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Payne: Corvette Racing goes big with two global series, Z06 GT3.R customer car


Chevrolet is revving up its Corvette race program.

Corvette Racing has been integral to development and marketing of the brand’s iconic sportscar, and, for the first time in its 24-year history, the race team will compete for both the 2022 IMSA sportscar championship in the U.S. and World Endurance series overseas. Come the 2024 calendar year, GM will offer — also for the first time — the mid-engine, C8.R race car to private teams to go head-to-head against Lamborghini, Ferrari, Aston Martin and other supercars in international GT3 competition.

The program expansion follows the C8.R’s second straight U.S. title in the IMSA endurance sportscar series. That success has paralleled the red-hot sales of the production Corvette with sale prices often well above sticker.

“This is the most ambitious schedule that Corvette Racing has faced,” said Jim Campbell, chief of parent General Motors Co.'s Chevy Performance and Motorsports. “It will be an honor to race in both the IMSA and WEC series at some of the best tracks in the world.”

A dominant player in IMSA since Corvette first went GT racing in 1999, the team has also raced in choice World Endurance Championship (WEC) races like France's Le Mans and Spa in Belgium. The new year will mark the first time Corvette will field a full-time car in both series. Since 2001, Corvette has won 13 IMSA manufacturers championships.

The announcement came as Chevy showed off the 670-horsepower Corvette Z06 performance model for the first time at a major auto show in Los Angeles. The Z06 shares the same high-revving V-8 engine the C8.R has been campaigning the last two years on the race circuit. A significant departure from the standard Corvette’s traditional push-rod, the Z06's 5.5-liter mill utilizes Ferrari-like flat-plane crank technology that shrieks to 8,600 RPM.

Corvette’s move comes as sports car racing undergoes a major shift in the next two years with unprecedented interest from manufacturers across the globe. Race teams from Cadillac, Acura, Audi, BMW and Porsche will compete in an international prototype class.

On the Grand Touring front, IMSA is consolidating its GT classes into one and eliminating the GTLM class where Corvette dominated the last two years over entrants from Porsche, Ferrari and BMW. For 2022, the team — managed by Pratt & Miller in New Hudson — will field a C8.R slightly modified for the GTD class with a different rear wing and customer Michelin racing tires.

The driver teams that were fielded in the 2021 IMSA GTLM class will split with the team of Antonio Garcia, Jordan Taylor and Nicky Catsburg (Garcia and Taylor were driver champs in 2021) going to IMSA GTD for its 10-race schedule, while Tommy Milner, Nick Tandy and Alexander Sims go globe-trotting in the WEC. The international series features six races at venues from Japan to Bahrain to Sebring, Florida.

"This is a World Championship and that is something that is really important for Corvette, Chevrolet and our team," said Tandy. "Going for a world championship is something that not many people compete for, so I’m looking forward to what comes ahead.”

Corvette will field two cars in June at the world’s premier endurance race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France, where it has won eight times since 2001.

Competitors in the IMSA GTD class run the gamut with private entries from Lamborghini, McLaren, Aston Martin, Porsche, Mercedes, Ferrari, Acura, Audi, Lexus and BMW. Intriguingly, the Chevy would be the only mainstream badge in a sea of luxury makes — a testimony to how much less the Corvette C8.R costs than its peers even as it boasts similar capability.

Corvette’s dive into customer racing follows boutique performance makers like Porsche and Ferrari, who for years have offered race-ready chassis for privateers around the world. The so-called Corvette Z06 GT3.R will raise the profile of Chevy internationally with more Corvettes on track.

“It’s an exciting time for Corvette — first with the reveal of the production Z06, and now confirming the Z06 GT3.R,” said Chevy Director of Motorsports Competition Engineering Mark Stielow. “The GT3.R will allow customer race teams the opportunity to campaign a Corvette that has benefited from Corvette Racing’s rich history.”

The production Z06 and GT3.R race car are closely related, with the latter sharing the same aluminum chassis, engine and similar aerodynamic features.

GT3 racing spans the planet with series in countries from England and Spain to Australia and Japan. In the U.S. the 2021 GT World Challenge America featured seven races.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.