Payne: Mid-engine Corvette invades Europe

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 18, 2021

Corvette will launch an all-out assault on Europe’s biggest race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, this year as the mid-engine supercar goes for its first win at the legendary French circuit. The race entry will be part of a two-front attack as America’s iconic sports car also goes on sale at European dealerships this fall.

In preparation for Le Mans, a yellow Corvette C8.R will fly solo at Belgium’s 1,000 Kilometers of Spa this May. Then a pair of ‘Vettes will take on the grueling French marathon August 21-22, seeking the team’s ninth win at the world’s most prestigious endurance track.

Corvette Racing; Rolex 24 at Daytona in Daytona Beach, Florida; January 30-31, 2021; Corvette C8.R #3 driven by Antonio Garcia, Jordan Taylor, and Nicky Catsburg; Corvette C8.R #4 driven by Tommy Milner, Nick Tandy, and Alexander Sims.

The mid-engine C8.R won the stateside, IMSA Weathertech series in 2020 in its maiden season. Due to the coronavirus, the team — managed by Pratt & Miller in New Hudson — was unable to compete abroad for the first time in 20 years. Corvette is already one-third of the way to winning the Big Three of international endurance races having won the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in January. The 12 Hours of Sebring and 24 Hours of Le Mans complete the trifecta.

“Not going to Le Mans last year was something we really missed. Going back there this year is something we all want,” said Antonio Garcia, who co-drove the winning Daytona car in January and is Corvette’s winningest all-time driver. “Obviously it’s one of the biggest races of the year. We’ve already won a 24-hour race, which gives us a lot of confidence.”

Garcia, a three-time Le Mans victor, will share driving duties with Jordan Taylor and Nicky Catsburg in the #63 C8.R. The trio of Tommy Milner, Nick Tandy, and Alexander Sims will drive the sister, #64 car. Combined, the six drivers have logged 43 appearances and seven victories at Le Mans. Garcia and team veteran Oliver Gavin will co-drive in the team’s May 1 Spa effort.

The mid-engine Corvette will go racing in Europe's WEC GT series this year. First at Spa - then at Le Mans in August. The #63 entry is shown here at Circuit of Americas in February 2020.

“Competing at Spa will provide the Corvette Racing team a bit of a refresher on specific rules and strategy methods that are unique to (European) races,” said Chevrolet in a press release. “Pit stop operations and safety car procedures are among the biggest differences” from US rules.

The production C8 has been wildly successful in the United States, selling out its 2020 production run and receiving rave media reviews including 2020 North American Car of the Year. The 2021 model has been the hottest-selling car in the US to start this year with models spending only 10 days on dealer lots before getting snapped up.

The C8.R’s bid for Le Mans glory will coincide with the two-door, ‘Vette Stingray going on sale in Europe this fall.

Starting price of the C8 in Europe will be significantly higher than the $60,995, 2021 US model. Chevrolet says that the supercar will start at $117,873 in Europe — or €99,000. The 495-horsepower, V8-powered beast will reportedly be offered in a range-topping 3LT trim level and come standard with the Z51 track package.

The Le Mans date has been pushed back from its traditional June date to August in hopes that France will allow spectators through the gates as the European continent recovers from COVID. That is important to Chevrolet’s Corvette franchise as well since racing is integral to selling cars.

Corvette Racing; Rolex 24 at Daytona in Daytona Beach, Florida; January 30-31, 2021; Corvette C8.R #3 driven by Antonio Garcia, Jordan Taylor, and Nicky Catsburg; Corvette C8.R #4 driven by Tommy Milner, Nick Tandy, and Alexander Sims.

“We do use racing in Europe as a way to meet with customers and Corvette enthusiasts to demonstrate the new C8,” said a Chevrolet spokesperson.

The previous generation C7 — the last front-engine Corvette built — sold in modest numbers (about 650 units a year) in Europe since 2014 with a hefty price tag and without the support of a dealer network as Chevrolet pulled the plug on Europe in 2015. The mid-engine supercar, however, will rival similar, more costly mid-engine Euro models — and will be the first ‘Vette offered in both left and right-hand drive.

The only car listed for sale on Chevrolet’s European website — chevroleteurope.com — is the Corvette.

“Product relevance has always been paramount in my mind,” Doug Fehan, founder of Corvette’ racing program, told The News early this year. “That’s how you connect with the customer. The final distillation is: we need to sell cars.”

The racing C8.R will compete in Europe’s GTE Pro class against rival Ferrari and Porsche. On the home front, Corvette will have its plate full competing for its second-straight GTLM class crown in  the 12-race IMSA Weathertech series.

Next stop: the 12 Hours of Sebring in Florida this Saturday, March 20.

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