Corvette & The Indy 500 Pace Car: As Classically American as You Can Get

The Indianapolis 500 is, for lack of a better term, America’s Race. It is part of the triple crown of motorsport, which only one driver, Graham Hill, has ever attained (with the other two races you need to win being the Monaco Grand Prix in Formula One, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans as the outright winner). It attracts drivers from all over the world to test the oval and their nerves, screaming around the 2.5 miles of banked corners inches away from their rivals. It may be on an oval track, but it is high speed, high adrenaline, and always puts on a great race.

Since 2004, when CART and the IRL merged back together to form the new IndyCar Series, GM has been the exclusive provider of the official pace car each year. Even better, except for five races between 2004 and 2022, that official pace car has been a Corvette, and is quite often the upcoming submodel. While 18 years is not the largest sampling of time to go off of, it is fair to say, looking back over the entire history of the Indy 500, that the Corvette has been the most used pace car, with a total of 19 appearances at the head of the field.

A Look Back: Previous Indy 500 Pace Cars that Shook the World

The first appearance by a Corvette at the Indianapolis 500 was in 1978, when a C3 with two tone black and silver paint led the field around to the green flag. Driven by 1960 Indy winner Jim Rathmann, who had opened a Chevrolet-Oldsmobile dealership with his race winnings, it was well received, with many in the grandstands wanting to have the exact paint scheme on their own cars.

1978 Corvette C3 pace car

The 1978 Corvette C3 pace car proved so popular, in fact, that Chevrolet released a “Pace Car Edition” as a limited run of 6,502 cars. At the time, there were 6,500 Chevrolet dealerships across North America, and the desire was to have one car for display in each dealership. Because of the recognition it brought, it also got pretty much every option you could check off at the time, as well as special paint, special front and rear spoilers, and an engraved special edition banner below the shifter on the center console.

Before the 1978 Pace Car Edition, Corvette had not really made any special edition cars, unless you counted the made-for-racing L88 as it was a low volume, limited sale car. After 1978, however, Chevrolet realized that people actually wanted special edition cars, even in the economic downturn throughout the 1970s. It is quite fair to argue that the 1978 Corvette C3 Pace Car Edition is responsible for all the special editions that came afterwards.

While a Corvette led the field in both 1986 and 1995, it wasn’t until 1998 that the next car to send a shockwave through America appeared. While the new C5 generation had first hit the market in 1997, it was the color of the 1998 pace car that stunned the most. Before 1998, the colors you could choose for your Corvette were fairly standard, such as red, silver, black, white, yellow, and the like.

Corvette C5 Convertible as Indy 500 pace car in 1998
Via: Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

So when a purple Corvette C5 Convertible drove out of the pits and in front of the field, with contrasting yellow and red striping and bronzed alloy wheels, it definitely caught everyone’s eye. As it was the launch of a total rethink of the Corvette brand and image, going from sharp angles and lines to a much more organic and aerodynamic shape, Chevrolet produced a special edition of the 1998 pace car, the first replica edition since the 1978 car.

This time around, only 1,163 cars were built, which included the actual pace car used in the race and five pilot cars that were retained for factory use only. While not the rarest special edition, this made the 1998 Pace Car Edition highly desirable, and even today, it is a sought after collector piece that can fetch upwards of $30,000 at auction.

The last big earthshaker of a pace car came in 2018, as it was used by Chevrolet to show off the ZR1 model revealed in late 2017. There were rumblings around the internet that the pace car for 2018 was going to be a Grand Sport or a Z07, but when the ZR1 pulled out to lead the field around the track, it was what you could call a PR dream.

Corvette ZR1 as Indy 500 pace car in 2018
Via: IMS

Potential buyers, those who had already secured their built slots and allocation, got to see and hear the ZR1 bellow out its V8 song, at times eclipsing the sound of the turbocharged V8s in the IndyCars themselves. It also looked the part, wearing the carbon fiber front splitter and rear wing with a deep metallic, sparkling blue as the paint color. Unfortunately, there was no pace car replica of the ZR1.

The 2023 Corvette C8 Z06 Pace Car: A Closer Look

With the Indianapolis 500 having just recently finished at the end of May, plenty of racing fans and Corvette fans alike have seen the Corvette C8 Z06 lead the field around the track, driven by the fastest woman in Indy 500 history, Sarah Fisher. But what specs was it running? What was that body kit on it? Is that paint color available for me to buy?

Corvette C8 Z06
Via: CorvetteForum.

To answer those questions in order, the pace car was running the base Z06 spec, meaning the 5.5L LT6 V8 pushing out 670 was the same one that is coming in the road car. In fact, the only technical change between the Z06 pace car and the upcoming Z06 road car is that the pace car had LED flashers placed in the side air intakes of the front bumper for safety compliance reasons. Otherwise, what you saw on the track is, quite literally, what you will get with the road car.

Front view of Corvette C8 Z06
Via: CorvetteForum.

As to the body, that is the first full appearance of the carbon fiber version of the Z07 performance package aero kit. To be honest, to our eyes, it looks absolutely savage, in the best possible way. It has an aggressive front splitter with dive planes on the sides, a rear wing that looks like it was ripped off of a C8.R and placed on the Z06, and those side skirts with the small red accents giving the car that much of a sharper look. Yes, that aero kit will be available to put on your own Z06, as long as you add the Z07 performance package.

Side view of Corvette C8 Z06
Via: CorvetteForum.

The color on the car is a special color called White Pearl Tri-Coat—and yes, you can get it on your Z06, if you order the 70th Anniversary Package on top of the Z07 performance package. It is one of two exclusive colors that will be available for 2023, and while the package is not limited to a set number of cars, it will not be available in 2024, so if you want that color, get your order in now!

As far as the rest of the car goes, nothing was changed except adding in a radio headset for the driver to communicate with race control, and a few switches to control the LED lights, but otherwise it is as pure a Z06 as you could wish for. Then again, with 670 HP, 0 to 60 in under 3 seconds, a top speed approaching 200 MPH, and an engine that revs so freely and happily, it is already 3/4s of the way to being a race car. That suits it just fine, though, as the engine did come from the C8.R!

Will There Be a 2023 Special Edition Pace Car Release? Here’s What We Know

As far as we have been able to discern from the rumor mills, the grapevine, and from the few whispers we’ve passed back and forth to those in the know, it is unlikely that a replica will be made for this year’s car.

HOWEVER…

As mentioned above, the pace car is the 70th Anniversary special edition Z06 already, which will get you the paint, the wheels, the red and black striping, the two tone special edition seats, and the 70th Anniversary badging all around. It wouldn’t make sense, logically, to put out two special editions at the same time when the pace car is carrying 95% of one already.

What the rumors have said is far more likely is that next year, it is highly likely that we will see the 2024 C8 Hybrid (Grand Sport?) lead the field around the track—and that car, being outside of any major anniversaries or significant years in Corvette history, has a better chance of having a special Pace Car Edition made of it.

Keep in mind, however, that while we try to pass on verified, accurate information, sometimes we do have to make educated guesses. We do so with as much information as we can glean, but the rumor mill that is multiple Corvette forums, Reddit threads, YouTube videos, and the like, without being fully verified by GM or Chevrolet, can pass on inaccurate information.