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The Chevrolet Corvette first took to the grid at the 24 Hours of Le Mans some fifty years ago, and America’s sports car continues to compete in top-level endurance racing with much success, winning numerous driver and manufacturer championships over the past decade, including multiple victories at the prestigious French event.

For 2010, the Corvette joins Aston Martin, BMW, Ferrari, Jaguar, Porsche, and others for its first full-season battle in the American Le Mans Series’ GT2 class.

We recently were invited out to Pratt & Miller Engineering, the New Hudson, Michigan–based company that runs GM’s Corvette Racing program, for a look at Chevy’s new GT2-class C6.R race car. (And to preview some changes for the 2011 Corvette lineup—watch this space for more on that later this week.) Production-based racing is hardly unique to the Corvette. But what is impressive—and very cool—is the level of technology transfer from the paddock to the showroom floor.

Based on the Corvette ZR1, the second-gen C6.R is the culmination of 12 years of competition-bred refinement that, conversely, has also allowed the production Vette to evolve into one of the world’s premier sports cars. Unlike the previous GT1-class C6.R, which employed the standard Vette’s steel space frame, the GT2 model is built on the lightweight aluminum structure of the Z06 and ZR1. Its all-aluminum, 5.5-liter V-8 was developed by GM from the Z06’s 7.0-liter LS7 engine, and despite the various tweaks required for racing, sports high-performance cylinder heads from the carmaker’s aftersales catalog.

Output is limited by air restrictors to just shy of 500 hp, with a vehicle race weight of 2756 pounds. Other primary elements the cars share include the aluminum windshield frame and A-pillar structure, almost the entire power-steering assembly from rack to tilting column, the occupant safety cell, the dual fuel-cell locations behind the seats, and portions of the brake-cooling system.

But it’s the intricacies of the program that speak to GM’s commitment to the Corvette, arguably the company’s most recognized and respected product. With almost every aspect of the C6.R stored in engineering models that are shared between the race team and the production engineers, refinements on the track can be quickly adapted to the street car, and vice versa.

For example, the GT2 racer shares about 85 percent of its bodywork geometry with the production ZR1, allowing both vehicles to benefit from the same aerodynamic computer models. What’s more, GM’s Corvette development team helped design the race car’s new A/C system as a testing exercise. More than twice as efficient as the previous setup, yet weighing nearly half as much with no measurable loss in engine power, GM says many of the components will one day be used in its electric vehicles, and possibly future Corvettes.

It’s this level of continuous improvement that has allowed Corvette Racing to be a title contender for so many years; while the original 1999 C5-R could compete just 10 laps of the 8.5-mile Le Mans circuit before refueling, according to Pratt & Miller, the greater efficiency of the 2009 C6.R GT1 allowed it to stretch that amount to 15 laps. (Because of the race’s significance, no one on hand was willing to speculate on how the GT2 car would fare this year.) Additionally, Pratt & Miller says the same Michelin engineer responsible for the ZR1’s unique PS2 tires also serves as the race team’s tire engineer at the track, providing an additional link to the production vehicle.

Despite GM’s tumble through bankruptcy and the subsequent shake-up of the company, the Corvette Racing program—along with the automaker’s NASCAR effort—was deemed too important to shutter, meaning future Corvettes will continue to benefit from Pratt & Miller’s long days spent at the track. We only have to wait until Saturday, March 20, when the 2010 ALMS season kicks off at the 58th running of the 12 Hours of Sebring in Florida, to see how the new GT2 car stacks up in what is expected to be one of the greatest production-based battles in modern motorsports.

source: caranddriver

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