July 27, 2021

Garcia on emotional Rolex 24 win after bereavements and COVID

Reigning IMSA GT Le Mans champion Garcia, fulltime co-driver Jordan Taylor and endurance third man Nicky Catsburg drove the #3 Corvette Racing C8.R to victory last Sunday, but a COVID-19 test at the track came back positive for Garcia. Consequently he missed his final stints and had to leave the track, thereby missing out on the celebrations with the squad.

Coming in the same month as he lost his grandfather to COVID-19, and just four days after his former mentor Adrian Campos died, Garcia was left in a tearful tumult of emotions as he watched the end of the race.

“I was in the car park of a hotel 300 meters from the entrance of the circuit, watching the race with my mobile phone, from the onboard camera – not even with the official broadcast – and the times,” Garcia told Motorsport.com. “At the end I was crying a lot from the emotion and rage of not being able to be there and celebrate and hug the people I wanted to hug. Being alone in a car celebrating a victory is the most surreal thing that can happen to anyone, of course. 

“That’s what I missed the most: not being able, even with a mask on, to give Jordan and Nicky a hug for the job they did. It was also a surprise for them that they had to do the last four hours of the race without me. They gave it their all and I’m super proud of what they did.”

For his part, Taylor spoke movingly of his frustration at being unable to celebrate with his teammate and friend. 

Asked when he learned of his positive test, Garcia replied: “Shortly after I got out of the car after a triple stint. I got the e-mail and I couldn’t believe it; in fact I asked what it meant. I’m glad it didn’t affect the result because there are three of us in the team. Fortunately they did a sensational job and Jordan completed a great last stint.”

Garcia, a four-time IMSA GT champion, has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times, Sebring 12 Hours three times, but cites this third win in the Rolex 24 as his most special victory.

Yes, of course it is,” he said. “It’s clear that I will always remember this watch [the Rolex prize] with much more affection than usual, without a doubt. The circumstances are what they were, but I’m happy to have given it my all and to have achieved our goal.”

Garcia admitted that for much of the race, running behind the sister car of Tommy Milner, Nick Tandy and Alexander Sims, he wasn’t confident of victory.

“I was finding it quite tricky because our teammates were also very strong and we were behind them for a long time. Honestly, in the last lap I did [against] Tommy, I could see that I was missing a little bit, that I would have liked to have a little bit more in reserve. I had my doubts.

“But then at the end of the race with more heat and so on, we got the setup right for those last 5-6 hours and that’s where we made the jump. The #4 had looked much stronger all night, but the tables were turned. I’m glad we did the work we did in practice and got the setup right for the end of the race. 

“Fighting against your teammate is the worst thing that can happen to you, because his strengths are your strengths and his weaknesses are also your weaknesses. Fighting one on one with someone in identical conditions is the hardest thing to do.

“But in this case we are the winners.”

Garcia admitted that his sorrow over his grandfather and then Campos had affected his focus in the build up to the race, and that he’d only be able to shut it out of his mind while driving the car.

“It was pretty bad, to be honest. My grandfather was already 98 years old, although he was perfect – he didn’t look that age. He and my grandmother got COVID in November, the week before Sebring [12 Hours], but they seemed to be over it. In the end my grandfather relapsed again and eventually passed away.

“Because it was over such a long period of time, you kind of have more time to assimilate and come to terms with it, but Adrian Campos’s [death] was a real shock, completely unexpected. We couldn’t believe it… it was quite a tough week. It was very difficult to be 100 percent focused and prepare everything to the millimeter with that going on in your head all the time.

“The only time you manage to get away from it is when you’re in the car because you’re 100 percent focused on what you’re doing. But out of the car, it was difficult not to fall back in… I tried to be as normal as possible.

“I didn’t tell anyone about my grandfather, but then the news about Adrian came out. People like Jordan [Taylor] and [former teammate] Oliver Gavin, who is always there, knew how much I was going to be affected by what had happened. They were very attentive to me and helped me as much as possible.

“It has been difficult. At some point I apologized to the team, because at times I had been quieter than usual, more fussy when there was something that wasn’t as I wanted it to be… You get on the edge of your nerves and it’s hard to maintain a sense of normality.”

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