Last November, GM Vice President Jim Campbell created a minor sensation when he unveiled the new Corvette Daytona Prototype at a special ceremony held at the eponymous raceway. The car was to make its racing debut at the Daytona 24-hour race in January, where it would be powered by a modified, 5.0L (305ci) LS9 engine making 530 hp at 7,000 rpm and 450 lb-ft of torque at 5,500 rpm without a supercharger. Much of the car's development resulted from a partnership between GM, Grand Am, and Pratt & Miller engineering. The body was designed to fit over an existing chassis built by Riley, Coyote, and Dallara engineering.
Four teams were selected to campaign the new Corvette DP: Spirit of Daytona (one car), Action Express Racing (two cars), SunTrust Racing (one car), and Gainsco Racing (one car). Drivers for the Spirit of Daytona team include factory Corvette Racing shoes Antonio Garcia, Richard Westbrook, Jan Magnussen, and Oliver Gavin.
January's "Roar Before the 24" event featured three days of testing, and the Corvette DPs looked to be top contenders. The SunTrust Corvette, driven by Max "The Ax" Angelelli, turned the quickest lap time with a 1:41.142, for an average speed of 126.712 mph. All of the Corvette DP drivers reported understeer in the low-to-medium speed corners, a problem caused by the design of the front splitter. A redesign was not possible before the race, however, so the teams worked on reducing scrub with chassis adjustments.
The race's official qualifying session showed just how closely matched the DP entries were: Only 1.54 seconds separated first through 10th positions. The fastest time was set by the No. 8 Starworks Ford Riley, with a 1:41.119 at 126.741. Next up was the No. 10 SunTrust Corvette DP, with a 1:41.240 at 126.590. The No. 99 Gainsco Corvette was fourth with a 1:141.519 lap. Fifth was the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette at 1:141.611. The No. 9 Action Express Corvette's best effort was a 1:42.074, good for seventh. The second No. 5 Action Express Corvette lost its engine near the end of the 15-minute qualifying session and was unable to qualify. A small oil fire broke out but was quickly extinguished, and driver Darren Law escaped unhurt. The team quickly went to work repairing the damaged car.
01 The No. 90 Spirit of Daytona...
01 The No. 90 Spirit of Daytona team pushes its Corvette DP entry to the starting grid before the race.
02 The No. 10 SunTrust Corvette...
02 The No. 10 SunTrust Corvette DP qualified second, just 0.121 behind the pole-winning Ford.
03 The leading No. 99 Gainsco...
03 The leading No. 99 Gainsco Corvette DP is hounded by the eventual winner, the No. 60 Riley Ford. No. 99 battled for the lead for seven hours before losing ground due to a radiator failure.
Record crowds filled the infield portion of the Daytona International Speedway on race day. After driver introductions, the 58 starters--including the now-repaired No. 5 Action Express Corvette--lined up to take the green flag. The race kicked off at 3:30 p.m. under sunny skies, and the dash to the finish began in earnest.
The No. 10 SunTrust Corvette stayed close to the leader until suddenly pitting 25 minutes after the start. The car had experienced an engine failure and was out of the race. At the end of the first hour, the No. 99 Gainsco Corvette held the lead. The other Corvette DPs were seventh (No. 90), eighth (No. 9), and 12th (No. 5). First through 10th positions were on the same lap. The No. 5 Corvette was one lap behind after having a small electrical problem fixed. Pit stops for the DP cars were every 45 to 50 minutes, due to Grand Am rules mandating that the DP-class entries be fitted with 18-gallon fuel tanks. The numerous stops provided fans with a lot of pit action but took its toll on the crewmembers.
At the end of six hours, the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette led the pack, followed by the No. 99 Gainsco Corvette only 0.365 seconds behind. The other two Corvette DPs were eighth (No. 5) and ninth (No. 9). The top 10 cars were all on the same lap, which showed how tight the competition was.
Drama hit in the 12th hour when the No. 90 Corvette lost an axle, necessitating a lengthy repair. The only Corvette matching the leader's pace was the No. 5 Action Express car; it was on the same lap as the leader, in fourth place and 37.458 seconds back. The No. 99 Gainsco Corvette lost its radiator during the seventh hour, followed by its water pump in the 11th. The car dropped many laps during repairs and tumbled well down in the standings.
As the sun rose over the speedway, the three fastest Corvettes were fifth (No. 5), ninth (No. 90), and 10th (No. 9). The No. 99 car was 40th and trying to make up ground. The leaders were slowly pulling away, and No. 5 was three laps behind first place. This gap remained until the checkered flag.
The final result found Corvette DPs in Fifth (No. 5), Eighth (No. 90), Ninth (No. 9), and 33rd (No. 99). While a season-opening victory would have been even sweeter, it's already clear that the cars are legitimate championship contenders. We'll keep you up to date on how they perform throughout the season.
04 The only Corvette GT in...
04 The only Corvette GT in the field was the No. 46 car, entered by Michael Baughman Racing. Unfortunately, the car experienced transmission problems that kept it out of contention.
05 As the sun began to set,...
05 As the sun began to set, the No. 5 Action Express Corvette was 46 seconds behind the leader and battling with the Spirit of Daytona Corvette for position.
DIS Celebrates 50 Years of Sports-Car Racing
On February 22, 1959, Daytona International Speedway hosted its first race, a 500-mile NASCAR contest that would go on to become the annual Daytona 500. Owner Bill France wanted his new facility to attract an international audience as well, so he commissioned a 3.81-mile sports-car track that utilized the high-speed oval's infield as well as a large section of its banked pavement. He scheduled DIS' first three-hour sports-car event, called the Daytona Continental, on November 2, 1962. A total of 10 Corvettes were entered, and Dr. Dick Thompson finished First in class (13th overall). The race had a controversial ending that resulted in a major rule change. It started when Dan Gurney began his last lap in a Lotus 19B sports racer, with a one-lap lead over the field. As he approached the finish line, the camshaft in his tiny 2.5-liter Climax engine broke. He parked under the flag stand and waited until the checkered flag fell, then powered his car across the line using the starter. He was declared the winner, but the rules were changed to state that winners had to cross the line under the car's engine power.
06 After a quick nighttime...
06 After a quick nighttime pit stop, the No. 90 tears off to rejoin the race.
07 The strain of multiple...
07 The strain of multiple pit stops is beginning to show on the faces of the Spirit of Daytona crew. They stayed glued to the TV monitor to watch for any sign of trouble with their No. 90 entry.
08 With the sun rising over...
08 With the sun rising over DIS, the battered No. 9 car works hard to make up lost laps. A GT Camaro can be seen in the background.
The following year the race was expanded to 13 hours, a format it would follow through 1965. Corvettes were always present but never capable of an overall win. In 1966 the race was expanded again, this time to the 24-hour length it runs today. The course itself was reduced to 3.56 miles, and a "bus stop" was added to the back straight to slow the cars.
The Speedway celebrated 50 years of sports-car racing this year by gathering 29 of the race's past winners and lining them up at the start/finish line for a photo session. Gurney's winning Lotus sat on the front row beside a Ford GT40 Mk II. On the next row were a Porsche 917 and the beautiful Penske Lola T-70B coupe, a Corvette-engined rocket that won the 1969 race.
It wasn't until 2001 that a Corvette would visit Victory Lane as an overall Daytona 24-Hour winner. That car--a C5-R driven by Ron Fellows, Chris Kneifel, Johnny O'Connell, and Franck Freon--was part of the display of past winners. Fellows himself did a parade lap in the car, which now resides in the GM Heritage Center in Detroit.
Team VETTE would like to thank the Spirit of Daytona team for its hospitality during the event.
09 The slower GT cars usually...
09 The slower GT cars usually move over to let the DP entries slip by. The No. 5 car was the highest placed Corvette at this point, running fifth overall and three laps behind the leader.
10 The No. 90 Spirit of Daytona...
10 The No. 90 Spirit of Daytona car makes its last pit stop before the checkered flag. Notice the damage to the left front fender.
11 The best-placed No. 5...
11 The best-placed No. 5 Corvette takes the checkered flag in Fifth. All the Corvette teams learned a lot about their new cars and should be competitive for the rest of the season.