Seventeen Seasons of Corvette Racing: 1999–2016
DETROIT – For 60 years, the Chevrolet Corvette has stood alone as America’s sports car. During that time its heritage and history have attracted loyalty and accolades from car owners and the auto industry alike. The same can be said for the Corvette Racing program, which enters its 17th year of competing on endurance racing’s biggest stages.
Corvette Racing owns one of sports car racing’s top pedigrees with victories in the biggest events and at the most famous tracks around the world. It also represents the highest level of technology transfer between racing and the showroom with an increasing number of common elements as the years have progressed.
“With the Corvette Racing program, we are able to race what we sell in one of the most extreme environments in all of motorsports,” said Mark Kent, Director, Chevrolet Racing. “Competing in events like the 24 Hours of Le Mans and throughout IMSA serves two purposes. One is that it allows us to show the efficiency, reliability and ingenuity of the Chevrolet Corvette. Secondly, we develop technologies through racing that carry over to our production vehicles in order to make the safest and most advanced Corvettes for our customers.”
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Corvette’s first race. It’s competition debut came at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1956 with five Corvettes. In 1960, the Corvette brand raced for the first time at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Briggs Cunningham entering three Corvettes in the French classic. It marked the Corvette’s transition to an international icon.
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 builds the race cars and operates the program for Chevy Racing.
Since that time, Corvette Racing has accumulated 97 victories around the world. Among those are eight wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, two at the Rolex 24 At Daytona and nine at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. From 1999 to 2013, Corvette Racing lead the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) in all-time victories and 1-2 finishes. It 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. The best and most recent example is the all-new 2016 Corvette C7.R and the 2016 Corvette Z06, which share a common aluminum frame, similar aerodynamic strategies, engine technologies and even tire construction.
For 2016, Corvette Racing will campaign two Chevrolet Corvette C7.Rs across two continents. The team will race in the full IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s GT Le Mans (GTLM) class as well as at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where it is the defending GTE Pro class winner. It’s another opportunity to compete and win against the most prestigious names in performance cars, in North America and around the world.
“We’re proud to represent and partner with Chevrolet in our 17th season together,” said Gary Pratt, Corvette Racing team manager and co-principal of Pratt & Miller. “That continuity has allowed us to build a great team of crew members to work alongside our engineers and those from Chevrolet. But it all starts with a great product like the Corvette. It’s a huge benefit to have production and racing designers and engineers work together on the design of both the road car and race car. All these pieces and the support from Chevrolet Racing give 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:
- Aluminum frame – The same as the Z06 and ZR1, the shared structure included the windshield frame, hoop surrounding the passenger compartment, door hinge pillars, drivetrain tunnel, firewall and floor pan
- Steering system – The C6.R used the production steering column and production rack-and-pinion steering
- Body profile – The two cars are practically identical in appearance, as mandated by GT rules
- Aerodynamics – The C6.R used the production rear spoiler from the ZR1 and a production-based front splitter.
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 earned a place among the greatest entries in the modern era of sports car racing,” said Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing Program Manager. “Each 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.”
A New Generation: Corvette C7.R (2014-Current)
Starting with the new TUDOR Championship – a merger of GRAND-AM and the ALMS – in 2014, Chevrolet and Corvette Racing entered the Chevrolet Corvette C7.R in the series’ GTLM class. Based on the seventh-generation 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, the C7.R wrote a new chapter in technology transfer. The two represent the closest link in modern times between Corvettes built for racing and the road, sharing unprecedented levels of engineering and components including chassis architecture, engine technologies and aerodynamic strategies.
- Frame Production – As before, the race car and the Z06 will share the same, production-based aluminum frame. However, for the first time, the frames for the race car and production Z06 will be built in-house at the Corvette’s Bowling Green, Ky., assembly plant.
- Direct Injection – The addition of direct fuel injection to the Corvette Z06 will enable the technology to return to a Corvette race car for the first time since the end of the GT1 era in 2009. It promises greater efficiency, which can make a significant difference in long-distance endurance racing such as Daytona and Le Mans through fewer time-consuming pit stops.
- Aerodynamics – The Corvette Z06 and C7.R take the aerodynamic foundation to the next level, sharing aggressive strategies for increased cooling and aerodynamic downforce, including similar front splitters, rocker panels, and front- and rear-brake cooling ducts.
“Corvette Racing sets the gold standard for technology transfer between the track and street,” said Tadge Juechter, Corvette chief engineer. “We are continually taking what we learn in competition, and applying it to improve production Corvettes – which then make better race cars. As a result, the Corvette
Z06 is the most track-capable production Corvette ever while the C7.R is poised to be even more competitive on the race circuit.”
CORVETTE RACING FAST FACTS – 1999-2015
Le Mans class wins: 8
ALMS manufacturer titles: 10
ALMS driving titles: 9
ALMS team titles: 10
Worldwide races: 168
Worldwide wins: 97
Team 1-2 finishes: 54