This weekend is a big one for Corvette Racing, which is making its 19th start in the Le Mans 24 Hours as part of its 20th anniversary as a team. A class win on Sunday would be Pratt & Miller’s ninth at Le Mans, setting the team up for a potential 10th victory in its 20th Le Mans appearance in 2019.
But which model will Corvette Racing bring to the party next year? Its current C7.R GTE is now the oldest car in the GTE Pro field, and coming toward the end of its life cycle. But this year is unlikely to be its last as a factory car.
“I don’t think the regulations allow [us to homologate a car next year], with the advent of the ‘Super Season’ and the timing of the way the rules read,” Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan explained to RACER today at La Sarthe. “I don’t think we’d be able to homologate anything next year; we’ll be running what we’re running now.”
Whether or not the next-generation Corvette will feature a radical change in philosophy though, remains to be seen.
“As far as new cars go, eventually there will be an eighth-generation Corvette; right now I don’t know when that’s going to be,” Fehan said. “But I can ensure everyone that when it comes out we will be racing it.
“Chevrolet and Corvette have some of the most advanced engineers in the world, and produce a great product. When you talk about mid-engined and front-engined, I look over at our friends from Ferrari, who have introduced their fastest production car ever, and they’ve done it with a front-engined car.
“There’s a lot of speculation whether or not the next Corvette will be mid-engined or not. But we won’t find that out until we find out when or if they’re going to build one.”
There is another question mark too, and that’s surrounding the 2020 and 2024 top class regulations set to be released by the ACO tomorrow at Le Mans. It looks as if the new top class will feature prototypes that look like hypercars, leaning more toward a GTP formula and away from what we’re used to with the current LMP1 breed.
And crucially, with the C7.R likely to continue racing next year, Corvette has time to decide on its future.
Fehan is intrigued by the potential of the 2020 regulations, and rather than rule out Corvette making the big step into the top class, everyone involved in the program will take a step back and consider if a change of direction is the right move after tomorrow’s conference.
“Every year we step back, and globally we look at what developments have taken place in racing, where we can best showcase our product,” he told RACER. “And we will do that after the rules and philosophies are released and they have a blueprint for where they want to go. I can guarantee you that we’ll go away and evaluate it, and see if it fits our plans. You can never rule anything in, or out.
“Right now it would be too soon to say because we haven’t seen them. But it would be unfair to say we’re not interested in doing that. Every year we look where we can go, and the objective is to find the right place.
“Sometimes it makes sense to move to something else, sometimes it makes sense to continue on the road you’re going down. We’re not ruling anything out; an overall win at Le Mans is a unique situation, and when you look at the intent of the past, efforts to create something unique became too expensive. This move, to the credit of the sanctioning bodies, is to find something that’s more affordable and technologically representative of where you want to go, with proper brand identification, so it would stand a better chance of attracting manufacturers.
“But, I’m sure that there will still be manufacturers who continue to run both [in GTE and in the top class]. Porsche is a prime example, with a big customer race program, and they’ve shown in the past that they can do both.”
In the meantime, the C7.R GTE is here to stay, racing in IMSA and at Le Mans. A full-scale WEC attack in GTE for the brand is still unlikely. While desirable, it would require “the separate GM companies [from outside of the North American arm] coming together, which isn’t easy to do.”
There is a chance Corvette could defend its home turf in the WEC’s race at Sebring next year, as it did before when the WEC raced with IMSA at Circuit of The Americas in 2014.
“Everything is on the table,” Fehan explained. “Is it a possibility? Of course! It’s a distinct possibility.”