The Corvette Has Led the Indy 500 More than Any Other Car In the Race’s 107-Year History
When it comes to racing, there are few events more iconic than the Indianapolis 500. On May 28, 2023, the “Greatest Spectacle In Racing” will celebrate its 107th anniversary. To commemorate this momentous milestone, we thought it fitting that we looked at another great American icon – the nineteen Corvette pace cars that led the field at Indy throughout the last half-century.
It is no coincidence that the Indy 500 and the Chevy Corvette share a long, rich history together. After all, the Corvette – America’s Sports Car – represents the American automotive spirit in much the same way that the Indianapolis 500, which is traditionally run on Memorial Day weekend, commemorates the spirit of our great nation via an assemblage of international racers at one of the most iconic racetracks of all time – the Indianapolis Speedway. Each year, the Indy 500 commemorates America thru music and pre-race ceremonies that are full of more pomp and circumstance than a fouth of July fireworks display!
To commemorate the rich heritage shared between the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the Chevrolet Corvette, we thought we’d take a look at each of the nineteen Corvettes to serve as the Official Pace Car of the Indianapolis 500.
1978 Corvette Indy Pace Car
Although the Chevy Corvette has long been synonymous with racing – both as a bonafide race car and, more importantly (at least as it relates to this article), a pace car – it took twenty-five years for the iconic sports car to make its debut at the Indianapolis 500. However, it led twenty-five open-wheel race cars to the start/finish line on May 26, 1978, the Corvette Indy Pace Car changed history forever. Wrapped in two-tone black and silver paint and featuring a unique front and rear spoiler package, a custom set of wheels, and a decal package identifying and commemorating it as the “Official Pace Car of the 62nd Annual Indianapolis 500.” It was driven by American race car driver Jim Rathmann. Today, the 1978 Corvette remains one of the most popular of all the Indy Pace Cars ever as well as one of the most iconic third-generation Corvettes of all time. For a detailed history of the car, please click here.
1986 Corvette Indy Pace Car
The 1986 model represented a significant year for the Corvette. It saw the return of a convertible model after a ten-year absence. To commemorate the convertible option once more gracing the Corvette, the car was selected to serve as the official pace car for the 70th running of the Indianapolis 500. The car – a yellow Corvette convertible (serial number 72) was the one and only pace car to serve at the event that year.
Perhaps more significant than that year’s pace car selection was the choice of its driver. General Chuck Yeager – one of America’s greatest fighter pilots and the first person to break the sound barrier – piloted the Pace Car around the track on May 25, 1986.
To further celebrate the return of the Corvette convertible, Chevrolet designated every 1986 Corvette convertible as an official Indy Pace Car replica regardless of color or options. Every Corvette convertible sold that year included a factory Pace Car decal package that could be installed by the dealer or the new owner at the time of purchase. Historically, Pace Cars were typically modified for their on-track duties, but the 1986 Corvette’s track-ready suspension and available 350/230 HP fuel injected small block made upgrades unnecessary. Nonetheless, rather than being “just” a track car, the 1986 Corvette Pace Car was exceptionally well-equipped, with leather Sport seats, a power driver’s seat, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and an AM/FM stereo.
1995 Corvette Indy Pace Car
It was nearly another full decade before the Corvette was selected to lead the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” for a third time. Between 1986 and 1995, the fourth-generation Corvette had evolved into a far more performance-driven version of its former self. As with the examples that had come before it, the 1995 Corvette Indy Pace Car was essentially a stock Corvette, save for the mandatory safety features that had been required by the Indianapolis 500 racing venue. Chevrolet produced just three official pace cars for the 79th running of the Indianapolis 500. Each of these cars came finished in a two-tone purple on white paint scheme, and each was equipped with special strobe lights, a special “halo” roll-bar, five point safety harnesses for both the driver and passenger seats, and an on-board fire suppression system. Of the three cars built, two were equipped with an automatic transmission, while the third was equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox. When the car made its Indy debut on May 28, 1995, it was piloted by former Chevrolet Manager Jim Perkins.
1998 Corvette Indy Pace Car
The 1998 Chevrolet Corvette convertible was the fourth Corvette selected to serve as the official pace car for the 82nd running of the Indianapolis 500. Pro golfer Greg Norman was originally selected to pilot the pace car in 1998, but was later replaced by American race car driver and team owner Parnelli Jones when Norman had to withdraw to have shoulder surgery.
The 1998 Corvette Indy Pace car was finished in Radar Blue paint with an attention-grabbing yellow and black leather interior. It was also fitted with yellow rims and a striking yellow, red and white graphics package which featured a checkered flag motif and which identified the Corvette as the “Official Pace Car” of the Indianapolis 500. Chevrolet produced 1,163 replicas of the 1998 Corvette Indy Pace Car. Consumers who ordered the Z4Z Pace Car Package received an exact replica of the car that led the field on May 24, 1998.
2003 Corvette Indy Pace Car
Fast forward four years to the 86th running of the Indianapolis 500, and the fifth-generation Corvette -a a 2003 coupe this time – returned to pace the field in celebration of Corvette’s 50th year of production. In addition to marking the fifth time the Corvette led the field at Indy, it also marked the 13th time that a Chevrolet vehicle served as the race’s official pace car, setting a manufacturer’s record for the most appearances at Indy by a single brand. In addition to wearing unique gold flames and “Indianapolis 500” badging on its sides, the car’s hood was adorned with a special “50” badge that also contained the Corvette’s crossed flags. Actor Jim Caviezel piloted the car around the track on May 25, 2003. The race was but one of many events commemorating Corvette’s half-century of production.
2004 Corvette Indy Pace Car
Fast forward another two years, and we enter an era when the Corvette became a regular fixture at the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Perhaps given its well-deserved stature as “America’s Sports Car” combined with its undeniable ties to racing, the 2004 Corvette convertible was the first of several Corvette Indy Pace Cars to make back-to-back-to-back appearances at the Indianapolis 500.
In addition to serving as the official pace car of the race, 22 white Corvettes and 33 red Chevrolet SSR’s were also used as Sponsor/VIP vehicles before the start of the race. However, it was a 2004 Corvette finished in a two-tone white over blue paint. It featured a patriotic red, white and blue “stars and stripes” motif along its sides, and proudly wore the “88th Indianapolis 500 – May 30, 04” and “Official Pace Car” badges on both doors. It is of no surprise that Morgan Freeman, arguably one of the greatest American actors of his generation, was selected to pilot the car for the year’s festivities.
No replicas of the 2004 Corvette Indy Pace Car were offered by General Motors though some owners/collectors have gone to great lengths to re-create the iconic pace car on their own.
2005 Corvette Indy Pace Car
The 2005 Corvette convertible, along with being the first model year of the sixth-generation era, served as the Official Pace Car of the “89th Indianapolis 500” for a record seventh-time! The car featured a “Victory Red” exterior with a bright “Machine Silver Metallic” stripe flanked by titanium and black accents down its center. A pair of “2005 Indianapolis 500” decals were mounted on each door above a white “Official Pace Car” moniker. Across its windshield, the car also featured “An American Revolution” badge. The car’s interior also featured the “Indianapolis 500” badges embroidered into its headrests.
Pace car duties were presented to General Colin L. Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State. When the car entered the field on May 29, 2005, it marked the first time that the public had laid eyes on the all-new sixth-generation Corvette convertible. Powell, who owned a 2005 Corvette coupe, was no stranger to driving the new Corvette and handled his duties piloting the pace car at Indy beautifully.
The 2006 Corvette Z06 Indy Pace Car marked the fourth straight year that a Corvette served as a pace car for the Indianapolis 500. It also marked the 17th time that a Chevrolet had led the famous race field. While virtually identical to the production model Z06, the 505 horsepower pace car came finished in a special livery that featured an Arctic white paint job adorned with Victory Red and Cobalt Blue stripes crisscrossing the car’s front and rear fenders. A large, Victory Red bowtie also adorned the car’s hood. As always, the car wore “Official Pace Car” badging on its doors and rear fascia, and a custom “Indianapolis 5oo – 90th Running” emblem on each of its doors.
On May 28, 2006, both during the parade laps and prior to the start of the race, the 2006 Corvette Z06 Pace Car was piloted around the Indianapolis Speedway by seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.
2007 Corvette Indy Pace Car
A 2007 Corvette Convertible served as the official pace car for the 91st running of the Indianapolis 500. Now celebrating its fifth straight year as as the race’s pace car, this 2007 Corvette Convertible came finished with an Atomic Orange exterior paint, including its door handles, and featured a unique orange and gold ribbon graphic that flowed outward from the front fender wheel vent and back along the length of the car. The car was also adorned with special Indianapolis 500 fender badges, custom Indianapolis 500 decals on each door commemorating the race, “Official Pace Car” badging in the usual spots, new aluminum “split-spoke” wheels finished in Sterling Silver, ebony seats with headrests the contained embroidered “Indianapolis 500” emblems on each, Atomic Orange interior trim plates, and Atomic Orange engine covers.
Team owner and television/movie actor Patrick Dempsey assumed Pace Car driver duties on May 27, 2007. Chevrolet offered a total of 500 Pace Car production replicas to consumers at a retail price of $66,995 MSRP. For this price point, consumers received an almost exact replica of the actual pace car equipped with the 400 horsepower LS2 engine and a six-speed manual transmission. For $68,245.00, consumers could purchase the same car with an automatic transmission. As with most Corvette pace cars today, the 2007 Corvette convertible has remained a highly collectible example of the sixth-generation model.
2008 Corvette Z06 E85 Indy Pace Car
For the 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500, Chevrolet mixed things up a bit by having not one, but TWO Corvette Pace Cars – a 2008 custom Corvette Z06 E85 that was specially engineered to run on E85 ethanol fuel and a 2008 black and silver commemorative edition Corvette Convertible whole paint scheme and styling was intentionally selected to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the enormously popular 1978 Pace Car (the first Corvette to pace the Indianapolis 500.)
The 2008 Corvette Z06 E85 Pace Car was driven by celebrated race car driver Emerson Fittipaldi. Fittipaldi was selected both for his success on the race track as well as for being an ethanol fuel refiner in Brazil. He had previously competed (and won) the Indianapolis 500 in both 1989 and 1993 – both times while driving a Chevrolet race car.
The Z06 E85 pace car, aside from having a unique powertrain controller and fuel system specifically engineered to run E85 fuel, was completely stock. It featured a distinguished Gold Rush Green color shifting paint scheme, a subtle checkered flag graphic along its side, track specific safety equipment and strobe lights, and of course the Indianapolis 500 graphics centered on each door. Both cars made their debut at the race on May 25, 2008.
2013 Corvette ZR1 Indy Pace Car
The Corvette experienced a four year absence from the Indianapolis 500 before returning with the final model year of the sixth-generation Corvette – a 2013 ZR1 Coupe – for the 96th Indianapolis 500. Powered by a supercharged 6.2-liter LS9 engine rated at 638 horsepower capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 in 3.4 seconds and hit a top speed of 205 mph.
“Corvette embodies pure performance, so the ZR1 is a perfect car to pace the most prestigious auto race in the world,” said Jeff Belskus, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation president and chief executive officer. “Chevrolet is a great partner of the Speedway, and we share in the excitement of the upcoming 60th anniversary of the iconic Corvette brand. It’s even more meaningful to see a Chevrolet pacing the field at Indy since Chevy has returned as an engine supplier for the IZOD IndyCar Series for the first time since 2005.”
For the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500, which occurred on May 27, 2012, the Corvette ZR1 Pace Car was driven by American restaurateur, author, and an Emmy Award winning television presenter Guy Fieri.
2014 Corvette Stingray Indy Pace Car
The following year, Chevrolet’s all-new, seventh-generation Corvette Stingray was selected to lead the 97th running of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Jim Harbaugh, head coach of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, was selected to pilot the new Stingray and lead the pack of 33 racers to the green flag at the start of the race on May 26, 2013.
The 2014 Corvette Stingray Indy Pace Car was finished in Laguna Blue Tintcoat and fitted with official Indianapolis 500 graphics on each of its doors. Aside from track-mandated safety features and strobe lights, the new Stingray was mechanically unchanged from the production models. With its new 6.2 liter engine, the 2014 Stingray had all the power it needed to lead the field around the track without issue.
2015 Corvette Z06 Indy Pace Car
On May 24, 2015, NASCAR superstar and five-time Brickyard champion Jeff Gordon piloted the 2015 Corvette Z06 Pace Car, ahead of the race field for the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500. Having grown up in Indiana, Gordon was no stranger to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, having won his first NASCAR race at the famed 2.5-mile oval track in 1994.
The 2015 Corvette Z06 Pace Car marked the 13th time that a Corvette had served as the official pace car of the Indianapolis 500. Equipped with a supercharged 650 horsepower engine and seven-speed manual transmission, the Z06 required nothing (save for the required safety equipment and strobe lights) to manage its duties for the event. The Pace Car came finished in Arctic White paint with an Adrenaline Red interior, both factory options for that year’s production model as well. The only other distinguishing characteristics on the pace car were the “OFFICIAL PACE CAR” and “Indianapolis 500” door badges on each of its doors.
2017 Corvette Grand Sport Indy Pace Car
The Chevrolet Corvette returned once more for the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500. The latest pace car, a 2017 Grand Sport coupe this time, marked the 14th time that the Corvette, and the 28th time that a Chevrolet, led the field at the legendary race. As with the Z06 driven by Jeff Gordon before it, the 2017 Grand Sport came dressed in an all white livery, with “101 Running – Indy 500” graphic on either door and “Official Pace Car” emblazoned on its black and red composite side skirt rockers. As with the other seventh-generation Corvette Pace Cars before it, the car was completely stock, save for the safety equipment and strobe lights requirement.
Actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan was selected for Pace Car driver duties. Known for his roles on “The Walking Dead” and Grey’s Anatomy,” the celebrated actor led the field to a green flag on Sunday, May 28, 2017.
2019 Corvette ZR1 Indy Pace Car
Chevrolet pulled out the stops for the 2018 Indianapolis 500 by transforming one of their 2019 ZR1 Corvettes into the official pace car for that years event. Rated at a monstrous 755-horsepower, the seventh-generation Corvette ZR1 was (and remains) the most powerful production Corvette ever built. It was also (and still remains) the most powerful pace car to lead the Indianapolis 500 field.
The 2019 Corvette ZR1 Pace Car came equipped with a supercharged 6.2-liter engine which produced the aforementioned 755 horsepower and 715 pound-feet of torque. The car could accelerate to 60 miles per hour in just 2.85 seconds and achieve a top speed of 212 miles per hour.
The 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 happened on May 27, 2018. The 2019 Corvette ZR1 Indy Pace Car was piloted by American professional basketball player Victor Oladipo. Oladipo, who attended three seasons at Indiana University before starting his NBA career with the Indiana Pacers, was thrilled to return to Indiana for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
2019 Corvette Grand Sport Indy Pace Car
Although the announcement that a mid-engine Corvette was imminent in spring of 2019, Chevrolet had yet to reveal their eighth-generation Stingray to the world. So, when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway selected the Corvette to serve as the official pace of the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500, Chevrolet showcased a 2019 Grand Sport coupe for the signature event.
The 2019 Grand Sport coupe represented the 16th time a Corvette had paced the famous race. The latest example came finished in Long Beach Red Metallic Tintcoat with silver racing stripes and “Indy 500” decals on both doors. As with all pace cars which preceded it, the car was also equipped with the standard safety features and strobe lights required by the speedway for any of its pace cars.
NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. piloted the 2019 Grand Sport Corvette, leading 33 drivers to the green flag on May 26, 2019. The 2019 Grand Sport represented the 16th Corvette to serve as the race’s official Pace Car and the 30th time that Chevrolet had paced the Indianapolis 500. The first Chevrolet to serve as the official pace car for the “Greatest Spectacle In Racing” was a 1948 Fleetmaster Six convertible.
2020 Mid-Engine Corvette Stingray Indy Pace Car
Given the monumental build-up to Chevrolet’s unveiling of the mid-engine Stingray in July 2019, it came as no surprise that the all new, mid-engine 2020 Corvette would serve as the Official Pace Car of the 2020 Indianapolis 500. The car came finished in Torch Red and was equipped with the Z51 performance package. It was also finished in a unique race-themed livery, including the standard Official Pace Car” and “Indy 500” badges on its doors as well as the official “Indianapolis Motor Speedway” emblem on its rear quarters. GM president Mark Reuss was selected for the honor of piloting the new mid-engine Corvette at the start of the race.
When equipped with the Z51 package, the 2020 Corvette Stingray produced 495 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque from its 6.2-liter LT2 V8 engine. So equipped, the car produced a 0-60 time of 2.8 seconds (outpacing the 755 horsepower 2019 ZR1!) and an estimated 184 mph top speed. The 2020 Pace Car came equipped with a factory “high” spoiler, a ground effects package, “carbon flash” exterior accents and GT2 bucket seats.
2021 Mid-Engine Corvette Stingray Indy Pace Car
Now celebrating its 18th appearance at the Indianapolis 500, a 2021 mid-engine Corvette Stingray hardtop convertible was assigned the honors for the 105th running of the race on May 30, 2021. The 2021 Stingray Pace Car came finished in Arctic White with yellow accented exterior as well as an interior finished in Sky Cool Gray and Strike Yellow upholstery. As always, the car was also decorated with the traditional “Indianapolis 500” decals on each of its doors, an exclusive stripe package, unique Stingray decals and much more.
One of the more unique features of the 2021 Corvette Indy Hardtop Convertible Pace Car was the placement of its strobe lights. While other pace cars frequently had bar lights mounted atop the roof panel, the 2021 Pace Car’s strobes were integrated into the hardtop convertible’s tonneau cover nacelles, as well as into the headlamp assemblies, front louvers, and tail lights.
“The 2021 Corvette Stingray hardtop convertible is such a world-class performance car that’s a perfect match to lead the talented field of 33 drivers to the green flag in ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,’” Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles said. “We continue to be grateful for our strong, enduring partnership with Chevrolet and its many contributions to the success of our events and the exciting appeal of competition at the Racing Capital of the World.”
The 2021 Corvette Stingray Pace Car was piloted by former professional racing driver Danica Patrick, the most successful woman driver in the history of American open-wheel car racing. She is the only woman to ever win an IndyCar Series race – the 2008 Indy Japan 300 – on April 20, 2008.
2023 Corvette Z06 Indy Pace Car
Which brings us to the latest Corvette (at least at the time of this publication) to serve as the Official Pace Car of the Indianapolis 500 – the 2023 Corvette Z06. Although introduced prior to its official anniversary (June 29, 2023), the all-new Z06 Pace Car was finished as a “70th Anniversary Edition” variant, complete with special White Pearl Tri-Coat metallic paint, special Corvette cross flags commemorating the 70th anniversary, red brake calipers, and special “70th Anniversary Edition” logos on its seats, steering wheel and sill plates.
Former Indy Car driver and three-time podium-finisher Sarah Fisher piloted the pace car for the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 29, 2022. Fisher had previously served as the pace car driver at a variety of IndyCar events. For the past five years (2017-2021), she had driven the pace car during the caution period of the Indy 500. For the 2022 race, she was selected as the official celebrity driver, leading the field to the green flag at the start of the race. Unlike other celebrity drivers however, she remained in the driver’s seat for the duration of the event, returning to the field anytime there was a full-course caution requiring a pace car.