Our Favorite Corvette Racing Highlights Over The Decades
Without exception, the Corvette has proved itself a valid contender on the track. From early Arkus-Duntov-inspired escapades to current Chevrolet-backed racing efforts, the Corvette’s motorsports pedigree is undeniably rich. In fact, one could pen an entire book solely on the racing exploits of the Corvette, as well as on the men and women who have piloted Chevrolet’s premier performer to victory at various points throughout history. Though originally withheld from formal race entry, due to Chevrolet’s compliance with the AMA’s ban on factory-backed racing, the Corvette has wasted no time in establishing its on-track dominance in the days since. The following are 10 of the most iconic Corvette racing highlights over the past 60-plus years.
Daytona Speed Week (1956)
Following Zora Arkus-Duntov’s domination of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb in 1956, plans were hatched to put the Corvette’s true performance on full display. To accomplish this, three specially prepared 1956 Corvettes were dispatched to Daytona’s Speed Week. These Corvettes were to be driven by John Fitch, Betty Skelton, and Arkus-Duntov himself. When the dust settled, the Corvette dominated the event’s top-speed class. The competition saw Duntov snag a modified-class win, dialing in a top speed of 147.30 MPH. Meanwhile, Fitch piloted his Corvette to a production-class win, achieving a top speed of 145.54 MPH.
First Appearance at 12 Hours of Sebring (1956)
Over the decades, the Corvette has forged quite a storied legacy, racing in quite a few of the world’s most renowned motorsports events. One of the most infamous of these events was the 12 hours of Sebring endurance race, held annually in Florida. In later years, the Corvette would make significant waves, pulling off a multitude of class wins during such historic outings. The sum of this success can be traced back to 1956, at which time the Corvette made its initial appearance at Sebring. Legendary racer John Fitch piloted a first-generation Corvette to a 9th place overall finish, thereby launching the American sports car’s lengthy racing career.
Another Class Win at Sebring (1960)
The Corvette continued its march to greatness at 12 Hours Of Sebring, in 1960. It was here that a C1 Corvette, driven by Bill Fritts and Chuck Hall, placed 16th overall, during a hotly contested competition. The two were driving on behalf of RRR Motors and finished as the only Corvette to endure all 12 hours of racing. However, the highlight of this outing came with Fritts and Hall’s 1st place overall finish in the Grand Touring 5000 class. This served as the Corvette’s 4th class win out of 5 total showings at Sebring, establishing the Corvette as a viable endurance competitor.
First Vettes’ at Le Mans (1960)
Another historic stage on which the Corvette has often performed is the world-renowned Le Mans. After having the potential of an earlier entry in 1957 nixed by top GM brass at the last minute, the Corvette finally made its Le Mans debut in 1960. At the time, GM was still abstaining from all participation in factory-backed racing. To circumvent this issue, GM staff persuaded private race teams, such as those headed up by Briggs Cunningham, to place the Corvette into the competition. In the end, one of the team’s three Corvette entries ended up taking 8th place overall, completing a total of 281 laps. More importantly, this Corvette, driven by John Fitch and Bob Grossman, placed first in the event’s GT 5000 class.
Corvette vs. Shelby (1963)
In the early 1960s, no race car was hotter than the Shelby Cobra. The Cobra, as history shows, had dealt more than one beating to early Z06 Corvette Sting Rays. Of course, this did not sit well with Corvette design luminary Zora Arkus-Duntov, who ultimately engineered multiple examples of a new, lightweight Sting Ray—complete with a 377CI aluminum V8—known as the Grand Sport. This small fleet of specialty Corvettes then descended on Nassau, in the Bahamas, for the 1963 Speed Week. It was here that each Grand Sport crossed the checkered line ahead of the fastest Shelby Cobra, thereby establishing the Corvette’s dominance.
Tour de France Domination (1969)
Though GM remained steadfast in its promise to abstain from factory-backed racing through much of the 1960s, legendary engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov was anything but deterred. As legend has it, it was Duntov himself who prepared a specialty L88 engine for use in the infamous 1968 Scuderia Filipinetti Le Mans Racer. However, this particular Corvette’s greatest success would not come at Le Mans. Instead, the 1968 L88 Scuderia Filipinetti Le Mans Racer would prove itself a force to be reckoned with during the 1969 Tour de France, a multi-event 5,000 km marathon. In the end, racer Henri Greder would pilot this specialty Corvette to great success, winning 7 out of 11 total races.
2001 Rolex 24 Win (2001)
Though the Corvette Race Team had only come into existence two years prior, the time proved right to mount an all-out offensive at the 2001 Rolex 24. This resulted in a first-place overall finish, giving the Corvette Race Team one of its first major victories since launch. This winning team consisted of four drivers, including Johnny O’Connell, Ron Fellows, Chris Kneifel, and Franck Freon. The Corvette Race Team’s 2001 win at the Rolex 24 proved immensely valuable for a number of reasons. However, above all else, such a high-profile victory provided unshakable validity to the newly-formed race team’s efforts.
Le Mans Class Victory (2001)
The 2001 race season’s second major success came at Le Mans, where the Corvette Race Team took 1st place in the GT1 class and 8th place overall. The C5.R Corvette was driven by race veterans Ron Fellows, Scott Pruett, and Johnny O’Connell—all of whom served as cornerstone participants of the program. Furthermore, this 2001 Le Mans victory was the first for the Corvette Race Team, as well as the first victory for the Corvette itself at Le Mans during the modern era. As such, the Corvette’s winning legacy at Le Mans would begin, spanning well into the foreseeable future.
Final GT1 Class Win (2009)
During much of the 2000s, the Corvette Race Team dominated the ALMS’ GT1 circuit. In fact, the Corvette Race Team would amass a host of Driver, Team, and Manufacturer Championships in this class throughout the first decade of the new millennium. However, the Corvette would eventually find itself leaving this class, upon the C7.R’s entry into the formal competition. However, before withdrawing from the GT1 competition, the Corvette Race Team posted three class victories at Le Mans within a four-year period (2006, 2007, and 2009). The team’s 2009 victory would be their final within the GT1 class, in which the Corvette Race Team competed for over a decade to a great degree of success.
100th Victory/First Mid-Engine Win (2020)
Many wondered how the Corvette would fare on the track, following its transition to a mid-engine configuration. Fortunately, the Corvette Race Team erased any perceived doubts with relative ease. The C8.R posted its first victory at Daytona, on July 4th, 2020. Ironically, this also served as the Corvette Race Team’s 100th overall victory, placing increased emphasis on the team’s success. This would ultimately prove to be one of six checkered flags captured by the Corvette Race Team during the 2021 season. As such, the Corvette looks to establish its dominance within GTLM class competition in much the same way as it did in the GT1 class before it.