Team Chevy Spotlight: Technology Transfer Infuses Corvette ZR1 and Corvette C6.R with Racing Spirit
Corvette Racing Celebrates Chevrolet Centennial in 2011
There is no better example of the impact of racing than the Corvette Z06 and Corvette ZR1 supercars, which achieve exceptional performance levels through advances in materials, aerodynamics, powertrain technology, materials and ergonomics that were developed and validated on the race track. Competing in the GT class in the 2011 American Le Mans Series and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Corvette Racing’s Corvette C6.R race cars and the production models on which they’re based represent the strongest link yet between the production Corvette and Corvette Racing teams. As a result, both the street and racing versions are well equipped to compete with showroom competitors including Aston Martin, BMW, Ferrari, Jaguar, and Porsche.
Motorsports is part of Chevy’s DNA. The company was co-founded in 1911 by Louis Chevrolet, who gained fame as both an engineer and driver through racing. Corvette has a long history of production-based endurance racing, making its first appearance at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1956, and its first appearance at Le Mans in 1960. Legendary Corvette chief engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov leveraged the racing program to improve the production Corvette by developing heavy-duty and high-performance components throughout his career at Chevrolet.
The transfer of technology between racing and production cars accelerated with the debgut of the factory Corvette Racing program in 1999. More than a decade later, it’s impossible to imagine one team without the other, according to Tadge Juechter, Corvette chief engineer: “Simply put, without Corvette Racing, there would not be a Corvette Z06, much less the ZR1,” Juechter said. “And, without the foundation of the Corvette C6, Z06 and ZR1, the Corvette Racing team would not be the dominant presence in production-based racing.”
1999 – 2004: C5-R a Catalyst for Corvette Performance
Corvette Racing campaigned the C5-R from 1999 through the end of the 2004 season. The first-generation car scored 35 victories in 55 races, won its class at the 12 Hours of Sebring three consecutive years, posted three 1-2 finishes in the GTS class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and earned four consecutive ALMS manufacturers championships for Chevrolet.
It also served as a catalyst for Corvette performance.
In 1999, the fifth-generation Corvette C5 produced 345 horsepower from its 5.7-liter V-8. Leveraging the powertrain technologies developed for the C5-R, Corvette brought back the hallowed Z06 moniker in 2001, packing a 385-horsepower 5.7-liter V-8.
In addition, the C5-R helped shape the sixth-generation Corvette, introduced in the 2005 model year. Corvette Racing’s influence could be seen in the C6 Corvette design, which featured flush headlights for better aerodynamics; a single, large grille opening for the engine air intake, radiator, and brake cooling; a lower coefficient of drag; and a 3,179 pound curb weight. Lessons learned in racing were also applied to the 6.0-liter LS2 V-8, the most powerful standard Corvette engine to date, with 400 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque. As a result, the C6 Corvette delivered unprecedented performance, including a 186 mph top speed, acceleration from 0-60 mph in 4.1 seconds, and quarter-mile runs in 12.6 seconds at 114 mph.
2005 – 2009: Co-development of the C6.R and Z06
The C6 Corvette served as a foundation for the joint development of two new, high-performance Corvettes: the 2006 Corvette Z06 and the Corvette C6.R race car, introduced in 2005.
Both cars were powered by 7.0-liter small-block V-8 engines, with dry-sump lubrication systems, CNC-ported aluminum cylinder heads, titanium valves, forged steel crankshafts, and plate-honed cylinder bores.
For the Z06, the collaboration translated into 505 horsepower and 470 lb.-ft. of torque that produced searing performance: 198 mph top speed, acceleration from 0 – 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, and quarter-mile runs in 11.7 seconds at 125 mph. Racing’s influence was also evident in the Corvette Z06’s use of lightweight carbon fiber front fenders and wheelhouses, and its aerodynamics package – including a front splitter, air extractors behind the front wheels, radiused trailing edges on the wheel openings, brake cooling scoops, widened rear fenders, rear diffuser, and spoiler.
For the C6.R, homologation on the Z06 translated into 42 wins, four consecutive ALMS drivers and manufacturers championships, and three victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
2010 – 2011: Racing the Second-Generation C6.R
Corvette Racing now competes in the production-based GT category in the American Le Mans Series and the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a second-generation C6.R that is homologated on the Corvette ZR1.
The GT rules require the use of many production-based components, making the ZR1 and C6.R the closest street and racing Corvettes since the 1960s.
Introduced in the 2009 model year, the ZR1 is the fastest, most powerful car ever produced by Chevrolet. To deliver 638 horsepower, the LS9 V-8 engines are hand-built using many of the processes developed by the race team. To deliver a 205-mph top speed, the ZR1 aerodynamics package also utilizes race technology – including wide carbon fiber front fenders with dual vents, a full-width rear spoiler, and a front splitter.
The updated C6.R race cars utilize the ZR1 body design, aerodynamic package, aluminum frame and chassis structure, steering system, windshield, and other components.
Aluminum frame: The new Corvette C6.R is built on the same aluminum frame rails that underpin production Corvette Z06 and ZR1 models. Other production chassis structures in the race car include the windshield frame, the hoop around the rear of the passenger compartment, the door hinge pillars, the drivetrain tunnel, the firewall, and the floor pan.
Steering system: The new Corvette C6.R utilizes the production steering column out of the ZR1, with a fully adjustable steering wheel, and production rack-and-pinion steering.
Body profile: The Corvette C6.R race car is now virtually identical to the Corvette ZR1 street car in appearance, as GT rules require production-type fenders with simple flares to accommodate wider tires.
Aerodynamics: The new C6.R utilizes the full-width, production rear spoiler from the ZR1, and a production-based ZR1 front splitter.
Where the C6.R and ZR1 differ significantly are in situations where GT rules actually prohibit the use of the more sophisticated ZR1 components. For example, the ZR1 is equipped with carbon-composite brake rotors, while GT regulations require ferrous (steel) brake discs. And, where the ZR1 utilizes a 6.2-liter supercharged V-8, the C6.R uses a naturally aspirated, production-based 5.5-liter small-block V-8.
The Corvette C6.Rs’ engines are developed, built and maintained by GM. Designated LS5.5R, the naturally aspirated powerplant is based on the Corvette Z06’s 7.0-liter LS7 engine (which in turn was developed with the 7.0-liter race engine used in the C6.R GT1 cars), and is built with a production cast-aluminum cylinder block.
The reduction in displacement to meet the GT class regulations was achieved by shortening the crankshaft stroke and reducing the cylinder bore diameter. In accordance with the regulations, the race engines have two 28.8mm diameter intake air restrictors. The LS5.5R engines are equipped with dry-sump oiling systems, CNC-ported aluminum cylinder heads with titanium intake and exhaust valves, and sequential electronic port fuel injection. The race engines use E85 ethanol racing fuel in the ALMS and E10 fuel in Le Mans.
Race on Sunday, Sell on Monday
Corvette Racing’s success in production-based endurance racing has played a significant role in improving the performance of the production Corvette. In addition, as the racing and production cars have become more closely linked, Corvette Racing has also shown a positive impact in Corvette sales.
“Corvette sales tracked directly to customer leads at ALMS races have doubled since 2005,” said John Fitzpatrick, Chevrolet Performance Cars marketing manager. “This proves what we have heard anecdotally from other Corvette owners: Watching production-based Corvettes race against legendary marques like BMW, Porsche and Ferrari, on legendary tracks like Sebring and Le Mans, makes Corvette all the more desirable.”
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