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LEMANS: Corvette Racing Facing A Future Mission Impossible?

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Since its inception in 1999, Corvette Racing has stood tall and strong despite many changes in their form and their rivals. Through three generations of the famous American sports car, the Pratt & Miller-led organization has won its share of races and championships, beating many of the greatest auto manufacturers that Planet Earth has put up against them. Even a change in car classification in 2009 could not derail Doug Fehan’s child from rolling tough on its four wheels, which started as American Goodyears, but have continued to prosper in the last ten-plus years upon France-provided Michelins. Although the Chevrolet flame has never been fully extinguished, the GM squad could face its toughest challenge yet to protect the eternal fire, when a new set of ACO regulations and a fresh set of challengers oppose them in the upcoming 2016 campaign in both the U.S. and aboard.

Always trying to stay on top of the ever winding road, Fehan revealed earlier this week that Corvette Racing is already track testing a brand new Chevrolet Corvette C7.R that will feature all of the adjustments in the regulations that will be present to GT Le Mans/GTE competitors next season. Now to the regular observer most of these changes will not be visible to the naked eye, but they will set the groundwork to a much faster grand touring division of cars that could re-write the track record book at the every circuit visited in 2016. Only the inclusion of a roof hatch emergency exit will be the only noticeable change on the 2016 C7.R, which is mandated by the new ACO bylaws. However, the engines in GT will be much less restricted as they have been this season and in some cases an increase in cubic inch displacement and engine size will be allowed.

Although the rules would allow a team like Corvette to greatly increase the size of its engine under the hood, don’t forget GM provided the C5-R and C6.R a gigantic seven-liter, V-8 engine to propel its monster around the track when it was in GT-1. The engine size on the Corvette racer dropped down to its current 5.5 liter design when the team joined GT-2. Although it was tempted to increase the size of its engine for 2016, Fehan decided to stick with its reliable option for next season. There is some past shortcomings that may have influenced the decision, the last time Corvette Racing debuted a new engine at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2010, both cars failed to make the distance as the new V-8 in both entries failed. Although the air restrictions will be less in 2016, the question is whether that will be enough to combat their rivals, who will also be a much more threatening presence.

The most troubling of these new recruits could the new for 2016 BMW M6, possibly signaling a return to Le Mans for the beemer brigade for the first time since 2010. Although the BMW Z4 showed potential, the German manufacturer was not comfortable enough to send the car to Circuit de la Sarthe, citing a concern in terms of horsepower for the very long straights. With the new M6, featuring a very potent twin-turbo V-8 engine, power should be a strength rather than a weakness. Of course, with an engine like this making it home in the longer endurance races could be a tough sell early on. Still, current Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver Bill Auburlen is very eager to get behind the wheel of this new challenger, which he made clear even after he won pole position last weekend at the Tequila Patron SportsCar Showcase at Long Beach.

Also providing a major challenge could be a program, which has yet to be confirmed by the brand themselves, but has been eagerly anticipated by the ACO and likely class rivals. Once the cover is broken, the projected Ford GT-R could a real thorn in the side of its longtime American rival on many a race track. This will be another car that may utilize a turbocharged engine option, similar to the one Chip Ganassi Racing uses currently in its Riley Daytona Prototype in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. The one strike against this program however, is CGR who will likely oversee the entry, has never run at Le Mans. The mix of public road and private circuit is unlike anything Ganassi’s squad has seen in the United States and often teams in their first attempt have found the surroundings difficult.

Alongside the new challengers, expect Porsche to provide even more punch from its straight six turbo engine, while Aston Martin could swap out its V-8 engine, for the V-12 it uses in GT-3/GTD competition. Ferrari could be seeking approval for more power as well and even though the Dodge Viper will likely stay in privateer hands, Riley Engineering could still yet extend more grunt from its eight-liter V-10.

So while Corvette Racing has succeeded greatly in its first 16 years, its task in 2016 could be its toughest to date.

Stay tuned to Rubbings Racing for further updates, news, and commentary from Matt Embury on the world of sports car racing.

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About Matt Embury

Matt Embury is the Senior SportsCar Writer at Rubbings Racing and can be followed on Twitter (@MattEmbury) for the latest sports car news and opinions. A native of Mishawaka, Indiana, he has been following sports car racing for nearly 20 years.

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