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Chevy Corvette Wins At Sebring

by Bob Hagin

February 26, 2001

If you heard an unmuffled roar emanating from the throats of Corvette owners and fans all over the country a couple of Sundays ago, it's understandable. The reason for the outburst was because that vaulted marque wound up in the winner's circle at the 2001 running of the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series Rolex 24, a long title for an even longer race.

Sports car endurance racing has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in this country in recent years. This is good news for us old timers, because it was thought to be rapidly approaching extinction.

The Chevrolet victory at Daytona was particularly gratifying since it was won after 24 continuous hours of flat-out racing that was open to almost anything with four wheels, a motor and two seats. This includes some very fast machinery in the form of SRP (SportsRacing Prototypes), all-out racers that were never intended to be driven on the street. They have specially-constructed engines behind the driver's seat and are definitely not designed for weekend touring.

But the winning Corvette C5R (for "Racing") is not all that removed from the standard C5 model that's available from your local Chevy dealer. Although the racers are built by General Motors Motorsport in special factory shops, the initial G.M. criteria was to use as many original Corvette parts as possible. The engine has been greatly enlarged and puts out in the neighborhood of 700 horsepower, I'm told.

The overall win for the Corvette C5R wasn't easy and luck had a lot to do with it. The Ford-powered Riley & Scott (R&S) car entered by the powerful Dyson Racing team was leading the race until the 22nd hour when driver Butch Leitzinger went out with a blown engine. At that point the Dyson car had a 26-lap lead over the Corvette co-driven by factory drivers Ron Fellows, Franck Freon, Johnny O'Connell and Chris Kneifel.

There was even more bad luck for Dyson Racing when its second car went out fairly early in the event with a broken drive line. The eventual winner in the SRP class was the Mazda rotary-powered Kudza, credited with 11th place overall, 32 laps behind the winning Corvette.

Although it didn't take a second place behind the winning C5R, a second Corvette racer driven by the NASCAR Winston Cup perennial winners, the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. and his son, Dale Jr. finished in third place. Second overall was won by a GT-class Porsche.

The win by the Number #3 Corvette was only spoiled by the fact that the French Oreca Viper team wasn't in attendance. An Oreca Viper was last year's winner when it beat the factory Corvette C5R in the closest finish in the event's history. In the 2000 Daytona 24 hour race, the winning Viper and the runner-up Corvette were on the same lap after a full day of continuous racing and the Corvette was gaining ground.

Corvette enthusiasts are justifiably proud of this recent accomplishment by "their" car. The Chevrolet Corvette is once again back on the world's racing stage as a major contender.