In 2013, Chevrolet earned the title of the most successful name in professional motorsports in the United States, sweeping a total of 12 manufacturer’s, driver, and team championships in NASCAR, IndyCar and ALMS, GRAND-AM, and Pirelli World Challenge series.
Chevrolet will kick off the 2014 season with the debut of the all-new Corvette Racing C7.R at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The new Corvette, wearing an updated “Jake” mascot, will make its competition debut at the Rolex 24 At Daytona on January 25-26.
To celebrate this significant year, here’s a look at the “Top 10 Moments” that contributed to the legacy of Chevrolet racing which dates all the way back to co-founder Louis Chevrolet’s passion for racing automobiles.
Chevrolet’s performance reputation was virtually non-existent in the early 1950s, but when the first of the brand’s legendary small-block V-8 engines appeared in the all-new 1955 models, perceptions quickly changed. Soon, word spread through the racing world that the new V-8 developed by Chevrolet’s Ed Cole and his engineers fairly bristled with performance potential.
The Chevrolet small-block V-8 was a racer’s dream. Light in weight and compact in size, it readily fit into diminutive engine bays. It was also powerful, inexpensive, durable, easy to maintain and openly available.
Chevrolet won its first Manufacturers’ Cup award in 1958. Further research indicates that drivers of Chevrolet cars took 25 of 51 races in the 1958 NASCAR Grand National Series beginning with the very first race of the season at Champion Speedway in Fayetteville, North Carolina by Rex White. Fireball Roberts led the way for Chevrolet with six victories. Bob Wellborn earned five more. Speedy Thompson had four and Buck Baker contributed three wins.
The 1956 Corvette established the two-seater as a performance machine and American icon. With a new body styling, bucket seats and a removable hardtop that was offered for the first time, the ‘56 was one of the most iconic Corvettes of all time.
Taking a risk, Zora Arkus-Duntov and Ed Cole sent four Corvettes to the Sebring 12-hour endurance race in 1956. While coming in 9th overall, their efforts had a monumental effect in not only establishing the Corvette as a racecar but also in establishing Chevrolet as a racing institution.
The Super Sport name dates back to 1957 when it was first used on the Corvette SS racecar that debuted at the 12 Hours of Sebring. In 1961, Chevrolet offered its first production Super Sport option on the Impala. The package included Super Sport trim for the interior and exterior, chassis reinforcements, stronger springs and shocks, power brakes, spinner wheel covers and narrow-band whitewall tires. A number of mandatory options were necessary to order the SS Equipment option, not the least of which was the purchase of either a 348 cid or 409 cid big-block V-8 engine.
By 1962, the Chevy Corvette had earned global respect for its performance prowess and was on its way to becoming the favorite, if never official, car of America’s astronauts. Then came the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray. Based on a one-off sports racer penned by GM design chief Bill Mitchell, the Corvette Sting Ray “Split-Window” Coupe was quite possibly the most exciting production car America had yet experienced. Beyond its superbly tailored form, the Sting Ray had a new and effective independent rear suspension, offered extra-potent, fuel-injected small-block V8 power, and, best of all, was surprisingly affordable.
Beginning in 1967, race driver Mark Donohue began piloting a Roger Penske-owned Chevrolet Camaro Z28 to much success in the SCCA Trans Am Series. He won three races that first year but his true dominance did not begin until 1968 when he won 10 of 13 races he entered. This record stood for 30 years.
In 1970, GM first permitted engines larger than 400 cid in its intermediate-sized cars. One result was perhaps the most legendary of all Chevy Super Sports, the SS 454 Chevelle. The available 450-horsepower LS-6 big-block could launch the SS 454 to 100 mph in about 13 seconds.
The muscle car era peaked that same year, and leading the way to the summit was the SS 454 Chevelle. Chevrolet’s 454-cid big-block, the largest displacement production Chevy V-8 ever, was new for 1970.
The Chevrolet 265 cid V8 was built in collaboration with Ilmor in Great Britain. The engine made its debut at the 1986 Indianapolis 500 for Team Penske driver Al Unser. Its first IndyCar victory came in 1987 and a year later, it powered a car piloted by Rick Mears to victory at the Indianapolis 500. From 1987-1993, it powered 11 drivers to a total of 86 victories.
In 2009, Chevrolet resurrected the ZR1 designation (sans hyphen) for a new supercharged Corvette model that surpassed the 1990-1995 ZR-1 in performance. The new ZR1 did more than reach 200 mph; it kept going to a top speed of 205 mph (330 km/h).
The Corvette ZR1 also received the 638-horsepower LS9 engine making it the most powerful production-car engine ever built by GM.
Developed by General Motors in collaboration with Pratt & Miller, the C5-R was a purpose-built racecar based on the fifth generation Corvette that kicked off a modern era of racing. The Corvette Racing team first introduced the C5-R to the grand touring circuit in 1999. In 2001, the C5-R won the first of its three class victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The car’s successor, the C6-R based on the sixth generation Corvette, continued class dominance at Le Mans adding another four victories.