By: Dan Scanlan
It was cold, cloudy and windy when the two Mobil 1/SiriusXM Chevrolet Corvette C7.Rs snarled past the starting flag at this year’s Rolex 24 At Daytona, battling against Porsches, BMWs, Lexuses, Ferraris, Ford GTs and Lamborghinis.
Bright yellow, as they have been for years, they would ultimately face some issues of their own as both led the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class on multiple occasions in the opening half, then torrential rain and two red flags as Sunday came to life.
But as the No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R of Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller led the team’s effort with a sixth-place class finish, and the No. 4 Corvette C7.R of Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Marcel Fässler finished in 8th place in class, thousands of fans were having Corvette racing dreams of their own near the pits. For only the second time in Chevrolet history, a Corvette is now available in a Drivers Series special edition. Actually, there’s four, all Grand Sports designed in collaboration with Corvette Racing team drivers Milner, Gavin, Magnussen and Garcia.
The idea came from Chevrolet exterior design manager Kirk Bennion, a racing fan who was also at the Rolex 24, according to Corvette Marketing Manager Todd Christensen. “He thought, boy what a perfect opportunity to engage our championship winning drivers in with our Corvette design themes,” Christensen said. “Corvette is sort of the epitome of track to street, and everything we do in racing has an influence on our street cars. And since we were just clean off a three-peat for team championship, they thought, ‘Boy wouldn’t it be cool to do one for each of the constant drivers?’ So it’s really just having a little bit of fun and trying to bring some of the drivers’ personality in.”
So first, some numbers. Chevrolet says 18,791 Corvettes were sold in 2018, for 25.079 percent of the luxury sports car segment, with the Porsche 911 at 7.5 percent and 9,647 sold. Of those, 7,198 (31 percent) were the base Stingray Coupe and 1,504 convertibles, while the Grand Sport was 26 percent of sales, 6,402 Coupe and 1,139 convertibles. And the favorite color – 19 percent Arctic White. The last time Chevrolet designated a Corvette special edition after a race car driver was 2007, with its limited-to-399 white-and-red Chevrolet Ron Fellows ALMS GT1 Champion Corvette Z06. It got chrome wheels, a low-profile rear spoiler, a windshield banner and Arctic White paint with red-and-silver stripes on the front fenders, evoking the Corvette GT1’s that Fellows navigated to victory. Add Ron’s autograph on a fender stripe, and $77,500 could get one with the Z06’s 7-liter, 505-hp V-8.
Fast forward 12 years, and fans got up close with the No. 001 of the four Drivers Series cars at Daytona, their specific exterior color and unique graphics package inspired by each driver. So what could each driver do within the parameters of a mass-produced sports car? Don’t expect the C7.R’s wings and ground effects, Christensen said. “Timing is of the essence since we are just off our championship, so they had to use our parts bin, if you will,” he said. “So what are the current options, colors and features? Luckily Corvette has a lot of combinations and are very customizable. So that was really the bookend, and Kirk (Bennion) had some ideas.”
The drivers gave designers input at race tracks last year, plus the race shop and during conference calls. “Our drivers are so well versed in Corvettes, they have knowledge,” he said. For example, Gavin’s is Shadow Gray with Torch Red center vent stripe and fender hash marks, Carbon Flash mirrors, black wheels with red stripe, red brake calipers and Adrenaline Red interior with red seat belts. The design came off Gavin’s well-known racing helmet, dark blue with a very bright stripe down the center.
“That’s where they started the theme – get close to his helmet that he’s used for his whole career, and a pretty iconic design,” Christensen said. “It’s trying it all in, the dark gray color that has a blue tint so it’s close to his helmet. The red stripe down the center, obviously the Grand Sport heritage stripes. Then bringing all the red themes into it – the unique wheels with red pinstripe and matching red calipers and red interior rounds out the theme.”
Milner’s is done in Elkhart Lake Blue with silver stripes and red hash marks, body-color mirrors, black wheels with red stripe and red brake calipers. Jet Black Suede interior (leather seats on 1LT) with red seat belts are inside. Magnussen went old school with the Fellows-style Arctic White exterior with Crystal Red stripes and gray fender hash marks, body-color mirrors, black wheels with red stripe and red brake calipers and a Jet Black interior with red seat belts. There’s red stitching on 3LT trim.
At the base of each car’s center stack is a driver-specific interior plaque. “Each one has the driver’s name and they are individually numbered, so as we built these cars, each series will have a sequence of numbers,” Christensen said “These are all No. 01 of each series. We decided not to limit it. We will see what happens.” Get the 3LT trim and there is carbon fiber interior trim.
The four new cars got a very soft reveal – Chevrolet just parked them at its media center in Daytona’s infield a few days before the Rolex 24, then did an official event a day before the race. The cars were swarmed all race weekend-long. “It’s sure fun to have our Corvette fans here appreciating this,” Christensen said “. We had 100-plus Corvette owners come to see what news we had, and I am not sure any other brand has owners who would do that. They are excited about it. … A lot of them are collectors and like to have something unique, especially with the commemorative numbers”
No changes under the bonnet, so don’t expect the Corvette Racing C7.R race car’s 5.5-liter Pratt and Whitney-crafted engine. The 3,428-lb. coupe comes with an aluminum 6.2-liter V-8 with 460-hp, meaning 60-mph arrives in just 3.6 seconds with a 7-speed manual or 8-speed paddle shifter automatic. The naturally aspirated V-8 is 460 hp, with a dry-sump oiling system like the race car.
Since the only driver’s editions were the ones at the track, we didn’t get any seat time, but they should act just like the regular Grand Sport, as Casey Williams wrote in 2017 at http://car-data.com/corvette-grand-sport-laps-indy-with-ease-p4212-100.htm. Other goodies: active exhaust for a snarl and 5-position Drive Mode Selector adjusting steering feel, suspension damping, and throttle response. The leather bucket seats were firm and very supportive, facing a hide-covered dashboard with familiar wrap-around gauge package with carbon fiber accents on lots of them. It’s cozy but roomy, the flat-bottomed steering wheel carrying familiar GM controls, while the HVAC and audio controls were familiar too.
Outside, the street car carries wide fenders and rear quarter panels to handle the 19-inch front and 20-inch rear Michelin Pilot Super Sport run-flat summer-only tires, the Grand Sport’s composite body gaining functional brake ducts and enhanced cooling package, plus 14.6-inch front/14.4-inch rear Brembo brakes. They get six-piston calipers in front and four-piston in back. The cars have magnetic ride control, specific stabilizer bars and unique springs, plus electronic limited-slip differential and five-position Driver Mode Selector. An optional Z07 package adds larger carbon ceramic-matrix brake rotors and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 summer-only tires.
The base price of a 2019 Grand Sport 1LT is $65,900, while the 2LT starts at $70,355 and the 3LT is $75,645. Production begins now on the Drivers Series Package, which adds $5,000 to the price of a 1LT or 2LT Grand Sport, and $6,000 to the price of a 3LT. And while the Corvette drivers who customized these cars didn’t fare too well at Daytona, Sebring is coming soon. And Corvette Racing has won 99 races in IMSA competition since 1999, the most of any professional sports car racing team based in North America.
As for whether this is the last special edition C7 Corvette before the next generation, even the long-awaited mid-engine car comes out, Christensen said he didn’t “know if he had the answer to that.” “I can neither confirm nor deny,” he said with a smile.
Top Image: all four drivers and cars, photo courtesy of Chevrolet. All other images by Dan Scanlan