Throwback Thursday: A Brief History of Racing Corvettes
From 1960 to Present, Corvettes have had a large impact on the racing scene, and specifically in endurance racing. Keep reading to see how the Corvette has evolved over the years, winning the hearts of many.
Where it All Began
Briggs Swift Cunningham II was the man behind the team that developed the first Corvette branded race cars. Only three were made, and raced at Le Mans in 1960. Only the #3 car completed the 24-hour race. It finished first in the GT class and 8th overall.
A Diamond in the Rough
The 1963 Grand Sport is the rarest racing Corvette to date. Only 5 were ever made. Chevrolet initially planned to produce 125 of them. However, the production of the 500hp+ beast was stopped just as soon as it began due to GM's refusal to lift the ban on racing. They only ever saw the track for Nassau's 1963 Speed Week.
The First Z06
The Z06 package option is a hallmark of the Corvette line today, and this was the first time you could order a race-ready Corvette from Chevy. This was also the first time the world saw the iconic String Ray body style. Unfortunately, it never performed as well in the racing circuit as its lighter competitor, the Shelby Cobra.
Some Serious Power
The 1967 L-88 Le Mans Corvette boasted an impressive 600hp. The most significant achievement of this Corvette is finishing first in class at Daytona in 1968. It unfortunately never completed the 24 hours at Le Mans due to an engine failure. The L-88 Le Mans remained the highest horsepower Chevrolet made for many years to come.
The 1968 Owens Corning Corvettes had a rough start, being unable to complete a race at Watkins Glen, and Daytona due to chassis, and frame issues from aftermarket parts, and being in a crash. Two frame replacements later between 1969 and 1971 the Owens Corning team won 22 consecutive races between two different series'. They reached their peak when they beat Porsche, and Ferrari at the 24 Hours at Daytona, finishing first, second, and third. It was truly a landmark for Corvette racing as a whole.
A New Breed
The story of the 85'-87' Escort Series Corvette is an interesting one. The C4 platform changed the game for the Corvette. It boasted an impressive 0.9-g cornering ability combined with Chevy's reliable small block V8, and excellent brakes. This Corvette beat Porsche 29-0 in podium spots between 85', and 87' in the Escort and Playboy series'. It was so good that the SCCA banned Corvettes from its races. (Continued)
The Corvette Challenge
So what did Chevy do after being banned from racing in the SCCA? They made their own series. It was called the Corvette Challenge. All vehicles in the ten race series were identical Corvette Challenge spec. This was a huge success until 1989 when Chevy abandoned the series due to focusing efforts on the new 1990 ZR-1 Corvette.
The C5-R began racing in 1999 but was not ultimately successful until 2000 where it finished second place overall at the 24 Hours of Daytona. However, it was not able to match the performance of the Dodge Viper at Le Mans and Sebring. The team rebounded though as they raced in the American Le Mans Series. Taking many first place spots, and finishing third overall in the GTS class championship despite only partial completion of the series. The C5-R continued to perform exceptionally well in many series up until 2005 when the C6.R entered the scene.
New and Improved
The C6.R had a rough start in competitive racing much like the C5-R, where it lost to the Prodrive Aston Martin DBR9 in the American Le Mans series; the first loss for Corvette Racing since 2003. However, later that season, the Corvette Racing team was able to pull a 1-2 victory in class over the DBR9, finishing fifth, and sixth at the 24 Hours of Le Mans overall. The rivalry between Aston Martin and the Corvette Racing Team continued for a few more years. The Corvette Team won three straight times in the American Le Mans Series. Across the Ocean, Aston Martin, and Corvette were neck and neck over the years at Le Mans with both sides claiming podium spots. At the very end of the C6.R's run, Aston Martin claimed class victory at Le Mans over the Corvette team, which finished second.
The C6R GT2 was similar to the GT1 version except it used a 6.0L V8 under the hood instead of the 7.0L in the GT1 in order to conform to GT guidelines in 2010. There were also a few more modifications to the brakes, aero, body, and materials, that more closely resembled the Z06 street Corvette. The GT2 took many spots on the podium from 2009 to 2010 and was the fastest (top speed) in the GT class. In 2011 the GT2 was fitted with paddle shifters, and won the 24 Hours of Le Mans GTE-Pro category. In 2013, Corvette Racing repeated its success and won the 2013 ALMS GT championships with 5 GT victories, including the 12 Hours of Sebring.
The C7.R is truly a track weapon. In its debut season in 2014, it took home four wins at Long Beach, Laguna Seca, Watkins Glen, and Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. In 2015, the Corvette Racing Team had four more wins. The first two North American Endurance Cup races at the 24 Hours at Daytona, and the 12 Hours of Sebring, and eventually finishing first place at Le Mans. Corvette Racing won endurance racing's "triple crown" with wins at Daytona, Sebring, and Le Mans. The C7.R continued more wins in 2016, but 2015 was arguably the best season of racing ever for the Corvette Racing team. The C7.R will see it's final race at Petit Le Mans 2019 and will be replaced by the highly anticipated C8 Corvette.
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