Dodge Viper Central
Out of the Way, Viper . . .

...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 stock.

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 balanced.

"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 Daytona.

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.

Pratt & 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.

Gary 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.