Corvette sets the pace for the Indy 500

The Chevro­let Corvette and the yearly In­di­anapo­lis 500 race have a lot of his­tory to­gether, and they’re about to make more

The Hamilton Spectator - - WHEELS - BY TOM JENSEN, WWW.WHEELBASEMEDIA.COM

Chevro­let and In­di­anapo­lis Mo­tor Speed­way have a re­la­tion­ship that goes back more than 100 years and it’s one of the most en­dur­ing part­ner­ships in mo­tor­sports his­tory.

Arthur Chevro­let, brother of the au­tomaker’s co-founder Louis Chevro­let, com­peted in the in­au­gu­ral In­di­anapo­lis 500 in 1911 and nine years later, an­other Chevro­let brother, Gas­ton Chevro­let, won the race.

Chevro­let uses the speed­way — known as the Brick­yard — as a mar­ket­ing tool for its cars and trucks, and at this year’s 500, like ev­ery year, there will be a ton of Chevro­let brand­ing at the mas­sive track prior to the race on May 28.

And for the 14th time since 1978, the Indy 500 Pace Car will be a Corvette. Specif­i­cally, a Corvette Grand Sport will lead the field to start this year’s race. The cur­rent model is the sev­enth-gen­er­a­tion of Corvettes, so it’s known as the C7.

Make no mis­take, the C7 Grand Sport is a se­ri­ous per­for­mance ma­chine, car­ry­ing most of the go-fast bits of the top-of-the line Corvette Z06 model, mi­nus the power-adding su­per­charger on top the en­gine. That means the Grand Sport uses the base Corvette en­gine that pro­duces a still-healthy 460 horse­power from eight cylin­ders.

In­cluded on the pace car is the op­tional Z07 pack­age, which in­cludes A Brembo car­bon ce­ramic brak­ing sys­tem and wide tires on all four cor­ners. Stan­dard on all Grand Sports is Chevro­let’s adap­tive sus­pen­sion, model-spe­cific sta­bi­lizer bars and springs, plus some spe­cial styling cues.

And in case you’re fur­row­ing your brow over the per­for­mance ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the car, sans su­per­charger, don’t. Ac­cord­ing to Chevro­let, the Grand Sport pace car equipped with the Z07 pack­age can hit 60 mph (96 kmh) from rest in 3.6 sec­onds, cover the quar­ter mile from a stand­ing start in 11.8 sec­onds and hit 1.2 g’s in a cor­ner.

It wasn’t that long ago that num­bers like that were only pro­duced by race cars. But with to­day’s tech­nol­ogy, the 2017 Corvette has a per­for­mance thresh­old that far ex­ceeds the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of most civil­ian driv­ers, and cer­tainly on streets that have laws to pro­tect peo­ple from high­speed shenani­gans. Even with­out the su­per­charger, this is a car best en­joyed by se­ri­ous driv­ers in a track en­vi­ron­ment.

And just for fun, we looked at a few of the past Corvette Indy pace cars to see how the new one stacks up (spoiler alert: the 2017 ’Vette kills them all).

The first Corvette Indy 500 pace car took to the Brick­yard for the 1978 race. For that model year, Chevro­let built 6,502 pace-car repli­cas, all with an at­trac­tive black-over-sil­ver paint scheme.

But me­chan­i­cally, the third-gen­er­a­tion — or C3 for short — ’78 Corvette was less than awe-in­spir­ing. The base L-48 350-cu­bic-inch (5.7-litre) V-8 en­gine made a mere 185 horse­power, while the op­tional L-82 350 en­gine made 220. Predictably, ac­cel­er­a­tion was leisurely, with zero-to-60 mph (96 km-h) tak­ing about 7.8 sec­onds. Top speed was a mere 123 mph (197 km-h).

Flash ahead to 1986 when fighter pi­lot Chuck Yea­ger was en­listed to pro­mote sales of the Indy 500 pace car, which was dif­fer­en­ti­ated from reg­u­lar Corvettes by just two fea­tures: all pace cars were con­vert­ibles; and they all came with de­cals but no other spe­cial trim.

The 1986 Corvettes had 235-horse­power V-8 en­gines with alu­minum cylin­der heads. Han­dling was much im­proved from the pre­vi­ous-gen­er­a­tion car, as was ac­cel­er­a­tion, with zero-to60-mph times cut to 5.7 sec­onds.

But if the C4 pace car was no­table for its lack of the flash, the 1998 Corvette pace car — a fifth-gen­er­a­tion (C5) car — was the ex­act opposite, one of the most vis­ually bom­bas­tic Chevro­lets of all time. It came with “radar blue” paint that had a de­cid­edly pur­ple tint to it, and yel­low on the seats and wheels. That said, it was quicker as zero-to-60 times fell to 5.1 sec­onds, thanks to a 345-horse 5.7-litre V-8.

In 2005, the newly re­designed C6 Corvette paced the Indy 500, the first of four con­sec­u­tive years the model would serve as the pace car. With 400 horse­power, it was a big step up.

But the new C7 Corvette Grand Sport trumps all the Corvettes that came be­fore it. And when the Indy 500 gets un­der way May 28, it will be led by a car more than ca­pa­ble of get­ting the job done.

The foun­da­tion for this year’s Indy 500 pace car is the fast and nim­ble Corvette Grand Sport. It makes more than dou­ble the horse­power of the first Corvette to pace Indy in 1978.

Fa­mous peo­ple are usu­ally en­listed to drive Indy 500 pace cars. In 1986 it was former fighter pi­lot Chuck Yea­ger.

The Corvette’s wow fac­tor was in­creased for 1998 with blue paint and yel­low wheels.

The Corvette’s sil­ver an­niver­sary was in 1978. It was also the first year that a Corvette paced the Indy 500.

Former U.S.Army Gen­eral Colin Powell was be­hind the wheel of the 2005 Corvette Indy pace car.

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