The one victory that every member of the Corvette Racing team prizes above all others is the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s largest and most prestigious sports car race. This classic 24-hour endurance contest (scheduled this year June 16, 17) is sports car racing’s Olympics and World Cup, compressed into one intense day and night of round-the-clock competition. Five times in the last six years, Corvettes have won the GT1 class at Le Mans. This record of success against formidable international competition has played a crucial role in establishing Corvette’s reputation for performance, durability and reliability around the globe.
Corvette Racing drivers Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Jan Magnussen have stood on the top step of the podium at Le Mans three straight years, with victories in their No. 64 Compuware Corvette in 2004, 2005 and 2006. In 2001, Johnny O’Connell and Ron Fellows teamed with Scott Pruett in the No. 63 Corvette to take the class honors, and in 2002 O’Connell and Fellows repeated the feat with Gavin as the third driver.
“Le Mans is the Holy Grail of sports car racing,” said Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. “There is nothing like it in the world, with more than 2,000 journalists covering the event, nearly 300,000 spectators at the track, and millions watching the worldwide television coverage.”
Since the team’s debut in 1999, Corvette Racing has competed in 77 races, scoring 51 victories and 34 one-two finishes. Racing primarily in North America, the team has won the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) GT1 manufacturers championship for six consecutive years. Corvette Racing drivers Fellows, O’Connell, Gavin and Beretta have combined to win the ALMS GT1 drivers championship five consecutive seasons. Other highlights include an overall victory in the 2001 Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Corvette Racing has also won accolades away from the track. In February 2006, the championship-winning Corvette C6.R race car was named the “North American Car of the Year” over marques such as Audi, Aston Martin and Maserati by dailysportscar.com, a noted online magazine that provides in-depth coverage of sports car and GT series worldwide. In November 2006, Corvette Racing’s LS7.R small-block V-8 was honored as the “Global Motorsport Engine of the Year” at the inaugural Professional Motorsport World Expo in Cologne, Germany. The award was voted by an expert panel made up of 50 key race engine engineers representing the spectrum of motorsports.
“The Corvette C6.R race program continues the tradition of racing production-based vehicles to improve the breed,” said GM Racing director Mark Kent. “The continuous exchange of information and the constant transfer of technology between the racing and production programs ensure that lessons learned on the track benefit every Corvette on the highway.”
Corvette Racing officials have announced that the team will return to Le Mans in 2007 with a two-car effort aimed at capturing Corvette’s sixth GT1 class title in seven years. The world’s premier production sports car team also intends to return to the American Le Mans Series to defend its GT1 manufacturers, team and drivers championships.
The Corvette C6.R race car is the most technically advanced sports car ever developed by GM, incorporating the advanced technology of the sixth-generation Corvette and Corvette Z06 production models. The Corvette C6.R has strong links to its showroom counterpart, as required by the Le Mans rules that mandate close adherence to production specifications. For example, the same hydroformed steel frame rails used in production Corvette coupes and convertibles provide a strong foundation for the race cars. The race-prepared LS7.R engine shares its architecture with the production 377 kW (505 hp) LS7 small-block V-8 that powers the Corvette Z06.
“We have a saying that we race around the clock and win around the world,” explained Corvette marketing manager Gary Claudio. “The coverage that the 24 Hours of Le Mans receives has propelled Corvette onto the world stage. The people who own Corvettes are very aware of the product, and they understand how racing enhances the cars that they drive.”
For more than 50 years, racing has played a key role in defining Corvette as America’s performance icon. Corvette’s first class victory at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1956 was the first step onto the world stage that established its reputation as a contender in top-level competition. Now with five class titles in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, America’s favorite sports car now stands at the pinnacle of international endurance racing.
GM Europe Press Release, March 6, 2007