This June marks a golden anniversary in Corvette lore: fifty years ago, the first Chevy sports cars took on the epic challenge of racing twice around the clock at LeMans. Three privately prepared cars were entered by the wealthy American sportsman Briggs Cunningham and one driven by John Fitch and Bob Grossman scored fifth place in the GT class with an eighth-overall finish and a average speed just under 98 mph. Crashes and an engine failure sidelined two of the Cunningham Team cars but a fourth 1960 Corvette fielded by Lloyd Casner's Camoradi team was tenth overall.
Success at LeMans was a huge leap forward for an American sports car especially since the Automotive Manufacturers Associations ban on direct factory participation in motorsports was in force. However, the ban didn't inhibit key Corvette personnel, including Zora Arkus-Duntov, from lending a hand during preparation at the Cunningham-Momo shop at Long Island, New York.
Later in the 1960s and into the seventies, other teams took their turn with Corvettes at LeMans but with less success. Entries fielded by Dick Guldstrand, Scuderia Fillipinetti, and John Greenwood were impressively quick in qualifying but distinctly lacking in longevity. Finally, another Corvette top-ten finish was achieved by Reeves Callaway in 1995 with a ninth overall and second in GT classification.
Fast forward to the 21st Century. A full factory effort campaigned by Pratt & Miller Racing began in 2000 with a race-prepped C5 Corvette for the GTS class at LeMans. Results came quickly. Corvettes finished third and fourth in class in the first run and by last year, the fleet of 12 C5Rs, eight C6Rs, and one intermediate C5-6 racer constructed by P&M had racked up an impressive string of LeMans finishes: 6 GTS or GT1 class victories, plus another 10 podium finishes.
In addition, the Corvette Racing effort absolutely dominated the American LeMans GTS and GT1 categories by scoring 77 class victories and a total of 26 driver, team, and manufacturer championships during the past decade.
Then, suddenly, this steamroller switched paths. After last summer's LeMans class victory, the Corvette GT1 racers were parked (and subsequently sold), and a new campaign commenced one class down in the GT2 category. The main reason for the change was that Chevrolet had nothing more to prove and no real competitors in the GT1 game. Also, GT1 and GT2 merges into a single GT category at LeMans this year.