In May of 2020 Corvette Racing’s team suffered a huge blow with the announcement of long-time crew chief Dan Binks leaving to pursue other endeavors. On Wednesday the team lost another major pillar when team boss Doug Fehan was shuffled out of his position in what was described as a change in management. Also on Wednesday, it was announced that Pratt & Miller, the company behind Corvette Racing’s nearly three decades of success, has been sold off to defense contractor Oshkosh Corporation.
When you fold in the news that Porsche has left the IMSA GTLM class in which Corvette Racing competes, and BMW is rumored to only be running a four-race endurance program in 2021, GM’s interest in the class and perhaps racing in general, may be waning. Corvette would likely be racing only against itself for much of next season, which while something Corvette Racing is familiar with having run GT1 solo in 2007 and 2008, probably isn’t something the team would want to revisit.
Doug Fehan has helmed the good ship Corvette since 1996, having joined GM Racing in 1988. Under his tutelage, the team has won 113 races, including eight victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Those victories have also come part and parcel with 14 team championships, 13 manufacturer championships, and 13 driver titles. Considering the first C5-R didn’t race until the 1999 season, that’s an incredibly impressive record.
“Doug’s contributions to Corvette Racing go far beyond the unparalleled successes on the racetrack,” said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet U.S. VP of Performance and Motorsports. “He developed strong relationships between Corvette Racing and the Corvette Engineering, Design, Powertrain and Marketing teams, and a variety of corporate sponsors, along with the various series and sanctioning bodies in which Corvette Racing competed.
Doug’s passion and enthusiasm created an incredible connection with race fans around the world. Any fan who met Doug will never forget him.”
While it is possible that the news of race shop Pratt & Miller’s sale to Oshkosh Corp. is purely coincidence, the dominoes seem to be falling in a way that makes me think Corvette Racing is doomed. The New Hudson, Mich. based motorsport and engineering firm sold off in a $115 million deal, which includes all aspects of the company, as well as its intellectual property. Oshkosh claims that P&M will retain its name, brand, team members, facilities and operations. Allegedly the Corvette Racing team will continue unchanged, as far as Oshkosh is concerned.
“Pratt & Miller’s motorsports heritage has created a culture of speed and agility that has defined our success,” said Matt Carroll, Pratt & Miller CEO. “Oshkosh is an ideal partner for us to apply that mindset to some of the most significant challenges facing customers today.
Together, we expect to grow our decade-long partnership and expand our pipeline of new business opportunities. We look forward to learning from one another and continuing to innovate to bring market-leading products to our customers.”
Large scale factory-backed motorsport programs like Corvette Racing are always operated at the whims of a board of directors, and is answerable to shareholders. As such, the changing of winds can spell the end for a team. Despite Corvette Racing recently hiring BMW’s Alexander Sims and Porsche’s Nick Tandy to fill out its 2021 squad, Bowtie management only has to snap their fingers and the whole house of cards comes tumbling down.
With a global economic crisis roaring, millions out of work, and millions more sick with an unending global pandemic, it would make sense that GM would want to remove some of its more visibly expensive marketing efforts from public view. Does a motorsports program still make a lot of sense when new car sales are down 20 percent year over year?
For over twenty years the Corvette Racing program has seemed like the sturdiest tentpole in the paddock. The bigger they are, the harder they fall.