When the C8.R and 2020 (C8) Corvette were first introduced to be a mid-engine platform, the reasoning pointed to the obvious benefits of the mid-engine platform being the next step in performance. Enthusiasts hung their hats on buzz words such as the moment of inertia and polar moment, expecting that the shift to a more centrally-located engine would enhance the turning, acceleration, and handling of the car beyond what other, higher-horsepower versions had previously.
It goes without saying that improving the physical characteristics of a car, such as weight position, CAN have a positive effect on a car’s performance. But the obvious benefits of shifting a car’s center of gravity can only go so far, especially in a world dictated by a sanctioning body’s Balance of Performance rule book.
We recently reported that the C8.R would be competing in both the IMSA (think Daytona, Sebring 12-hour races) and WEC (COTA, 1,000 Miles of Sebring races) sanctioned races to record as much track time as possible. Corvette Racing teams for both IMSA and WEC have now had one race under their belt and their notebooks are likely overflowing with notes.
This past weekend’s race at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) left the C8.R piloted by Corvette Racing veterans Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller trailing their class despite saving valuable pit-stop time and other race-winning strategies. Perhaps all the talk about the increased handling and performance of the C8’s mid-engine platform got the BoP folks over-zealous about applying restrictions to limit the power of the now, centrally-located engine.
While the benefits of the car’s new layout are still being learned by its drivers and tweaked by the team, the one thing that both drivers and stopwatches can agree on is that the car’s overall performance is limited below that of its competitors. If left to their devices, the folks at Pratt & Miller can produce a race-winning car, but under the current sanctions, the number 63 C8.R finished three laps behind the class-winning competitor.
The car ran the entire race hitch-free, and yet the only competitor that it beat was the number 91 Porsche 911 that retired after electrical issues put it out of contention. Even before the race, Saturday’s practice sessions saw the number 63’s lap times nearly 2.5 seconds behind the pack. Granted, both Jan and Mike were both learning the new car’s potential and Rocky had the additional burden of learning the COTA course. The level of driving skill in both of these gentlemen is extraordinary, and even after many practice laps and a 6-hour stint with the dial turned to eleven, the little C8.R could only creep up to a best time that was still 1.5 seconds slower than the others.
Jan Magnussen explains his takeaway after this weekend’s race. “Obviously we were very far off the pace, but we have learned and taken things away from this experience with the new Corvette,” he says. “For sure we were down on power, but there are other areas where we can improve. In a race like this, you have a chance to play around a little bit with different setups and you can try some different things.”
That clearly transmits directly to beneficial notes that will benefit both IMSA- and WEC-based Corvette Racing teams. Mike Rockenfeller focuses on the process more than the current outcome.
“It was the first time at COTA, so obviously a lot of new things to learn,” says Mike. “The C8.R ran pretty well. There were no issues technically… it is always a new rhythm, so that is why we are happy to do these WEC races to get up to speed again. I’m sure we will make improvements and we will make a step for Sebring. We were lacking pace; that was quite obvious these two days. There was not much we could do. We did everything we could. We tried to learn. We tried to do different things during the race. We tried to stretch fuel in the stints and we did one stop less so that was good. Clearly, we need more pace for Sebring and I am looking forward to that.”
While many agree the benefits of the car’s new design should make it competitive with the class leaders, it is also widely accepted that the current limitations on the car’s performance are keeping it from doing just that. The WEC and IMSA both have the opportunity to revisit the car’s restrictions before March’s Sebring races, but only time will tell whether they choose to use that option. If not, Corvette will continue to have their hands tied behind their backs in a room full of prize-fighters. If there’s one thing that Corvette Racing has shown over the past two decades, it is that they do some of their best work while fighting off of their backs.