...the new Corvette C5-R takes
the battle to the track
The question of whether the Chevrolet
Corvette or Dodge Viper is America's sports car (R&T, September) may
be settled at Le Mans after all. We must have been reading the minds of
the engineers at GM Motorsports, for they've been working on a GT2
competition version (soon to be called GTS in FIA-speak) of the C5
Corvette since 1996. Code-named R-99 for Racing in '99, the C5-R broke
cover at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show in Las
Vegas in November.
Project manager Doug Fehan says the C5-R was
conceived as a way for the Corvette to compete at the highest level in a
form that's as close as possible to production trim. Fehan believes that
the GT2 class, which requires a stock floorpan, affords that opportunity.
While the C5-R is clothed in a carbon-fiber skin, the hydroformed rails
that form the backbone of road-going Vettes are the same, as are the front
upper and lower control arms, the rear lower control arms and the cradles
that carry the engine and rear-mounted transaxle. New upper control arms
had to be fabricated in back to accommodate the larger wheels and brakes
of the race car, which resulted in bodywork that's 3 in. wider than
A 600-bhp, 6.0-liter version of the 5.7 LS1 V-8 rumbles
beneath the hood. The block, reworked heads and Delco Gen III fuel
injection and induction systems come directly from GM's SPO catalog. The
transmission is a Hewland racing gearbox, positioned just ahead of the
rear differential. This helps keep the car's 2250-lb. weight evenly
"The Corvette brand team and Corvette chief engineer Dave
Hill wanted to build a car that wasn't a race car with just a modicum of
resemblance to a street car," Fehan says. "We've tried to keep the look
and feel of the car as close as possible to production at some sacrifice
to what the rules will allow. For instance, we could, under the rules,
make this car 4 more inches wide, but we didn't." As it stands, the C5-R
rides on 18-in. wheels with front and rear widths of 12 and 14 in.,
respectively. Those wheels are shod with tires specifically developed for
the program by Goodyear. The larger brakes, with Alcon aluminum calipers
and cast-iron rotors, are an immediate giveaway of Chevy's racing plans.
Carbon-fiber rotors are legal at Le Mans, but illegal at
While the initial plan was to validate the C5-R in races
at Daytona and Sebring before running in the French enduro this spring,
there is not a current sponsor for Le Mans, meaning the C5-R probably
won't race there until 2000.
The factory has commissioned three
cars. The first is a test mule that has been converted to a backup car.
Two others have been built by Pratt & Miller. At Daytona Pratt &
Miller will run one of the cars, while Riley & Scott campaigns the
other. Ron Fellows is confirmed as one of the drivers. After making its
debut at Daytona, the C5-R will see action at Sebring and at selected
American Le Mans series races—including Le Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta
next fall—in a bid to pre-qualify for the French classic.
& Miller will begin building customer C5-Rs for privateers beginning
in the fall, and Fehan said complete cars will be sold for around
$300,000. He expects to see as many as 10 built per year.
Claudio, Chevy's motorsports marketing manager, said other tie-ins with
the C5-R include a pace car for the Rolex 24 at Daytona based on the newly
introduced Corvette hardtop. Chevrolet is also eyeing some street versions
of the hardtop with upgraded hardware geared more toward Solo II slaloming
and showroom-stock road racing.
Claudio said the C5-R at Le Mans is
a great idea "because the corporation has identified Cadillac and
Chevrolet as our two export brands. It makes sense to race the Corvette
worldwide and it becomes a halo for all the brands."been earlier automobile competition in the United States, but
racing enthusiasts discovered the broad beaches here as the century began,
and word of the super-fast sand spread quickly. The steady procession of
international record seekers would last for decades -- until racing
Southern style took over at mid-century.
That legacy began in 1902, in
Ormond Beach, as a gentle breeze drifted in from the Halifax River and
murmured along 100 yards of cypress-planked veranda on the south side of
the grand Ormond Hotel. The wealthy winter guests watched with
anticipation as racing cars pulled into and out of the Ormond Garage, the
nation's first speed shop, just up Granada Avenue toward the ocean. It was
where dozens of world land speed record cars would be prepared. In fact,
cars for the first beach race were tuned there. Both of them. Ransom E.
Olds was the first to be timed on the beach. He bubbled enthusiastically
one evening in the hotel's library to his friend and fellow automobile
manufacturer, Alexander Winton: "You've no idea, Alex, what a thrill it is
out there. Do you know what it feels like to go fifty miles an hour?"
The next morning Olds and Winton breakfasted at dawn in the
gracious, columned dining room, exchanging pleasantries as they had on
other mornings. One hour later, they sat placidly in racing cars they had
fashioned. The Oldsmobile Pirate and the Winton Bullet were aimed south
toward Daytona Beach.
Olds straightened his necktie and snapped a
salute from the brim of his tweed cap. Winton returned the gesture, and
the two cars sped down the sand and disappeared. Later, they reappeared
side by side. The men shook hands and proclaimed an absolute tie. What
actually happened while they were out of sight, no one will ever know.
The declaration of a tie may have cast the mold for the romantic
figures who were to fly World War I fighter planes, but it assuredly was
the last time it ever happened in auto racing.
You don't have to
live in racing's past when you visit Florida, but it's a lot more fun if
you do. Along with it, there is plenty of auto racing's present and future
to see. And cruising Florida in a Dodge Viper is the definitive way to go
about it. No question.