C5-R Corvette Retrospective: A Factory, World-Class, Race Corvette

Corvette Racing as a concept, was something Zora-Arkus Duntov embraced and encouraged since the 1950’s. However, it took until 1996 for GM to officially create Corvette Racing as the factory race team. In 1996 Herb Fishel, then director of GM racing, established Corvette Racing under the leadership of the charismatic Doug Fehan. Doug was program manager for the Oldsmobile Aurora IMSA GTO program. Pratt & Miller engineered those cars, so it was no surprise Doug approached them when GM was launching the Corvette Racing program.

Gary Pratt & Jim Miller

Gary Pratt & Jim Miller

Gary Pratt and Jim Miller formed Pratt & Miller in 1989. The engineer and the businessman made a perfect pairing. Doug Fehan approached Gary Pratt and said “We [GM] want to race this car [Corvette]. You tell us where it will be competitive, you test it, you prove to us – in private – that it can win. Do all that and we will make funds available to campaign it over multiple years.” Never in their wildest dreams would Gary or Doug imagine the “multiple years” would stretch to 20 years and counting.

1997 Test C5R. Photo: Pratt & Miller

The C5-R test mule started life as a humble, regular production 1997 C5 Corvette and it completed more than 4,000 miles in the hands of test drivers, principally Ron Fellows and Chris Kneifel. The test mule led to the development of C5R-001 by Pratt & Miller, the first of only 11 Corvette C5-Rs ever built. Test driver Ron Fellows also had history with Pratt & Miller, having driven a Pratt & Miller Camaro to the 1995 Trans-Am driver’s title.

Chevrolet debuted the new C5-R at the November 1998 Specialty Equipment Manufacturer’s Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas. The car debuted with a 6.0-liter V8 mated to a Hewland 5-speed racing transmission. In 2004, Xtrac replaced Hewland as gearbox provider, and from late-2000, cars ran with a 7.0-liter engine developed by Katech. The stock C5 front and rear subframes and the hydroformed frame rails were used in the construction of the early C5-R chassis. The tires were Goodyear racing rubber until 2004, when Corvette Racing switched to Michelin.

C5R-011 Chassis Plate

C5R-011 Chassis Plate

January 1999 saw the race-debut of the first two C5-R chassis at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. The cars competed in selective races during the inaugural American Le Mans Series in 1999. Corvette Racing ran either one or two cars, depending on the event. The first overall win could have come at the 2000 edition of the 24 Hours of Daytona, when the #3 Corvette finished Second overall and Second in the GTO Class behind the #91 Dodge Viper. A stunning achievement by both cars considering all of the prototype cars who should have finished ahead of them ran into problems. Corvette Racing attended the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France, and both cars finished the race and were classified Third and Fourth in their class. Le Mans was the final race for both the C5R-001 and C5R-002 chassis.

Either one or two cars were raced, depending on the venue. (left photo: John Brooks) and the 1999 Daytona 24 Hours was the first race for the C5-R. Both cars were run. (right photo: Pratt & Miller).

Chassis C5R-003 & C5R-004

The new C5R-003 and C5R-004 chassis made their debuts at Mosport in 2000, and the first win arrived at Texas Motor Speedway on September 2, 2000. A second victory swiftly followed at Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta a few weeks later. Petit Le Mans was the first race for the now familiar Corvette Racing yellow. Millennium Yellow, the new paint color available for the C5 regular production Corvettes in 2000. The new C5R chassis delivered by Pratt & Miller were an evolution of the original C5R; they were wider, lower, and more powerful. This meant they finally had the opportunity to be the best GTS Class car.

Chassis #3 in the 2001 Rolex 24 Hours Victory Circle

Victory at Daytona

2001 was a stellar year for Corvette Racing. Its C5R-003 chassis won the 24 Hours of Daytona overall, not just the class. It was also the year Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Jr. competed in the 24 Hours in the chassis #4 Corvette C5-R. The plan was for the Earnhardt’s to compete at Le Mans in June that year. Sadly, just two weeks later, Dale Sr. lost his life at Turn 4 on the final lap of the Daytona 500.

At Laguna Seca in 2001, Johnny O’Connell had to bail out of the car when it caught fire during the race. That meant the older 003 chassis was used for the Miami round of the ALMS, while the new chassis was repaired of the fire damage.

The rest of 2001 saw the Corvette C5-R take victories at Texas, Le Mans, Sears Point, Portland, Mosport, Mid-Ohio and Petit Le Mans. 2002 saw victories at Sebring for the first time, a second Le Mans victory, another Petit Le Mans victory and six ALMS races, giving Corvette Racing both team and driver’s championships. Chassis C5R-003 is part of the GM Heritage collection, C5R-004 was sold to Chip Miller and is currently owned by his son Lance Miller.

(left) C5R-003 at Pratt & Miller in 2011. (center) A relatively simple interior. (right) C5R-003 at Daytona in 2012 as part of the 50th anniversary of the Rolex 24 Hours.

Chassis C5R-005 & C5R-006

The next new chassis made their debuts during 2002. The logistics of Le Mans and the American Le Mans Series schedules during that season meant that Corvette Racing needed four chassis. The new chassis made their debuts at the Sears Point round of the ALMS, while the old chassis were already in France for the test day and then race.

Chassis C5R-006 raced in the American Le Mans Series in 2005, in the hands of privateer team Pacific Coast Motorsports. It was then sold to PSI-Motorsports, who campaigned the car in Europe from 2006 until 2014. The car was then completely restored by Team RaceArt, who put the car back to how it looked at Petit Le Mans in 2002.

C5R-006 Restored by Team RaceArt

C5R-006 restored by Team RaceArt in Belgium and now back in the U.S. in private hands in Texas.

Chassis C5R-007

During 2002, Chassis C5R-007 was built as a customer car for a team called Atomic Kitten Racing. Atomic Kitten was a UK-based female band, and their management team thought that running a race team would be a good idea. It wasn’t.

The team disappeared almost as quickly as the band, leaving Pratt & Miller with a chassis they didn’t need. They sold it to Patrick Selleslagh, the owner of SRT Racing in Belgium, which was the start of a long relationship between the team and Corvette. C5R-007 raced from 2003 until 2007, when the car was then sold to Alexander Talkanista. SRT Racing also purchased C5R-006 to run in Europe, where it competed in 2006 and 2007.

C5R-007 competing at Silverstone in the FIA GT 2007 Championship.

Chassis C5R-008 & C5R-009

2003 was the 50th anniversary of Corvette, and the focus for the season was Le Mans and a “three-peat” victory. Two brand-new chassis were built (C5R-008 & 009) specifically for the Le Mans race. However, there was disquiet within the team, particularly from certain drivers. It was announced that the cars would be blue (mimicking the new 2004 blue/red/white 24 Hours of Le Mans Commemorative Edition Corvette paint scheme) and run with the number 50 (to celebrate 50 years of Corvette) and 53 (the first year of Corvette) rather than the traditional 63 and 64 numbers the cars used with great success at Le Mans previously. Sadly for Corvette Racing, the win did not materialize and they had to be satisfied with Second and Third in the big race.

2003 featured a change in color for Corvette from the typical yellow to Le Mans Blue. Sadly, the commemorative color didn't help secure the win of the fabled race.

Five ALMS races were won in 2003, including Sebring. Both chassis were used during the 2004 ALMS season, while the final two chassis 010 and 011 were away at Le Mans. Chassis C5R-008 and 009 were sold to collector Robert Patrella and the deal was both cars would be presented to him wearing their blue Le Mans color schemes. C5R-008 was subsequently sold to George Krass, who now races the car in historic races.

Chassis C5R-010 & C5R-011

2004 was the final season for the C5-R. Chassis 010 and 011 were completely dominant, winning all ten races they contested. They took a 1-2 finish at Le Mans, won Sebring, won Petit Le Mans, and finished First and Second eight times during the season. It was announced that the C5R program would end at the conclusion of the 2004 racing year. Chassis C5R-011 was sold to Paul Kumpen in The Netherlands. Chassis C5R-010 went to Luc Alphand late-2005, and was used by the Luc Alphand Aventures team in Europe during the 2006 and 2007 seasons.

(right) C5R-010 at Laguna Seca for the final race in ALMS for the C5-R with Corvette Racing. (center) C5R-010 competing at Le Mans in 2007. (left) C5R-010 competing in the European Le Mans Series in 2006.

In 2004, Corvette Racing was already developing a replacement for the C5-R. A C6-R test mule was built and is actually still out there racing in historics competition as chassis C6R-012. The car never raced with Corvette Racing and was sold once development was complete.

(left) C5R-011 in restoration at Team RaceArt in 2017. (center) C5R-011 racing in the FIA GT 2007 Championship at Silverstone. (right) C5R-011 at Zolder in Belgium, now fully restored to its 2004 Le Mans livery. (Photo: Jonny Bens).

The C5-R as an investment?

Consider this. There are just five 1963 Grand Sports. The last one changed hands some years ago for something in excess of $6 million. Thanks to the program being scuttled by higher-ups at GM, the Grand Sports have little significance in period racing history. There are just eleven C5-R chassis available and one is owned by GM Heritage, so unlikely to be for sale any time soon. That leaves you with a choice of just ten cars. Nine of the ten have Le Mans experience and some have multiple Le Mans victories, nine of the ten have ALMS history and multiple victories. In the future, these cars will be appreciated for what they are. Now however, we feel they are massively undervalued.

About the author

Nigel Dobbie

A certified petrol-head Nigel Dobbie is a native of the U.K. and a long-time Corvette owner. Currently living in the U.S., he drives a 2010 ZR1 and also owns a 2003 C5 Z06 that is currently in its third rebuild, which should end up as an 800 horsepower twin turbo track rat. He is passionate about motorsports, as long as it involves making right-hand turns. Nigel can usually be found trackside with his trusty Canon on any given ALMS race weekend. He is a freelance contributor for Power Automedia.
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