Corvettes Return to Racing Draws on Proud Heritage as Americas Performance Icon
DETROIT (November 4, 1998) - As the turn of the millennium approaches, a new chapter in Corvette history is being written. Building on the dream Zora Duntov worked so hard to realize throughout his career with General Motors, and drawing on the Corvettes long and distinguished competition record in all forms of motorsports, Chevrolet is once again preparing to pit Americas only true production sports car against the best the world has to offer.
Starting with the new C5 Corvette, which is equal or superior to any production car built in the world today, GM has created a GT2 racer, dubbed the C5-R Corvette, that will begin competing next year.
"The racing program weve created reinforces and underscores our commitment to the Corvette and its magnificent heritage," explains Corvette Brand Manager Jim Campbell. "Corvette is Americas performance icon, and all of us feel a responsibility to preserve and enhance the cars image. The racing program is designed to help us fulfill that responsibility."
Corvette Racings latest addition to its stable, the C5-R Corvette, continues a decades-long tradition of exciting Corvette road racers. Under the guiding hand of engineering genius Zora Duntov, Chevrolet first thrust its then fledgling sports car into competition in 1956.
At the NASCAR Speedweeks run on the sands of Daytona Beach in
February of 1956, a trio of Corvettes set numerous acceleration and speed Daytona led to a factory-supported assault on the Sebring 12-hour race the following month. In this first foray into the international racing arena, Corvette put the world on notice that it was a genuine contender as the John Fitch/Walt Hansgen entry finished first in class. By the end of that year, Corvettes reputation as a world-class sports car was cemented when "The Flying Dentist," Dr. Dick Thompson, drove his car to the SCCA Class C Production national championship.
All of the race-bred components yielded from the 56 Sebring effort and Dr. Thompsons championship season yielded became regular production options in 1957. An enthusiast could walk into any Chevrolet dealer in the country and, by specifying options like fuel injection, four-speed transmission and the heavy-duty brake and steering package, order a Corvette that was virtually race ready. In the ensuing years Corvettes totally dominated production-class road racing with victories at all of the major racing venues, as well as numerous regional and national championships. But the cars success was not confined to American shores. In 1960 a trio of Corvettes was brought to Le Mans by team owner Briggs Cunningham. With a remarkable demonstration of endurance and speed, the #3 car, driven by John Fitch and Bob Grossman, finished eighth overall, well ahead of many of the finest sports and all-out racing cars of the era.
Dr. Thompson says of Corvettes meteoric rise to success in those early solid-axle years, "When I began racing my production Corvette in 1956, nobody else was racing Corvettes. By 1962, when I won my fifth national title driving a Corvette, they were completely dominant. Corvette drivers were competing against each other. If another production car was faster, wed protest them because it was impossible to beat us legally. Corvettes were simply that good!"
Hand in hand with the Corvettes success on the racetrack was its equally impressive success in the showroom. The fact that Corvettes so clearly dominated production-class road racing was instrumental in demonstrating the cars sound engineering, performance capabilities and durability for ordinary street driving. Sales volume continued to rise each year resulting in a phenomenal eightfold increase in 1966 compared with 1956.
With the introduction of the famed Sting Ray in 1963, Corvettes continued their winning tradition both on the track and in the sales arena. As before, buyers could custom tailor their car with a wide assortment of race-ready components available directly from Chevrolet. Option packages such as the ZO6 in 1963 and the legendary L88 in 1967 transformed Americas premier sports and grand touring machine into a fire-breathing, competition-ready racer. L88- powered Corvettes were winners in such diverse venues as NHRA and IHRA drag strips, road courses like Sebring, superspeedways such as Daytona, and even the Bonneville Salt Flats, where a 67 L88 set the A Grand Touring record at 192.879 mph.
The third-generation Corvette, introduced in 1968, continued the winning ways of its predecessors. In fact, Corvettes were totally dominant in the late 60s and 70s, winning sixteen SCCA national A- and B-Production titles and finishing as high as third overall at both Daytona and Sebring. In the late 70s and early 80s Corvettes went Trans-Am racing and though the competition was formidable, Corvettes continued to finish in front. By the end of 1978 they earned the SCCA Trans-Am Category II title, and at the conclusion of the 1979 season they did the same in Category I.
In addition to racing in production classes as it had done for decades, a most exotic Corvette-based car took to the track in the late 80s. The incredible IMSA GTP Corvettes reached speeds well in excess of 200 mph by virtue of their 1200-horsepower, turbocharged Chevrolet engines and thrilled fans from coast to coast.
Racing at the same time were Corvettes of a different nature. Labeled "Showroom Stock," they were as close to a street-driven production car as imaginable. Nevertheless, it quickly reached a point where the question wasnt which car would win, but rather which Corvette would win. After a Corvette took the checkered flag for the nineteenth time in a row the cars were simply banned from the series beginning at the end of 1987.
Since none of the other production cars in the world could keep up with them on a racetrack, a rather unique series was established in response. In 1988 and 1989 Corvettes were pitted against each other in a tremendously exciting new contest called the Corvette Challenge Series, where some of the worlds best drivers competed against one another in identically-prepared fourth-generation Corvettes.
In the early 90s Corvettes were again provided an opportunity to race against and defeat some of the worlds most sophisticated and most expensive cars in the Bridgestone Potenza Super Car Series. But wheel-to-wheel racing was not the only place the cars continued to shine in this decade. As they had done on the sands of Daytona and the Salt Flats of Bonneville generations earlier, Corvettes once again set new marks for speed and durability. Of particular note were the many records established by two Corvettes -- a ZR-1 and an L98 -- at the Firestone tire test track at Ft. Stockton, Texas, on March 1-2, 1990.
As in the past, the production-based race car will accelerate the development of existing components, as well as the creation of new technologies, that will help keep the production Corvettes driven on the streets today at the forefront of the worlds great performance cars. Along the way, this new C5-R Corvette will do the same thing Corvettes have been doing on racetracks the world over for more than forty years -- it will bring honors, recognition and excitement to Chevrolets premier nameplate and to Corvette lovers everywhere.
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