The international Le Mans Series is starting a new class for lesser-modded GT cars. Those cars will be similar to Porsche, Ferrari and Lotus racecars of the manufacturers' cup series. Who's missing? A little number called Corvette.
Why the Corvetteless field? Simple. There's no single-make Corvette challenge series from which to draw. And for America's Sports Car™? That's flat-out wrong.
There was once a Corvette-only series, held during the car's post-1984 comeback years. The SCCA Corvette Challenge ran for two seasons, 1988 and 1989. The SCCA formed it after having banned Corvettes from its showroom stock GT races. The Corvettes had gone unbeaten for three years and the competition, comprising Nissan 300 ZX and Porsche 944 turbos, was seriously pissed.
You might recognize some of the names from the grid for those two Corvette Challenge seasons: Juan-Manuel Fangio II, Tommy Kendall, Andy Pilgrim and Boris Said (and even a Kardashian named Bruce Jenner). ESPN broadcast the full 1989 Corvette Challenge season. For 1990, the Corvettes were merged into the World Challenge series.
As Vette magazine recalls, the cars were largely stock, prepped by Chevrolet and leased to racing teams.
In 1989, 60 R7F cars were built, and 29 of these were converted into race cars by Powell Development America. The new cars were more like racers than their predecessors, with full rollcages — including side bars-and straight-through exhaust.
Each car's original engine was removed and stored when it was delivered to Powell. Identical race engines were prepared and certified by Chevy's Race Shop, then leased to the teams for $4,000. Bolts and screws on key areas of each race engine were painted with a special paint. Race inspectors then ran a laser light over the engine in a dark enclosure to verify that the mill had not been modified.
Back to Le Mans racing. The new LMS GTC, which will feature cars of a lesser technical specification than GTE models, will be similar to the class of the same name in the ALMS. Like the ALMS GTC category, which are all Porsche Cup cars — no Corvettes here either — each entry can't have more than one pro shoe (i.e., Platinum or Gold rated) among its drivers.
(Naturally, the controversy of having these less-experienced drivers coexist with LMP1 competitors will continue to rage, on and off the track, but that's another matter.)
Three types of car will be eligible to compete in the LMS GTC next year; the Ferrari 430 Challenge as used in the manufacturer's one-make series, the Lotus Evora GTC and GT4, plus the 2010 and 2011-spec Porsche Carrera Cup cars.
Indeed, the Corvette will not be among them. That's because there's no Corvette cup car to draw into competition, either in ILMS GTC, or to challenge the Porsche Cup cars in ALMS GTC.
Sure, the $50,000 Corvette is a lower-echelon sports car than, say, the Porsche 911. It's also one that's shackled to a company that must also make cars for your grandma. To complicate matters, GM must be scrupulous with its finances, and avoid the appearance of frivolous, environmentally-unsound activities like racing, while at the same time still — at least surreptitiously — promote its racing activities, like Corvette Racing's GT program. It's one of those "holding two opposing concepts simultaneously" paradoxes that's sure to breed at least a little corporate insanity.
But if the Corvette is a product worth building, then why let it suffer under the weight of corporate multiple-personality disorder? Why not turn Bowling Green into the American version of Porsche's Weissach race shop? Spend a little bit of marketing budget creatively to stimulate a new, showroom-class racing series. Support motorsports at the grassroots level. Foster an environment of continual improvement that engages race fans at every level. In other words, take a page out of Porsche's playbook.
If you can't embrace racing wholeheartedly inside Chevrolet, shoot-off the Corvette as its own brand (we know you've wanted to).
If Chevy truly wants to cultivate a global market for Corvette, it must start by winning back the car's appeal to overseas audiences. Now's the time to lay groundwork to train the world's motorsports eyeballs on America's Sports Car. Could there be any better way to do that than by supporting more Porsche vs. Corvette battles on the world's great racetracks?
Photo Credit: Getty Images/CorvetteForum.com