‘Vettes-to-go: Chevy unsheathes Z06 GT3.R for customer racing teams

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 4, 2023

Daytona Beach, Florida — There are fast food franchises. Corvette is franchising fast race cars.

Chevrolet unveiled the Corvette Z06 GT3.R race car Friday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway, the first GT3-class ‘Vette available to private race teams to campaign in race series around the world. General Motors sports car racing manager Laura Klauser introduced the car to a sea of racing enthusiasts here for the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.

The Z06 GT3.R will make its race debut here a year from now in the IMSA Weathertech GTD class, where it will clash with GT3-class competitors like the Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Mercedes, Acura, Aston Martin and BMW.

The Z06 GT3.R follows a quarter-century of success by General Motors Co.’s exclusive Corvette Racing team. Managed by Pratt Miller race shop in New Hudson, the factory team has tallied 15 North American sports car championships, eight 24 Hours of Le Mans victories and four Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona wins. The factory program’s most recent generation racer, the C8.R, was crucial to development of the production supercar’s first mid-engine model — in particular the 5.5-liter, dual-overhead-cam engine in the 2023 Z06 now in showrooms that makes a record 670-horsepower for a naturally-aspirated V-8.

Now GM will spread the wealth around, making the Z06 GT3.R eligible across the globe for the popular GT3 class. In addition to IMSA races like Daytona and Sebring, the Corvette GT3.R is also eligible for international FIA events like the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Ford has also announced development of a GT3 Mustang race car to compete in 2024. With delivery to customers beginning this summer, the Z06 GT3.R will be eligible to race in next January’s 2024 Rolex 24.

GM sportscar racing manager Laura Klauser introduced the Chevy Corvette GT3. R to an enthusiastic crowd at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.

“The Corvette Z06 GT3.R breaks new ground for Chevrolet,” said Mark Stielow, director of GM Motorsports Engineering Competition. “This customer-focused race car leverages learnings from throughout Corvette Racing’s history.”

Where the Corvette Racing team’s C8.R (and previous-generation C5-R, C6.R and C7.R racers) cut its teeth in IMSA’s now-retired GTLM class, the Z06 GT3.R will be truer to the production-based Z06. The result is a more affordable weapon — backed by factory technical and parts support — that satisfies international as well as domestic series like Daytona’s IMSA GTD class.

The Z06 GT3.R was birthed by a collaboration of Pratt Miller and GM’s Competition Motorsports Engineering.  Racing has long been a brand accelerator and petri dish for technology transfer to GM’s production models. The Corvette GT3 program will also bring in revenue. It’s a business formula than has proved successful for Porsche and Ferrari for years. Of the 33 cars entered in this weekend’s Daytona 24-Hour, seven are with Porsche 911 GT3 customer teams and four are Ferrari GT3 privateers.

The Chevy Corvette Z06 GT3.R race car is available to private teams who want to compete against GT3 Porsches, Ferraris, and Lamborghinis.

“Corvette Racing has been an important influence on the design of Corvette production cars for 25 years,” said Corvette Executive Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter. “Corvette production and racing teams worked together closely in development to maximize the benefits of a mid-engine design.”

The GT3.R bears an uncanny resemblance to the Z06 road car — a version of which was present at the Z06 GT3.R’s debut. Both Z06 and Z06 GT3.R use similar, carbon-fiber front splitters for enhanced downforce in high-speed corners. From windshield to tail, surface elements of the Z06 stayed intact for the Z06 GT3.R, most notably side-air ducts to cool the engine and rear brakes. The Z06 GT3.R even features a production-inspired, side-impact crash structure between the driver’s-side door and roll cage.

“We wanted to make sure there was a synergy between the production and race cars,” said designer Phil Zack. “And what we learn in racing goes back into the production design as well.”

You’ll know the race car — not just by its decals, huge rear wing and accompanying diffuser — but by its unique, large opening in the hood to better extract air after it moves through the radiator.

Like the production Corvette, the Z06 GT3.R begins life as an aluminum frame in Chevy’s Bowling Green, Kentucky, assembly plant. Once it moves to Pratt Miller in New Hudson, just south of I-96, a purpose-built, steel-roll cage is secured to the chassis. Engineers upgrade the front-and-rear suspension with race springs and dampers, competition-specific rotors, and brakes. The wing and diffuser are part of an aero package specific to the Z06 GT3.R to optimize downforce, stability and cooling.

The Chevy Corvette Z06 GT3.R race car uses a front hood scoop to suck air through the radiator.

Corvette Racing was key to the development of the 5.5-liter, flat-plane crankshaft DOHC V-8 that eventually made its way into the production Z06. Track development began in 2019 — years ahead of the 2023 model Z06 road car. The so-called LT6 engine comes off the same line in Bowling Green on which production Z06 engines are built. The powerplant shares over 70% of its parts with the production engine, including the crankshaft, connecting rods and cylinder heads.

The race car’s engine will be capped at 500 horsepower and 7,000 rpm to satisfy Balance of Performance GT3 racing rules meant to encourage close racing. The production engine, however, is undeterred by such requirements and spins to 8,600 rpm to make its 670 horses. Notably, Corvette will not use the hybrid drivetrain from the Corvette E-Ray race car recently introduced for the 2024 model year. GM is focusing its hybrid race development on the Cadillac GTP prototype. Hybrids aren’t allowed in GT3 racing — Acura’s all-wheel-drive NSX hybrid, for example, shed its electric motors for a simpler, RWD, twin-turbo V-6 powertrain.

Customers of the Corvette Racing “franchise” will benefit from a support program. That includes an at-track parts truck expanding to overseas events in the first two years of the Z06 GT3.R program. Corvette Racing will carry full spares packages of bodywork and internal components while engineers will assist teams with pre-race documentation, chassis setup and data analysis.

The Chevy Corvette GT3. R features major aerodynamics upgrades to help it stick to the ground at tracks like Daytona International Speedway.

“Supporting our customers is an area where we are putting in a lot of time and effort,” said Christie Bagne, GM assistant sports car racing program manager. “With this being our first customer GT3 offering, we have had meetings with many prospective customers to learn from their previous experiences, find what is important to them from a support standpoint and come up with a program that meets their expectations.”

“This has been an intense but very rewarding process,” said Klauser. “From the time we announced a Corvette GT3 car, I’ve received more inquiries than I can count. It’s a testament to a known product like Corvette, the minds behind design, development and build, and the success of Corvette Racing.”

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

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