Monday, May 30, 2022

2021 - the C8R and the end of GTLM

 Everyone has their disappointing stories about 2021 with the pandemic and all that had been impacted.

For fans of Corvette Racing, 2021 should have been a year to celebrate, as Corvette Finished #1 and #2 for the season, winning the Driver, Team, and Manufacturer Championships.  The victories are as hollow as a conch shell because we won primarily because everyone else quit.  Even worse, 2021 saw the end of the GTLM era -- a racing format that suited Corvette Racing (and its fans, as described below) perfectly.  Here are my reflections and analysis:

The 2020 season saw the debut of the new mid-engine C8 Corvette.  And what a debut it was!  Although the first race of the season, the 24 hours of Daytona, did not go well, by the second race of the season, one or the other Corvette finished in 1st place in seven of the remaining nine races.  At season's end, the #3 Corvette had a commanding 32 point lead over the second place BMW, with the #4 Corvette finishing close behind in third place.  The seven car field included two Corvettes, two BMWs, two factory Porsche entries and one Ferrari.  Corvette Racing did not participate in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2020 because of the whole pandemic thing.  The Corvette faithful were eager for the 2021 season to begin and hopeful that life would return to normal.  It was not to be.

2021 Season

By the time the 2021 IMSA season started, the two factory Porsche cars had dropped out, leaving a field of two Corvettes, two BMW M8 GTLM entries, the lone #79 Porsche fielded by Weather Tech Racing, and the Risi Competizone Ferrari team.  The season started well for Corvette Racing with a 1 - 2 finish at Daytona.  Sebring, the second race, was a bit disappointing, but the #3 Corvette scored another 1st place finish in the third race at Watkins Glen.  After the third race, Ferrari and both BMWs had dropped out, leaving just the Weather Tech Porsche and the two Corvettes to compete for the remainder of the season. Of the ten races, a Corvette finished in 1st place 7 times.

By season's end the Corvettes had finished 1 - 2 in total points and won the "triple crown" of Driver, Team, and Manufacturer championships.  Chevrolet made a big deal of this, but it was very hard to get enthused about the season. 

As part of the 2021 season, Corvette Racing returned to Le Mans, and ran a fantastic race, finishing in second place for its class, and very close to the winning Ferrari.  Here is my post about that race:

The C8R Debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans

Other than Le Mans, it was difficult for me to get very enthused about the racing season.  So much so that I stopped blogging about my favorite sport.

The End of the GTLM

2021 also saw the demise of the GTLM class, something we all saw coming, a victim of economics as much as anything.  During this period, Corvette was dominant with 14 Manufacturer and 15 Team championships -- more than any other sports car.

But for me, and I think most Corvette Racing fans, the GTLM era was so much more than the races.  Chevrolet would bring huge displays showcasing the latest cars, engines, and options.  Fans could get up close and personal to see the C7 when it was released, and the C8 in turn, before they had been available for purchase.  Examples of the Z06 and the ZR1 were showcased attracting big crowds.  Doug Fehan, everyone's favorite Corvette Racing Team leader,  was joined by legends from Corvette racing history and all of them were readily accessible to their adoring fans.  We could rub elbows with the drivers, and interview the Corvettes engineers who were designing the cars we all wanted. Representatives from Mobil and Michelin offered tech sessions at the Corvette Corals and always had nice raffle prizes for those in attendance. GTLM was a rolling party, and Nan and I visited so many tracks: Long Beach, Laguna Seca, Road America, Watkins Glen, Sebring, and the biggest treat of all -- Le Mans.  We met so many nice people from all across the Country, and many have become friends.

I realize that something had to change to keep Corvette Racing viable, but I'm afraid that however the new racing program evolves in 2022 and beyond, it will never measure up to the joy we found in GTLM.  Hopefully I will be wrong!

Saturday, May 7, 2022

C8R gets 99.9537% of a First-Place Finish at 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans

For the 21st time in 22 years, Corvette Racing crossed the Atlantic to participate in the greatest endurance race of all time – the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The race is normally staged in June, but like everything everywhere the race had to be delayed -- it was rescheduled to August.

The Corvette faithful were eager to see how the new mid-engine platform, embodied in the C8R race car, would compete with the similar configurations of Ferrari, Porsche and other World-class sports cars. The plan had been to debut the C8R last year (2020), but, well, you know. . . . . .

The field in LMGTE PRO in 2021 year included eight entries -- two factory Ferraris, two factory Porsches, two independent Porsche teams, and the two Corvettes. In past years the field has included Aston Martin, BMW, and the blue oval boys (but they only come to Le Mans to stage publicity stunts -- they don't take the event seriously or come consistently like real sports car manufacturers). 

 The # 63 Corvette was in contention for first place the entire race.  Each of the three Corvette drivers drove double stints to start the race and later triple stints, and each driver led the race for a time.  After 12 hours there were 5 LMGTE PRO cars on the lead lap -- the #51 Ferrari, #63 Corvette, #92 Porsche, #91 Porsche, and #52 Ferrari.  With six hours remaining it had become a two-car race.  

I had gone to bed with about 8 hours to go.  When I woke up at 7:00 AM I was hoping for better results -- but the race was exactly the same as the night before.  Ferrari - Corvette lap after lap, lap after lap.  The C8R had excellent pace and the drivers had done everything they could to catch the race leader.

In the end, the Corvette was just 40 seconds behind the Ferrari -- or 99.9537% as fast at the 1st place finisher.

Here is the post-race quote from Chevy:

"Today's second-place result in GTE Pro for the No. 63 Corvette C8.R and drivers Antonio Garcia, Jordan Taylor and Nicky Catsburg is a significant achievement as we debuted the mid-engine Corvette C8.R at Le Mans," said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet U.S Vice President, Performance and Motorsports. "To be on the podium at Le Mans with the C8.R is very gratifying. It's a testament to the hard work and determination of our Corvette production and racing teams."

In 2022, we have finished the first four races of the new racing class -- GT PRO -- and the Corvette Racing folks are heading back to Le Mans for a second attempt to win the greatest endurance race of all time.

Good luck to Corvette Racing!