The Corvette C8.R Isn’t The First Mid-Engined Racer With That Logo On The Hood
Two other Corvette-branded race cars graced U.S. circuits years before the latest Corvette Racing machineby Michael Fira, on
We were all pleased when, right after unveiling in front of the world the first Corvette to feature a hardtop at the Kennedy Space Center, Chevy also showed us the C8.R, Corvette Racing’s new weapon for GTE competitions from 2020 onwards. The race car had previously been teased during the launch event of the Chevrolet Corvette C8 Coupe and we were aware that Chevy planned to take the wraps off both the C8 Convertible and the C8.R during the same event but many still were surprised by the appearance of the silver winged warrior. What could also surprise you is that this isn’t the first mid-engined race car that raced under the Corvette banner.
The moment we laid eyes on the Corvette C8, we immediately started picturing it with a big diffuser in the back, a large splitter in the front, big rims hugged by wide, slick racing rubber, and a carbon-fiber wing hanging from the back. We’d seen glimpses of the C8.R testing at Sebring Raceway in Florida back in December of last year but, at the time, GM was tight-lipped on the subject and it took many months before the American automaker finally confirmed the C7.R will become the swansong of the successful line of front-engined GT racing cars as the C8.R will make the transition to the rear-mid-engine layout on the circuits as well.
A mid-engined Corvette became a reality on the track first
It took half a century for America’s sportscar to fulfill its promise as outlined by its spiritual father, Belgian-American engineer Zora-Arkus Duntov who was instrumental in turning the Corvette from a long-legged touring car to a more poised sports car. Duntov dreamt for years to see a Corvette with the engine aft of the cabin enter series production but, despite his best efforts, it never came together. All of the prototypes made over time remain as mere artefacts in GM’s history, artefacts that prove the company’s desire to entertain the idea of following in the footsteps of some of the Corvette’s biggest rivals from Europe but nothing more.
Now, though, the move has finally been made and there's no looking back given the obvious benefits of a rear-mid-engine layout in comparison to the old front-mid-engine layout as exhibited on the C7.
The latest ’Vette features segment-first tech, clever design solutions, a luxurious interior despite the sub-$60,000 MSRP for the base model Stingray, and, as such, seems to offer a great bang for the buck, so good that it might drive people away from buying other sports cars.
With 490 horsepower at 6,450 rpm and 465 pound-feet of torque fully available at 5,150 rpm, the 6.2-liter LT2 V-8 powering the standard C8 delivers 40 ponies on top of what the C7’s LT1 can muster and this helps the car reach a top speed of 194 mph. So, how can you fault it? Well, purists won’t like the fact that it lacks a manual and that it offers less storage space than the C7 but, on the flip side, it also is the first Corvette to officially be offered in right-hand drive markets. While we can’t wait to drive one ourselves, the most gruelling and, in some ways, telling test for a car is on the track and that’s precisely where the C8.R, the track suit-wearing brother of the C8, must impress straight out of the box.
At the time of writing, we don’t know much about the C8.R other than the fact that it looks utterly stunning, bolstering the already aggressive angles and lines of the road-going model.
We always thought the C7.R exudes a muscular image and the same physique has very much been carried over in the C8.R that hasn't ended up looking like some two-bit Ferrari replica as some people thought it would.
The pointy headlights, deep ridges, and large inlets make it look like it’s going after Porsche’s, Ferrari’s, or BMW’s necks from the drop of the green flag at the 2020 24 Hours of Daytona which is where a pair of works-entered C8.Rs will debut: the No. 4 in the livery you see here and the No. 3 car in traditional Velocity Yellow attire. It’ll be the first time a Corvette has run in silver with yellow accents (a C7.R raced covered in silver in China last year but with no traces of yellow). The drivers have also been confirmed: Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin will drive the No. 4 while Jordan Taylor will take Jan Magnussen’s place as a full-time driver in the No. 3 alongside Antonio Garcia.
With the reveal came no technical details and that means everything is up in the air, although Chevy did release a video showing the car drive on the runways at the Kennedy Space Center and, as noticed in the Sebring night footage, the car sounds significantly different from any other Corvette that came before it. By now, it’s almost a consensus that the high-performance versions of the C8 will feature a flat-plane crank V-8 but Chevy hasn’t confirmed nor denied it. The engine note of the C8.R, however, seems to have done it. Also, since the engine in a GTE-spec car (running in the GTLM category in IMSA competition) must be, according to the FIA, "derived from a series production engine produced at more than 300 units and fitted to a series vehicle from the same manufacturer," it’s hard to believe that Chevy would build a new engine just for racing.
Having said that, it's important to note that the engine has to be "derived" from a production unit which means it can even feature a different firing order as long as the crank isn't more than 10% lighter than on the road car.
GM Authority reckons that the flat-plane crank V-8 will be fitted to the Z06 meaning that the C8.R is actually the racing version of the Z06, not the standard Corvette (this was also the case with the GT1-spec C6.R while the GT2/GTE-spec C6.R was the racing version of the C6 ZR1 ’Vette). GM announced already one important detail about the powerplant: its lack of a supercharger. This means we are potentially looking at an engine derived from Cadillac’s 4.2-liter V-8 DOHC LTA, commonly referred to as the Blackwing. It’s said that the engine will displace 5.5-liters in capacity and that a turbocharged version will sit in the middle of the C8 ZR1.
The Chevrolet Corvette C8.R’s ’forefathers’
So, now that we’ve taken a proper look at the C8.R, it’s time we jump in our virtual time machine and go back to the early ’80s when Lola Cars, the British race car maker founded by Eric Broadley, was often the go-to place if you wanted a chassis for your race series or a chassis to bolt your own engine to and then go racing. GM knocked at Lola’s door around that time asking for a brand-new GTP chassis. Broadley knew his way around building a successful car meant to comply with the top-tier category of IMSA’s Camel GT Championship having previously been behind the championship-winning T600, one of the first GTP cars that debuted back in 1981 before the GTP class was even a thing.
Lola came up with two cars: the T710 designed to fit Ryan Falconer's Buick-based 3.4-liter V-6 turbocharged engine (originally an Indy unit), and the T711 that featured a larger engine bay for the 5.7-liter naturally aspirated Chevrolet V-8.
Both units were known quantities by 1984, powering March-built IMSA GTP cars as well as the Lola T600 (that also ran with Porsche power). The first T710 chassis was completed in May of 1984, a few months after Porsche debuted at the 24 Hours of Daytona the soon-to-be unstoppable Porsche 962 built specifically to comply with Porsche’s safety and technical regulations. As per GM’s requirements, it was very similar when viewed from the front to a 1984 MY Chevrolet Corvette C4 right down to the twin air inlets and the simulated pop-up headlights, and the C4 taillights at the end of the elongated rear deck (a short-tail setup was tried out later on). Both the T710 and the T711 would race under the ’Corvette GTP’ moniker throughout their competitive careers.
After its shakedown at Goodwood in England in March, #HU-710/01 was shipped to GM and arrived Stateside in May of 1984. It was sent then to Hendrick Motorsport who’d race the car on behalf of GM. The second car made, chassis #HU-711/02, was the only T711 ever built. It arrived in North America in December of 1984 and ended up in the shop of Lee Racing of Pennsylvania. According to Paul Stubber, who raced the car in the past few years, "the boffins at GM were deliberating about the car. Eric [Broadley] gave them 14 days to decide and of course GM could or didn’t move that fast and he sold it!"
The team fitted a 6.0-liter V-8 in the car and, despite a scary incident in testing that saw the wing break away from the rear deck, the No. 4 Lee Racing machine showed up at the 24 Hours of Daytona. A retirement after 160 laps of racing was the result that day and the same happened at the 12 Hours of Sebring. While a ninth spot in qualifying was respectable, the second failure in a row tough to swallow for the team who enlisted the help of some top drivers including 1984 NASCAR Winston Cup champion Terry Labonte. Due to lack of funds or expertise in running a GTP car, Lew Price’s outfit never really amounted to much until it threw the towel in 1986.
However, Rick Hendrick’s T710s fared a lot better, as expected. The 3.4-liter V-6 (reduced from the original Buick displacement 3.7-liters through a shorter stroke) put out 775 horsepower with 20 psi of boost but could be pushed to well over 1,100 horsepower with full boost in qualifying.
The first chassis campaigned by Hendrick, #HU-710/01, raced eight times before being destroyed in a multi-car pileup in Turn 1 during the 1986 IMSA Camel GT Series round at Riverside Raceway in California.
Out of those eight races, it started four of them from pole position (three of the pole laps broke previous GTP track records) including the 1986 24 Hours of Daytona. That car also won once, at Road Atlanta with Sarel Van Der Merwe and Doc Bundy behind the wheel.
In early 1986, Hendrick received the second T710 chassis, #HU-8610/01, that has the most storied history having taken part in no less than 21 races. This example won the first race it started from pole, the 1986 West Palm Beach three-hour street race. While it would go on to start seven more races from pole, it never won again. Chassis #HU-8610/02, the third raced by Hendrick was the least successful of the lot as it never won a race. In 1987, the car debuted the short-tail setup as well as some extra winglets around the front overhangs. In ’88, Hendrick Motorsport ran its last races in IMSA GTP competition with the Corvette GTP. That same year, Peerless Racing debuted the last of six chassis ever built, #HU-8810/01. The team recorded its best result, a fourth-place finish, in its maiden outing with the car that was powered by the naturally aspirated 6.0-liter Chevy V-8.
A year later, at the end of 1989, the Corvette nameplate disappeared for good from the realms of IMSA GTP competition, having pretty much failed to complete its task: take on the might of Porsche, Jaguar or Nissan (who also initially raced a Lola-designed chassis in the T810) and win to garner public attention around the C4 and increase sales.
The Corvette GTP was, it must be said, a crowd favorite and Chevy did bag enough points to finish third in the Constructor's Standings in 1986 and runner-up (ahead of the non-works Jaguar effort) in 1987.
On a side note, we think no Corvette customer complained that he couldn’t buy a road-going C4 powered by a turbocharged V-6 - although those were the days when GM and Chevy thought that turbo V-6s would phase out small-block V-8s by 1990!
But the Corvette GTP story didn’t end in ’89. Weirdly enough, a company called Eagle Performance tried its luck at Le Mans with the ex-Peerless Racing chassis the following year. A 10.2-liter, four-cam, 32-valve V-8 behemoth (based on the BB Chevy engine layout) was fitted in the extensively modified chassis that was now branded as ’Eagle 700’. Entrant Paul Canary was the only man who drove the beast in practice before electrical gremlins curtailed the American team’s weekend.
A Corvette C4 would be on the grid at Le Mans in 1995 but, this time, it was a proper one: front-engined, racing in the GT1 category. And that formula didn’t change in the following years, Corvette Racing also debuting in 1999 in the GT ranks. The Goodwrench colors of the GTP-era Lola chassis were back but without the aspirations to go prototype racing. Or not yet, anyway.
In 2002, a Dallara-Judd open-top prototype won the 24 Hours of Daytona in grand fashion, six laps ahead of a Riley & Scott Mk. III C prototype that was also entered in the so-called SRP class, a relative of the ACO’s LMP900 category that was also adopted in the American Le Mans Series. But the speeds of these open-top Le Mans prototypes began to worry the Grand-Am Road Racing Association (GARRA), organizer of the Grand-Am Road Racing Series that included the 24 Hours of Daytona at the time. Cost of running and, as a by-product, popularity were also discussed as the SRP and, respectively, the slower SRP II class failed to attract a big number of teams outside of the marquee event of the year that was the twice-around-the-clock race in Florida.
As such, a decision was announced that weekend: the SRP class would be abandoned come the end of the 2002 season and, from ’03 onwards, a new class would sit at the top of the Grand-Am pile, a class by the name of ’Daytona Prototype’. This category, as its name suggests, was designed specifically for the NASCAR-owned championship. It featured tube-framed closed-cockpit prototypes that, at first, were somewhat atrocious to the eyes due to their large, tall cockpits and boxy bodies. The design, however, was like that because the rule-makers wanted DPs to be way slower than SRP cars, way cheaper to run, and more attractive to privateers who could bolt one out of a number of production-derived engines to one of the chassis available and go racing with no fuss.
The first season of the DP formula was a disaster: a GT-spec Porsche 911 GT3 RS won the 24 Hours of Daytona outright as the few DPs that did show up struggled for both pace and reliability.
Thereafter, the faster GTS class often outgunned the new prototypes in qualifying which is why the class was soon abolished.
The GT class that gave us the ’03 winner was on its last legs as well, as GARRA wanted to move away from any FIA/ACO influence (the GTS/GT classes comprised mostly of the kind of cars you’d see in the ALMS in the GTS and GT classes at the time). The new GT class was based around Porsche Cup cars and other models alike and, as such, it was much slower meaning it’d never bother the DPs.
The good news was that the American privateers were enthusiastic about the DP platform. Here were some old-school race cars powered by naturally aspirated engines that allowed for genuine door-to-door racing. the first-generation DP cars were the ugliest of the lot, especially the Picchio DP2 and something that Multimatic Motorsports of Canada sometimes referred to as the Ford Focus DP. In 2008, the new wave of DP cars debuted as the first five-year homologation period had elapsed. This saw the departure of Doran as a chassis manufacturer, its license being bought by Dallara of Italy. Cheever Racing did the same with Fabcar’s license and built the first Coyote DP car, while Lola Cars also entered the freight with Krohn Racing replacing Multimatic as chassis manufacturer.
The new cars were visually less abhorrent but the technical details underneath the skin remained unchanged. Chevrolet wasn’t present as an engine supplier at the time but many teams did run a 5.0-liter version of the LS6 V-8 branded as a Pontiac engine. This third-generation LS engine was, however, fitted to the ’01-’04 Corvette C5 Z06 and the ’04-’05 Cadillac CTS-V. With anywhere between 385 and 405 horsepower with a 10.5:1 compression ratio, the aluminum block/head engine proved tough in racing trim.
Encouraged by the popularity of the DP class and the fact that it had a good engine to strap in the middle of a DP chassis, Chevrolet decided to fund a Corvette-badged car that would debut in 2012 with the third evolution of the DP platform.
The ’Corvette DP’ was, like the Corvette GTP before it, a Corvette only in name. The chassis were made by either Riley, Coyote or Dallara and the cars loosely resembled the sixth-generation Corvette.
"The IMSA GTP Corvette Prototype campaigned by Hendrick Motorsports in the ’80s was the inspiration for this new Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Prototype. And, like the GTP Corvettes, the new Corvette Daytona Prototype contains numerous styling cues from the street version of the Chevrolet Corvette," said Mark Kent, GM Racing Director in late 2011 when the Corvette DP was unveiled at Daytona International Speedway. The engine in the new car was the same as before but now branded as a Chevy unit.
Four teams raced the Corvette DP in its first year: Wayne Taylor’s SunTrust Racing (with a Dallara chassis), the Gainsco/Bob Stallings outfit (with a Riley chassis), Troy Flis’ Spirit of Daytona Racing, and Action Express Racing (both with Coyote chassis). The first win for a Corvette DP came soon after its debut in the 24 Hours of Daytona, at the Porsche 250 at Alabama’s Barber Motorsports Park where Spirit of Daytona’s Richard Westbrook and Antonio Garcia led a Corvette DP 1-2. That year, Jordan Taylor and Max Angelelli were crowned as the last Grand-Am champions ever aboard the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP.
The battles between the Corvettes and the Rileys (the only other DP supplier left) were often scintillating and both cars were given a new lease of life at the end of 2013 when the IMSA-sanctioned American Le Mans Series merged with the GARRA-sanctioned Grand-Am Road Racing Series to form the United Sportscar Series. The DPs would race in the top Prototype category against LMP2-spec open-top and closed-top prototypes. As it happened, the heavier and more robust tube-framed models got the better of their LMP2 rivals in the first couple of seasons with P2 machinery only managing to bag the odd victory here and there.
Action Express Racing emerged as the team to beat, winning the 2014 24 Hours of Daytona en route to a clean sweep of titles for Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi.
Action Express stole the show in 2015 and 2016 as well, Barbosa and Fittipaldi pulling off the double in ’15 before team-mates Dane Cameron and Eric Curran took home the title in the No. 31 Whelen-sponsored Corvette DP in 2016. Sure, Chip Ganassi’s Riley Mk. XXVI won too, finishing on the top of the rostrum in the 2014 12 Hours of Sebring and the 2015 24 Hours of Daytona, but Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas never dominated as they had done in the Grand-Am era when the CGR crew took four 24 Hours of Daytona wins and five Driver’s titles.
In 2015, the C6-inspired bodywork of the Corvette DP received a makeover to more closely align it with the new visual identity of the Corvette brand that was now represented by the C7. Some sweeping headlights replaced the old ones and the grille was much bigger, while the top surface of the front clip was also altered to look more like a Corvette C7. The taillights were changed as well. At the end of the 2016 season, the Corvette DP was retired from competition as the Daytona Prototype International formula took over and GM decided to race with the Cadillac brand in this new era.
All in all, the history of mid-engined Corvette race cars is, strictly speaking, one of silhouette prototype race cars that only visually resembled a Corvette but had little to no relation with the road-going examples. The C8.R, on the other hand, is intrinsically related to the road-going C8 and this is what sets it apart from anything that came before it. Let’s hope it will be more like the Corvette DP in competition and less like the fast but equally fragile Corvette GTP.
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