The mid-engine Chevy Corvette celebrated July 4 with its first win in international racing competition.
Piloted by Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor, the No. 3 Corvette C8.R race car was the first GTLM-class car to take the checkered flag at the Daytona 240 Saturday night as the Weathertech IMSA Sportscar series returned to the track after being sidelined for months by the coronavirus. The C8.R made its racing debut in January at the Rolex Daytona 24-Hour race before COVID-19 concerns temporarily shut down the race season.
Corvette's race team, New Hudson-based Pratt & Miller, had just a month to prepare the car after engineers and crew returned June 4 from the coronavirus lockdown. Working at a breakneck pace between their Michigan shop and a North Carolina simulator, the team hit the track for the first time on July 3, just 24 hours before Saturday night's green flag.
The victory was all the sweeter because Corvette nipped its Porsche nemesis at the finish by just two seconds.
"Knowing the cars were just sitting there idle was tough for everybody, but we had four weeks to get everything done," said Pratt & Miller team manager Ben Johnson. "IMSA had a (track) testing ban through all of June (because they) understandably want to continue to protect everyone."
The C8.R is the racing version of the 2020 Corvette C8 — the first Corvette in the badge’s 60-year history to put the engine behind the driver — that went into production this spring. Offered in coupe and convertible models, the C8 has been wildly popular with orders for the 2020 model sold out.
The Corvette crossed the finish line in front of some 5,000 fans as Daytona offered limited ticket sales for the event to Florida residents. The race was broadcast on NBCSN.
"This win is twice as special for Chevrolet, as Corvette Racing has now achieved 100 victories in IMSA competition,” said Chevy motorsports chief Jim Campbell.
The 'Vettes dominated qualifying, starting the race 1-2 on the front row. But tricky weather conditions led to a variety of race strategies. The pole-sitting, silver No. 4 car led with just an hour to go, but ultimately dropped to 5th at the finish. Its No. 3 sister car played a perfect strategy and emerged from its last pit stop right behind the leading Porsche.
Garcia made the winning pass with 31 minutes left — setting the race's fastest GTLM lap of in the process — and held off Porsche for the win. A Mazda in IMSA's prototype class was the outright race winner.
"It is amazing,” said Garcia’s co-driver Taylor who raced a Cadillac prototypes in the IMSA series from 2014-17. “I think the off time gave the Corvette Racing guys some decent time to make some headway with our new C8.R. Our fuel mileage, engine and drivability at the beginning of the race was much better than the first race.”
Key to development during that time off was two driver simulator tests conducted on big North Carolina-based rigs in June. With engineers feeding in data remotely, the simulators tests enabled drivers to virtually test changes that had been made to the cars in New Hudson.
"After the Rolex 24, we really came out with a full notebook of things we wanted to work on and investigate," said Pratt & Miller's Johnson. "We started on that and (then) were shut down. So our main focus from engineering perspective were the simulator events. They were a big step forward."
Still, the drivers wouldn't be sure of how the cars performed until the heat of battle.
The C8.R race car has been integral in development of the production, $59,995 C8. The two cars share more parts than any previous generation of Corvette — including a high-revving, 5.5-liter, flat-plane crank V-8 that will debut in high-performance Z06, ZR1 and Zora versions of the Corvette in years to come.
While the race engine is limited to 500 horsepower by IMSA regulations, the production model could produce as much as 1,000 horsepower.
The Corvette C8.R competes alongside some of the world’s most notable performance brands — Porsche, BMW, Ferrari — in the GT series all over the world.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.