Laura Wontrop Klauser: “Le Mans was always on my bucket list”

Laura Wontrop Klauser: “Le Mans was always on my bucket list”

In 2021, Laura Wontrop Klauser headed Corvette Racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the very first time. Her début at the iconic French marathon concluded with a second place in the LMGTE Pro class for Nicky Catsburg, Antonio García and Jordan Taylor. She recalls that race and talks about the US outfit’s future prospects as it prepares to double up with the FIA World Endurance Championship and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, starting with the Rolex 24 at Daytona on 29-30 January.

2021 marked a watershed in the history of Corvette Racing. Doug Fehan, who had spearheaded the team’s operations for 25 years, bowed out after achieving eight Le Mans class wins, four at the 24 Hours of Daytona and 14 US titles.

The reins were handed to automotive engineering graduate Laura Wontrop Klauser who had enjoyed significant success as Cadillac Racing’s DPi-V.R. Programme Manager in IMSA. After a first Le Mans podium on the rear-engined C8.R’s début at the iconic racetrack last August, Wontrop Klauser looks back at her introduction to the 24 Hours and forward to the challenges facing Corvette Racing in IMSA and FIA WEC this season. She also talks about Cadillac’s entry into the Hypercar class and the recruitment of Le Mans’ own Sébastien Bourdais.

What were your very first connections with the Le Mans 24 Hours?

My first time at Le Mans was in 2018 when I attended as a fan with Chevrolet. Going to Le Mans was always on my bucket list and a dream for me and my husband. We loved every minute of our experience and I’m so glad I was able to see Le Mans for the first time before I came to the race with a role on the team

Could you tell us about your first Le Mans 24 Hours as the head of Corvette Racing in 2021?

The 2021 Le Mans 24 Hours was a rush. The condensed schedule pushed all of us, and I believe the biggest endurance challenge for the event ended up being the human side of it. Corvette Racing had to come directly from our previous IMSA race at Road America to Le Mans, which was no small challenge. I am so proud of the entire team for pushing past their limits and never giving up. Coming to the race in my Programme Manager role felt surreal. I often wondered if I was going to wake up in the middle of the trip and find out it was a dream. The race between us and Ferrari was exciting. It would have been great to get past them for the win but with it being the first year of the C8.R at Le Mans and considering the schedule leading up to and during Le Mans, we are proud of our second-place finish.

What kind of information did you get from the C8’s first Le Mans for your commitment in the FIA WEC in 2022?

We are always learning when we participate in the WEC races. The sporting regulations are just different enough from IMSA that we will find something we hadn’t considered or perhaps didn’t completely understand. We are excited to do a full season with the WEC in 2022 and completely immerse ourselves into the series. Plus we will be racing at tracks we’ve never been to before so there will be a lot of opportunities to see how our car performs in new scenarios.

From a personal point of view, what are your favourite memories of your first Le Mans as the head of Corvette Racing?

Everything felt like such a rush – I’m not sure how but the 24 hours of the race is both the fastest and slowest 24 hours ever! During the race, we had our ups and downs. The #64 had to come in for repairs and while you never want to be in that situation, I remember being so proud of how professionally everyone on the team handled themselves and how dedicated they were to fixing the issue and getting the car back on track. They never gave up, even laps down, the drivers were driving hard and the mechanics pushing themselves to make pit stops faster. The #63 side of the garage was pure dedication. I loved watching Nicky [Catsburg] driving at night, showing his talent and the ability of the car. I was supposed to take a quick nap at some point but I couldn’t settle down and sleep because there was so much going on and I never felt tired. I also enjoyed our visit to the on-site Corvette Corral, meeting fans from all over Europe and seeing their Corvettes. Plus knowing how many people back home in North America were watching was special. We talked to a watch party at the National Corvette Museum [in Bowling Green, Kentucky] during the race and I loved the text messages and other notes that came from home wishing us luck and letting me know they were watching.

"I’m not sure how but, at Le Mans, the 24 hours of the race is both the fastest and slowest 24 hours ever!"
Laura Wontrop Klauser

How did you and GM make the final choice between Cadillac and Corvette for the future Hypercar programme?

The Cadillac Hypercar programme is our opportunity to take Cadillac into the next level of endurance racing technology. Cadillac is GM’s technology-leading brand and the Hypercar platform gives us the ability to showcase the brand’s commitment to electric propulsion as we take the next step into this area in racing with the hybrid system. The Corvette GT3 programme is the exciting next step for Corvette Racing. Corvette uses racing to create a better production car and prove the capability of the brand. Racing the cars we sell has been and will continue to be a key component of the Corvette Racing programme.

How valuable for Cadillac is the hiring of Sébastien Bourdais, an experienced driver who is from Le Mans?

Seb’s history and successes speak for themselves. He has proven himself to one of the most versatile drivers to ever set foot in a cockpit of any racecar. It’s really mind-blowing when you look at his career in open-wheel – CART, IndyCar and Formula One – plus his GT and prototype experience. He’s won some of the biggest races on each of those stages. We’ve gotten a taste of his talent already in DPi, watching him wrestle a broken racecar across the finish line to win the Sebring 12 Hours last year in the Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R [the car's balance was affected by losing the top of the rear wing in the closing laps of the race]. You can’t put a value on what he brings to Cadillac Racing. We’re thrilled to have him full-time on our DPi programme this year! I’m sure he’d like to continue that on and maybe make Le Mans a bit of a home race for us next year.

Endurance racing is at a great turning point in its history. Do you welcome this as extra pressure or as the biggest challenge in your career?

I am energised by the changes in sports car racing. The prototype class in 2023 will have so many different OEs competing and the GT switch to the GT3 platform also opens up the classes to more OEs. Big healthy fields are exciting and shows the commitment of the auto industry to the sport. All the competition will make the job of winning harder but if we are able to make it to the checker first, it will be incredible. Since I took on my new role, each step has been the biggest challenge of my career. Creating GM’s Sports Car Racing portfolio and achieving buy-in from leadership was no small feat. Now executing strong racecars and achieving wins will be the next challenge.

PHOTOS, TOP AND ABOVE: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 2021 24 HOURS OF LE MANS – The mid-engined Corvette C8.R made its Le Mans début with Antonio Garcia, Nicky Catsburg and Jordan Taylor sharing the wheel of #63, and Tommy Milner, Alexander Sims and Nick Tandy teaming up in #64. CENTRE (RICHARD PRINCE, CORVETTE & CADILLAC RACING): PLYMOUTH (WISCONSIN, USA), ROAD AMERICA, AUGUST 2021 – Laura Wontrop Klauser during the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship race held on 8 August, just before her first Le Mans 24 Hours at the head of Corvette Racing.