GM Press Release: Corvette Returns to Road Racing with GM Factory Effort

1999 Corvette C5-R

General Motors Media Press Release

FOR RELEASE:  November 4, 1998
CONTACT:  Cam Melangton
Phone:  (317) 843-5444

Corvette Returns to Road Racing with GM Factory Effort

LAS VEGAS — Chevrolet Corvette, America's performance icon since the 1950s, has raised the ante in its quest to dominate the international sports car arena in the United States and abroad. GM's most prestigious nameplate announced today that it plans to field the C5-R Corvette, a GM factory engineered GT2 sports car endurance racer, in 1999 to compete with the likes of Porsche, Viper, BMW and Honda in select endurance races starting with the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona in January.

Not since the days of famed Corvette engineer Zora Duntov has the brand been supported by such a comprehensive factory effort to design, build, and race the greatest sports cars on earth. "The return of Chevrolet Corvette to the racetrack reinforces everything Corvette stands for -- we owe this to Corvette and to Corvette owners around the world," said John Middlebrook, General Manager, Chevrolet Division. As Chevrolet's lead blocker, Corvette has a rich history of being America's true sports car dating back to January 1953, when the first Corvette was unveiled in GM's Motorama. It was a stylish two-seat convertible, designed to show the world that GM could create a sports car to compete with European nameplates like Jaguar and MG.

Since then, Corvette has successfully competed with international sports cars in the showroom and on the streets, establishing itself as an innovative and technologically advanced performance machine.

"Now the time is right for us to return to where it all began, to reinforce Corvette's image and magnificent heritage as America's sports car," said Jim Campbell, Corvette brand manager. The story goes beyond the Detroit automaker's desire to win races. "Our primary focus is to improve the breed," says Campbell, whose brand team is directly responsible for the sales and marketing of the new fifth-generation Corvette, as well as funding for the racing project. Campbell's directive, to squeeze valuable engineering information from each lap Corvette turns on the racetrack, has been carried out from the start.

To support this strategy, GM Motorsports engineer Ken Brown, former designer of the C5 Corvette chassis and suspension systems for the production vehicle, has been assigned to the C5-R Corvette Racing Project under GM Motorsports manager Herb Fishel's direction. Brown's job is to not only design the C5-R Corvette (his childhood dream), but to also help complete the information circuit, allowing feedback to flow freely between motorsports engineering and Corvette's engineering team.

Brown's intimate knowledge of the production vehicle's underbody and suspension systems has helped GM develop a true hybrid racing machine based on the production vehicle. "Aerodynamically speaking, the car was so good that Chevrolet didn't have to touch any of the upper surfaces when fabricating the race car," said Gary Claudio, Chevrolet Race Shop manager. "We concentrated our efforts on the appendages and underbody treatments that would improve racing performance. We added a rear wing and rear diffusers, front underbody ducting to create downforce, and louvers to assist with engine cooling, downforce and drag. In fact, Corvette was so aerodynamic right out of the box with a drag coefficient of .029, it made our job easy."

"The best story of all might just be the development of the new LS1 Gen III small-block engine being used in the race car and Corvette production vehicle," added Fishel. He predicts that this new engine will impact the 21st century like Duntov's engine did for the 1950s -- revolutionizing the industry. The production Corvette is powered by a 5.7-liter LS1 V8 Engine. The aluminum small block delivers an incredible 345 horsepower and features a deep-skirted design, lightweight aluminum cylinder heads and composite intake manifold. The Corvette LS1 racing engine uses the same small block, but it has been bored to 6.0 and produces in excess of 600 horsepower. Doug Fehan, program manager, C5-R Corvette, is charged with overseeing all aspects of the operation and was instrumental in bringing partners Pratt & Miller, Detroit, and Riley & Scott, Indianapolis, to the project.

Both organizations are well known in the industry and bring decades of practical road- racing experience to the project with wins at Daytona and Sebring. "It was Fehan that jump-started the project from the get-go," said Gary Pratt, Pratt & Miller, who is responsible for assembling the C5-R Corvette. Fehan admits that racing the Corvette is going to be fun, but he also states that, "We're racing Corvette because we have to, it's the next logical step in the evolution. How else do you prove performance?" From a marketing standpoint, GM wants to show America and the world that they can modify a $40,000 production car to successfully compete with the best in the world at 1/3 the price.

Dave Hill, vehicle line executive and chief engineer, Corvette, says, "We hope to use this program to showcase Corvette's great integrity, quality, and characteristics as a world-class sports car. We want to increase consumer share-of- mind for the C5 Corvette in the U.S. and globally."

Currently, the C5-R Corvette has been successfully tested by driver Ron Fellows for over 4,000 miles using a significant number of production-based components. Corvette's sponsor partners include GM Service Parts Operations, UAW-GM, GMAC, and Mobil 1.

"Handling is really key in endurance racing, especially in the 24-hour races where conditions can change," said Fellows. "We've done a lot of testing at Daytona and Sebring and have really been happy with the way the C5-R handles. This opportunity has obviously been great for me, but I think Corvette's return is great for all of sports car racing." For now, Corvette is content with competing in the U.S. in 1999 on its quest to improve the breed. But international sports-car racing has been put on alert - beware the red bowtie at Le Mans 2000.