DETROIT – The interconnection of Chevrolet Corvette and motorsports stretches nearly six decades, beginning with the Corvette’s competitive debut in at the 12 Hours of Sebring, in 1956. By the time Briggs Cunningham entered three Corvettes in the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1960 – Corvette’s first appearance at the world’s most demanding race – the international racing community had taken notice of America’s sports car.
The modern era of Corvette competition began in 1999, with the debut of the Corvette Racing team – a partnership between Chevrolet and Pratt & Miller Engineering, which the race cars operates the racing program.
From 1999 to 2013, Corvette Racing lead the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) in all-time victories and 1-2 finishes, along with seven class wins at Le Mans since 2001. Corvette Racing also won an ALMS-best 10 team championships and 10 manufacturer titles for Chevrolet.
During those years, the Corvettes competing on the track and those available at Chevrolet dealerships became more closely related, with racing elements adapted to make better road cars. One example is the all-new 2014 Corvette C7.R and the 2015 Corvette Z06, which share similar aerodynamic strategies, engine technologies and even tire construction.
“Endurance racing enables us to test new technologies that transfer from race car to road car,” said Mark Kent, director of racing for Chevrolet. “The lessons we have learned from the Corvette Racing program are immeasurable. Not only does Chevrolet race the products we sell, we do it against our chief showroom competitors.”
A new challenge awaits in 2014, with the launch of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship – a merger of the ALMS and GRAND-AM’s Rolex Sports Car Series. For the team’s 16th season, Chevrolet and Corvette Racing will campaign the Corvette C7.R in the TUDOR Championship’s GT Le Mans class and GTE Pro for the Le Mans 24 Hours.
The race car and series may be new, but the team’s goal remains the same as it was in 1999: Compete and win against the most prestigious names in performance cars, in North America and around the world.
“Chevrolet expects a lot out of us, and we do our best to deliver,” said Gary Pratt, Corvette Racing team manager and co-principal of Pratt & Miller. “There is a lot of good engineering and a great group of mechanics and crew chiefs in the shop, the paddock and the pits. Corvette is a great product to start with, and the patience Chevrolet has shown to build the team, and allow us to continue after this many years, really gives us a big advantage.”
In the beginning: Corvette C5-R (1999-2004)
Even before the fifth-generation Corvette rolled into dealerships, plans were well underway to return Chevrolet to professional endurance racing. The Corvette C5-R debuted in 1999 at the Rolex 24 At Daytona and was a fixture of global GT racing for the next five years. From 1999-2004, Corvette Racing and the C5-R set the standard for racing success with 31 victories in the ALMS, along with an overall victory at the Rolex 24 in 2001.
Success wasn’t limited to North America. The C5-R scored the first of its three GTS victories at Le Mans in 2001, following with wins in 2002 and 2004. ALMS team and manufacturer championships came in 2001-04.
The C5-R also helped instill Corvette drivers such as Ron Fellows and Johnny O’Connell as faces of the team and the ALMS. Fellows won 21 ALMS races in the C5-R and captured the GTS drivers’ championship three times, including twice with O’Connell. It also helped launch the sports car careers for future stars like Oliver Gavin, who remains a fixture with Corvette Racing.
Worthy successor: Corvette C6.R (2005-2013)
Chevrolet introduced the sixth-generation Corvette for 2005, and the Corvette C6.R made its competition debut at Sebring in March that year. What followed was a period of unqualified success that came to personify Corvette Racing and its new car – first in GT1 and then GT classes.
The Corvette C6.R was homologated on the Corvette Z06 production car’s architecture. Each was powered by a 7.0L small block V-8 engine, with dry-sump lubrication system, CNC-ported aluminum cylinder heads, titanium valves, forged steel crankshaft and plate-honed cylinder bores.
The C6.R proved to be a worthy successor to the C5-R. It won 39 GT1 races in the ALMS and delivered driver, team and manufacturer championships every year from 2005 to 2008. In that era, Corvette Racing won 12 straight races from 2005 to 2006, followed by 25 consecutive wins from 2007 to 2009. Four drivers claimed GT1 titles, too: O’Connell, Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Jan Magnussen.
The C6.R also won the GT1 races at Le Mans in 2006, 2007 and 2009, the latter being Corvette Racing’s last race in the class.
Corvette Racing and Chevrolet took another step forward in 2009 with the introduction of a GT-spec version of the C6.R – this one based on the Corvette ZR1. The GT rules, along with GTE at Le Mans, required many production-based components. The regulations made the C6.R and ZR1 the closest street and racing Corvettes since the 1960s.
Components from four major areas carried over between the C6.R and ZR1:
The GT-spec C6.R won 12 times from 2009 through 2013, plus a 2011 win at Le Mans, leading Corvette Racing and Chevrolet to team and manufacturer championships in 2012 and 2013. Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin won four times in 2012 to claim the GT drivers’ championship. Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen followed with their own title in 2013, with three wins.
“Both the Corvette C5-R and C6.R have earned a place among the greatest entries in the modern era of sports-car racing,” said Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing Program manager. “Each has helped define Corvette Racing and Chevrolet as championship-winning efforts in global sports car racing. More importantly, the cars showcased and proved the technology that transferred to production Corvettes. That is a hallmark of the Corvette Racing program now, and it will be going forward."
CORVETTE RACING FAST FACTS – 1999-2013
- Le Mans class wins: 7
- ALMS manufacturer titles: 10
- ALMS driving titles: 9
- ALMS team titles: 10
- Worldwide races: 152
- Worldwide wins: 90
- Team 1-2 finishes: 54
Founded in 1911 in Detroit, Chevrolet is now one of the world’s largest car brands, doing business in more than 140 countries and selling more than 4.5 million cars and trucks a year. Chevrolet provides customers with fuel-efficient vehicles that feature spirited performance, expressive design, and high quality. More information on Chevrolet models can be found at www.chevrolet.com.
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