This is an adaptation of a feature that appeared in the June/July 2022 issue of RACER magazine – our 30th anniversary issue. Click here to learn about our subscription offers.
Corvette Racing heads into 22 consecutive 24 Hours of Le Mans looking for its first win for the C8.R and first since 2015. With two cars in the hands of Tommy Milner, Nick Tandy and Alexander Sims (No. 64); and Antonio Garcia, Jordan Taylor and Nicky Catsburg (No. 63) starting one-two, the Corvette has a good chance of clinching a 24 Hours of Le Mans win for all four generations of the car it brought to Le Mans.
In its June 30/July Anniversary issue, RACER explores Corvette Racing’s historical success in the American Le Mans Series and IMSA race car championships in North America, and at Le Mans, across car generations and across different classes. A large part of that success comes down to continuous improvement with each generation, General Motors and Pratt & Miller working together taking lessons from one version of a race car to apply to the next generation of road cars to produce better race cars. Win and repeat. While RACER touched on evolution in the magazine, we felt the need to delve deeper into how one generation has fueled improvements in the next.
“The people who work behind this program are the ones who really make it happen,” Garcia said. “So when you have GM and Pratt & Miller together, I think it proves to be a really good combination. Pratt & Miller has never stopped developing, and over the years, developing and using new tools that are available year after year. So if you look back at the first Corvette to the last, I mean, all the resources put into each one over the years have changed a lot.”
Pratt & Miller has a pretty good platform to work with on the C5, but it’s far from ideal. Pop-up headlights and air inlets aren’t what the car needs to be successful, especially at Le Mans.
“The Corvette C5 is a Dave Hill engineering project, which is the first right technology, advanced materials and processing of Corvettes,” said Doug Fehan, longtime Corvette Racing program manager who now serves as ambassador. “It will be a great car, because it will be completely different, clean sheets of paper, ground-up, everything new. And Herbs [GM Racing head Herb Fishel] and I have developed the desire and will to compete at Le Mans on the global stage with the Corvette.”
Fehan, who first presented the idea of a racing program that was more than a win-on-Sunday, sell-on-Monday proposition in 1996, based at Pratt & Miller, and credited Gary Pratt’s engineering expertise and Jim Miller’s sense of business with the program’s many successes over the years. many years. GM previously worked with the company on the Intrepid GTP program, and Fehan described the company at first as eight people and a pickup truck. Now known as Pratt Miller, the company was recently sold to Oshkosh Defense for $115 million. While defense projects will make up most of the company’s work, Corvette Racing is still an important part of the business, and the company will develop a GT3 version of the C8 that will debut in 2024.
With Intrepid experience in hand, Fehan thought Pratt & Miller would be the ideal partner to develop the Corvette into a world-beating race car. But as good as the C5 is, and it’s a huge leap from the C4, Pratt & Miller still has a job to do with it.
“We inherited the C5 … the race team had no input into the C5’s design, it was done when we got it. And it’s a great vehicle, but has some real challenges in making it a race car. If you remember the C5, you know it had a little cat whisker air intake on the front grill and took in air from under the car. That makes it very challenging to get enough combustion air into the engine, engine cooling air and brake cooling air using that body design,” explains Fehan.
Even so, the team took three wins at Le Mans with the car. Corvette engineer Dave Hill then listened to what the race team had to say about the car, and Fehan noted that Hill thought he could use what he learned in racing to make better road cars, which in turn would become better race cars.
“When the C6 was on the tarmac, about as we were starting to race, Corvette Chief Engineer Dave Hill, said, ‘Well, what do you need?’ I said I needed a single large air intake. I want the windshield to be tilted as far as possible. I needed headlights that weren’t upside down — I needed flushmount headlights, which is a heresy. He gave us that.”
Flush headlights are a bigger problem than one might imagine. From the C2 to the C5, the Corvette has always had some sort of flip-out or flip-up headlight. But with the advent of HID lighting, which requires transformers and a lot of other things to work, the time is right to get rid of them.
The C6 was an immediate success, giving the Corvette its second and third consecutive 24 Hours of Le Mans, with four wins overall, and four consecutive American Le Mans Series championships. The partnership in developing the Corvette between the racing team and the production team continues.
“The C7 has what we call a waterfall hood. Radiators in cars are always straight up and down, which makes it a problem to circulate air. You want the radiator to tilt forward and in the C7 we were able to make the radiator tilt forward and create a smooth flow of air through that radiator and then out through the top of the hood. It is a direct derivative of racing,” said Fehan.
“And then all the things you don’t see – components, materials, lightweight bodywork. Everything we develop in the race, is being looked at by the production design team. Making the underside of the car flat and smooth, so that the air escapes from under the car faster, they learned it in the races. Pratt & Miller did a lot of computational fluid dynamics on the race car and they ended up helping GM do some CFD work on the Corvette bodywork. And that gives us C7 (main image) which is a really cool race car and an amazing road car.”
All this time, Tudge Juechter was watching. Not yet a person in charge, he had seen the trials and tribulations as the Corvette evolved. But he will be tasked with overseeing perhaps the biggest evolution in auto history, the transition from a mid-front engine to having an LT2 engine behind the driver. And there’s a valid argument to make that without Corvette Racing’s success over the years when the green light was given, the C8 wouldn’t be in its current form.
“Tadge knew that this was going to be a pretty high mountain to climb, because the goal was, for the first time, that we were actually going to be working together, the race car design people and the production team people, going to work together designing and building. this C8. And we’re going to do it at a level previously unknown to absolutely anyone, to any manufacturer. Tadge is committed, and he’s just a pitbull, getting things done for us. And the results are simply amazing,” Fehan notes, his enthusiasm for the results evident in his voice.
“Tadge is a very torpedo, full speed guy up front. He’s going to get this done, and he’s fighting for it. That’s why this car is as good as it is. That, to me, from that 1996 presentation, was a car that embodied everything I could ever dream or imagine what a racing program could do. This is truly the final distillation of everyone’s 25 years of extraordinary efforts,” Fehan concluded.
For the 2022 season, Corvette is splitting its efforts, running modified versions of the C8.R in the GTD Pro in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the C8.R GTE car in the full World Endurance Championship. The two programs came together at Daytona, and together again for 24 Hours of Le Mans. Sunday will reveal whether the final version of the GTE car wins at the Circuit de la Sarthe, and C8 can count Le Mans wins on its resume, before the GT3 era kicks off.