Corvette Racing Faces New Challenge at Road America
Corvette Racing Notebook for the Generac 500 at Road America, August 19-21
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Fifty years ago, two events occurred that would forever change the course of road racing in America: Chevrolet introduced the new small-block V-8, and the good citizens of Elkhart Lake, Wis., opened a new road racing circuit in their quiet rural town. Chevrolet and Road America have been inextricably linked ever since.
The seventh round of the American Le Mans Series simultaneously celebrates the 50th anniversaries of GM’s small-block V-8 and Road America. Since 1955, the small-block has become the world’s most successful production-based racing engine, and the 4-mile Road America course has become the track that every road racer cherishes.
Corvette Racing returns to Road America this weekend with the same formidable combination of small-block V-8 horsepower, tenacious handling and unrivalled reliability that has propelled the team to six consecutive 1-2 finishes in the ALMS and the 24 Hours of Le Mans since April. But recent rule changes in the GT1 class will put Corvette Racing to the test as the team aims for its third victory at Road America since 2002.
The Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), whose rules govern the ALMS, has specified that the Corvette C6.Rs carry an additional 25 kilograms (55 pounds) effective at this event. In combination with previously announced performance adjustments that gave its rivals additional horsepower, Corvette Racing will have to raise the bar on the fast Road America circuit to extend its winning streak.
“Elkhart Lake’s long straights should prove to be very challenging,” commented Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. “The additional 25 kilograms that were mandated by the ACO should serve to make the competition in the GT1 class even more intense.”
Driver Johnny O’Connell, who teamed with Ron Fellows to win a 500-mile enduro at Road America in 2002, knows he’ll have a fight on his hands. “If there is a race track where our competitors are going to give us fits, it’s Road America,” O’Connell said. “Those long straightaways could make life very difficult for us. We saw in Portland that our competitors’ ability to pull away on the straights makes it tough for us to take advantage of the C6.R’s edge in handling and braking.”
Road America Reflections
Think of Road America as America’s version of Le Mans, with bratwurst instead of crepes and Milwaukee beer instead of French wine. The two circuits share similar characteristics – extended straights that are a test of horsepower and high-speed curves that are a test of bravery.
“Every driver who races there falls in love with the track,” said O’Connell. “It’s very fast, and the circuit has a European feel to it. Going to Road America is certainly one of the highlights of the ALMS season.”
“The Kink is one very, very fast corner that separates the men from the boys,” he noted, “and the Carousel reminds me of the Porsche Curves at Le Mans. Road America doesn’t have as much grip as Le Mans does, so you slide the car a little more, but that’s part of the fun. Considering the harsh winters in Wisconsin, the track is amazingly smooth.”
Road America’s charms extend to the surrounding countryside. Rural Wisconsin is a favored destination for Corvette owners.
“It’s hard to find a more scenic place than Elkhart Lake,” Fehan said. “The Corvette Corral at Road America is consistently one of the biggest of the season, so it’s important for us to put on a great show for the Corvette enthusiasts. If you’ve got a convertible Corvette, Elkhart Lake is a great place to put the top down and go for a drive – not to mention the brats and sweet corn.”
Racing Through the Years at Road America
Corvette played a crucial role in recasting Chevrolet’s image from a producer of conservative automobiles to a company that appealed to youthful, performance-minded customers. Corvette was the vehicle that drove the small-block V-8’s development in the early days. Legendary Corvette engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov continually pushed the performance envelope with his beloved two-seater, overseeing development of dual four-barrel carburetors, suspension upgrades, fuel injection and high-performance camshafts that transformed the early Corvette from a boulevard cruiser into a bona fide performance car.
Road America figures prominently in Corvette’s rich 50-year racing history. It’s been the backdrop for events that strengthened Corvette’s standing as a performance icon. Bill Mitchell, GM’s vice president of design, was an avid racer who fielded the original Sting Ray racer driven by John Fitch and Dick Thompson at Road America. Thompson, nicknamed “The Flying Dentist,” won the SCCA C/Modified championship in 1960 with Mitchell’s machine. Mitchell chose Elkhart Lake as the venue to preview his stunning Mako Shark concept car in June 1961; the Shark’s sharp-edged body and hidden headlights foreshadowed key features of the production 1963 Sting Ray. Duntov’s lightweight Grand Sport Corvette rumbled through Road America’s rolling hills in 1964 with racing luminaries Roger Penske, Jim Hall and Hap Sharp sharing the driving chores.
Two Wisconsin-based racers – Augie Pabst and Jim Jeffords – contributed to the Corvette’s cachet. Both are scheduled to attend the Generac 500 at Road America to meet fans of the marque in the Corvette Corral.
Pabst’s Corvette-powered Meister Brauser Scarabs and Lola GTs were the scourge of sports car racing in the early ’60s. Jeffords, who owned a successful advertising agency in Milwaukee, drove the infamous “Purple People Eater” Corvette. Sponsored by Chicago’s Nickey Chevrolet dealership, the first-generation Corvette with the outlandish purple paint was named after the central character in a popular song of the era – the “one-eyed, one-horned flyin’ purple people eater.” In fact, Jeffords devoured the competition, winning back-to-back SCCA B/Production national championships in 1958-59. That feat garnered national attention for Corvette and for Nickey Chevrolet, an early example of the power of motorsports marketing.
The Generac 500 at Road America, the seventh round of the 2005 American Le Mans Series, is set for 3 p.m. EDT (2 p.m. local time) on Sunday, August 21. The 2-hour, 45-minute race will be broadcast live on SPEED Channel from 3 to 6 p.m. EDT.
Release Date: August 16, 2005