “I just offered myself to help them out in a few races, and once I discovered those races back in the day in GRAND-AM, I fell in love with racing in America, or what racing in America means.
“It was that point, I still had the Aston Martin Racing contract and our biggest competitor was Corvette, but I knew what I wanted. I kind of forced the option. I was lucky enough to also have some openings with Corvette Racing in 2009, so I went for it.
“Those were key points in my career, and so far – as I look back – I am very happy to make all those decisions. That helped me a lot. Those wins in Le Mans, Daytona or Sebring, for sure, those always help to have those contracts.”
Beginning in 2011, Garcia was racing Chevrolet-powered sports cars full time in the United States, between Spirit of Daytona Racing’s No. 90 Coyote Daytona Prototype in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series and the Corvette C6R in American Le Mans Series endurance races.
In 2012, Garcia switched to full-time ALMS duty with Corvette Racing and part-time GRAND-AM status with Spirit of Daytona Racing, but one of his GRAND-AM races was at Barber Motorsports Park, where he teamed with co-driver Richard Westbrook to deliver the first win for the new Corvette Daytona Prototype race car.
A year later, Garcia and co-driver Jan Magnussen won the final ALMS GT championship before GRAND-AM and ALMS merged. And after three consecutive seasons of finishing third in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Le Mans (GTLM) season standings, Garcia and Magnussen picked up their second championship together in 2017.
“It’s been a while since we won our last championship in 2013, and we definitely needed this championship,” Garcia said. “It’s been two or three years in a row that we finished third and being so close – apart from last year, where (Corvette Racing teammates) Olly (Gavin) and Tommy (Milner) dominated – the previous two years, our team led the championship for most of the year and then we ended up losing it.
“For sure this year, it was a brilliant season. Basically, since we started leading the championship, we stayed up there. We had a very, very hard midseason with our performance, but we just kept our heads down and at the end of the day, that paid out. Some of the wins, like VIR, that kind of made it a little bit easier after a very hard midseason.”
It’s interesting that both Garcia and Magnussen followed a similar career track, as they were initially on the European open-wheel path before eventually landing in sports cars.
“If you look at careers, I would say the difference between my career and Fernando Alonso’s career up to Formula 1, it’s maybe one or two wins difference, or maybe the year that he won or I won,” Garcia said. “In Europe, all the successful careers are very, very similar. There is a fine line between staying in Formula 1 or just finding another road to keep being a professional driver.
“I agree that between Jan and I, there are a lot of similarities. We are both go-kart world champions and we won in single seaters before Formula 1. For me, Formula 1 was a goal, but the main goal for me – and still is – is working on my preferred sport. That’s why I also feel lucky that my job is my sport.”
And his job will continue to be with Corvette Racing – with Magnussen as his co-driver – in 2018, as the team announced Wednesday the return of both Magnussen and Garcia to pilot the No. 3 Corvette C7.R, with Milner and Gavin again slated for the No. 4 entry. Garcia hopes it continues well beyond that also.
“I’m still young in a way, but I’m getting older, for sure,” he said. “As I always do, I’ll keep fighting and working hard to keep myself in there and try to help Corvette Racing win championships. That’s my goal. I want to extend my career as much as possible, but for sure, every year is going to get harder and harder.
“Young guys will come up and make it harder for us, but I will fight very, very hard to try to go as far as I can doing my job. Because, so far, that’s what I want to do and I don’t want to do anything else.”