Mid-engine Corvette racer debuts new engine, livery

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Atlanta – The all-new Corvette C8.R race car that debuted Thursday at Road Atlanta marks an onslaught on international racing with Chevrolet's first-ever mid-engine production sports car.

Sporting a large wing, lightened chassis and a different V-8 than the production car, the C8.R will debut at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in January, just as production cars begin arriving in showrooms.

As with the current front-engine C7.R race car (which wraps up its racing career here the IMSA Weathertech 10 Hour Petit LeMans), development of the C8.R racer was integral to development of the production model. Chevrolet’s racing partner, New Hudson-based Pratt & Miller, shared and tested technology with the production program.

“It was important for us to develop the new race car alongside the production car, so that each product could properly take advantage of the new architecture,” said Corvette Chief Engineer Ed Piatek. “We share more parts — about 100 — between the race car and production car than ever before.”

One part that won't be shared is an all-new 5.5-liter, overhead-cam, flat-plane crank engine. (The production cars is a traditional 6.2-liter push-rod engine.)

With its V-8 engine mass over the rear wheels for the first time, the Corvette C8.R promises the ability to put the power to the pavement faster out of corners.

Though GM won't confirm the engine for future production cars, it is a radical departure from Corvette's previous small-block V-8s. Detroit News sources have said the production car will get two more drivetrain in addition to the base V-8.

The C8.R's naturally aspirated engine will produce 500 horsepower — not much more than the production car's 495 horses — but with faster-revving capabilities. Flat-plane cranks have been used by Ferrari in some of its engines.

"The flat-plane crank engine breathes better, has lower inertia and is more responsive than the push-rod engine," said Corvette Chief Engineer Ed Piatek. The new engine will likely be restrained to 6,500 rpms by IMSA engine rules, he said.

The race engine is mated to a compact, six-speed sequential gearbox instead of the production 8-speed.

Though it is based on the same platform as the production car, new technology allowed the race team to design the C8.R long before production parts availability. State-of-the art 3-D printed prototype parts, wind tunnels and hydraulic simulators were used to evaluate subsequent chassis and aerodynamic designs.

The design of the Corvette C8.R is familiar to the C8 production model with its angled lines, short nose and big rear hips. Extra headlamps have been added for night racing.

The C8.R will compete in North America’s IMSA Weathertech series – including stops at Mid-Ohio Raceway near Columbus and Mosport Raceway outside Toronto – as well as the LeMans 24-Hour race in France next June. The C8.R looks to continue the C7.R’s run of success which includes championships in 2016-18, two first-place finishes at Daytona, and a LeMans win.

Road Atlanta also marks the exit from racing of the mid-engine Ford GT. The Corvette will compete against other mid-engine cars in IMSA’s GTLM class, including the Ferrari 488 and Porsche 911.

The mid-engine layout offers significant benefits to the Corvette team, including lightweighting and more neutral handling. But its most significant benefit may be better traction. With its V-8 engine mass over the rear wheels for the first time, the C8.R promises the ability to put the power to pavement faster out of corners – an inherent advantage of the Porsches that have dominated the championship chase this year.

"There are a variety of reasons to do a mid-engine car," said driver Tommy Milner, who will race the car next year. "The driver is more centrally located, and the car rotates around us. It will also put power down better which has been a huge advantage for Porsche."

Out back the Corvette C8.R drags a huge diffuser to compliment the massive trunk wing for better downforce.

The design of the C8.R is familiar to the production model with its angled lines, short nose and big rear hips. This being a race car built to meet the high-stress of endurance racing, however, some details (engine aside) have changed.

Gone is the front trunk – “frunk” – replaced by a central radiator. For better driver visibility at 200 mph on Le Mans' Mulsanne Straight in the middle of the night, extra headlamps have been fitted where the production car’s small, side radiators reside. 

The race car’s will maintain the No. 3 and No. 4 from the outgoing C7.R, with the No. 3 car in traditional Corvette racing-yellow. But, in a nod to Corvette’s long history of design concepts that ultimately bore fruit in the C8, the No. 4 car will get a fresh, silver livery inspired by the 1973 Chevrolet Aerovette and the 1959 Corvette Stingray Racer.

“Since the mid-engine race car is such a revolutionary vehicle," said Chevy creative designer Vlad Kapitonov, "we felt it would be fitting to honor Corvette racing’s legacy with both a redesigned, modern livery."

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.