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Twenty-five years ago, Corvette roared back onto the professional sports car scene, fielding two new winged racers for the 1999 Rolex 24 at Daytona. This weekend, the Chevrolet Corvette C8.R race car will hit the Daytona high banks, looking to start the program’s Silver Anniversary in style.
While the Corvette’s racing history does, of course, date back much farther than that, this streak was started when Chevrolet management struck a deal with Michigan-based car builder Pratt & Miller in 1998 to construct a C5 Corvette (the C5 road car debuted as a 1997 model) called the C5.R, with “R” for racing. Since then, the partnership has endured, and is one of the longest in the pro road racing paddock.
The C5.R debuted at Daytona in 1999. It was the second and final Rolex 24 sanctioned by the Sports Car Club of America, before the new NASCAR-owned Grand Am series took over. The Corvette was racing in the GT2 class; the No. 2 car with Ron Fellows, Chris Kneifel and John Paul, Jr. finished third behind a pair of Porsche 911s. A second Corvette, the No. 3, suffered multiple issues, and drivers Andy Pilgrim, Scott Sharp and John Heinricy finished deep in the field.
Once the gremlins were worked out of the burgeoning program, the C5.R went on a tear, racking up the wins from Daytona to Le Mans. Fun fact: The Corvette’s 25-year racing streak does not include all 25 races at Daytona—the Corvette didn’t race there in 2002 due to rule changes. That year, the program raced in the American Le Mans Series, winning nine of 10 events, plus the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
And a who’s who of road racing talent filled the seat throughout the C5.R’s six-year run. Max Papis, Johnny O’Connell, and even a pair of Earnhardts spent time behind the Katech-developed 7.0-liter V-8.
The C5.R was followed by the C6.R, C7.R and the current mid-engine C8.R. While the current IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship rules require the Corvette to race under the global GT3 rules, the current C8.R is a GT Le Mans-specification model that has been modified to meet the rules. (This Friday, we’ll get a look at the new purpose-built C8.R GT3 car that will debut next year.)
So what would it mean to win this weekend? It would be a “big deal,” said Jordan Taylor, one of three drivers this weekend. “It’s also the last year for the C8.R before the new GT3 Corvette comes out, so we’re hoping to have a big send-off for it. The Rolex 24 is the perfect place to do that. We won it in 2021 so it’s been a couple of years.
“Whenever you come to the Rolex, you race for the win; you’re not really thinking of the championship or anything like that. With this being Corvette Racing’s 25th season, it’s a big achievement. The team has an amazing history in endurance events so I think when you look at what caters to this team, it’s usually these types of events where you need to execute for all 24 hours.”
Winning is “why we’re here,” driver Tommy Milner told Hagerty. “Daytona is a huge part of our goals this season—to win big races. It would be a big deal and would be great do it in the 25th season of this program. You only get to 25 years as a partnership with GM and Pratt & Miller by having success and both sides growing together. They’ve done a great job in the past and no reason to think we won’t do it again this year.”
The C8.R will have to pass some cars to win, though, as it qualified fourth in the nine-car GTD Pro class, behind a Mercedes, an Aston Martin and a Lexus. The group celebrating 25 years will have 24 hours.
TV coverage for the race starts at 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC. It will bounce to Peacock and USA before concluding on Sunday on NBC from noon to 2 P.M. ET. For more information on broadcast times and the race lineup, go to IMSA.com.