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C5-R model made the Corvette a serious racer

January 09, 2006|By Wheelbase Communications

Former Corvette general engineer Zora Arkus Duntov had a dream: to see the Chevrolet Corvette of the 1950s transformed into a serious performance car.

Intended or not, the fifth-generation Corvette, which debuted in 1997, fulfilled that dream. With its powerful 5.7-liter V-8 engine, sharp handling and improved structural rigidity, the C5 was a true bargain when compared to many other sports cars.

The C5-R Corvette project, announced in 1998, was actually campaigned by GM and not an outside race team. Heavily modified for international endurance racing with a seven-liter (427-cubic-inch) "small-block" V-8, the C5-R quickly proved itself in competition.

In its first race, the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona (Florida), the C5-R finished third in a field of well-established and well-respected teams. Under the worst weather conditions in the history of the event, the C5-R won a double victory in the 2001 24 Hour Le Mans (France), claiming first and second place in the world's toughest endurance race. The C5-R continued its winning streak, dominating the GTS class in the American Le Mans Series and gathering several championship trophies. Named Racing Car of the Year in 2002 by Automobile Magazine, the CR-5 was lauded for its production-car ties.

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Certainly helping the cause were drivers such as Canadian Ron Fellows and Max Papis. Even the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. drove the CR-5 in competition, along with his son Dale Jr.

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