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
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.