Chevrolet has been celebrating a lot of milestones lately, with the brand’s 100th birthday in 2012 and 60 years of Corvette design this year. On Friday, Chevrolet celebrated yet another major company landmark as the Corvette became the first American manufacturer inducted into the Sebring Hall of Fame.
As we found out from Corvette Racing, this induction fits nicely with the 60th anniversary of Corvette production, as the 60th Annual Mobile 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring race is being held Saturday March 17th.
The induction has been a long time coming with Corvette’s massive race history and Chevrolet definitely deserves its spot among Sebring race legends.
The Sebring road course started out as a makeshift 5.2-mile course on a retired B-17 bomber pilot training ground at Hendricks Field airstrip. It was at this unforgiving course that the Corvette saw its first win at Sebring, taking the Class B title in 1956 at the hands of Walt Hansgen and John Fitch. This marked the beginning of the Corvette’s growth into a fierce worldly competitor.
Legendary racer and engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov, who has since had one of the most prestigious Corvette awards named in his honor, showered the two-seater sports car with his latest technology advancements and developments like dual four-barrel carburetors, heavy duty suspension systems, fuel injection and four-speed transmissions, making them very potent track contenders.
After the 1956 Class B win, the Corvette went on to achieve five Sebring class wins between 1957 and 1962. Driven by notable racers like Briggs Cunningham, Don Yenko, Jim Hurtubise, Jim Rathmann, Jerry Grant, Jim Jeffords and Dr. Dick Thompson, the original Sebring Corvettes lead to bigger and better things, including SR or Sebring Racer Corvettes.
Corvette and Sebring’s relationship was challenged when the Automobile Manufacturers Association banned corporate racing in 1957, but Duntov found a way around the roadblock, providing cars and technology for independent Corvette racers.
Along the way, Sebring has seen the ‘57 Corvette SS that only lasted 23 laps due to suspension issues, the five original Grand Sport Corvettes, two of which took first and second place wins in the 1964 Sebring GT Prototype class, and an overwhelming presence of the small-block V8-powered cars, one of which took the last Overall Win at Sebring for an all-American entry in 1965.
Equipped with big-block powerhouses, the Corvette took four Sebring GT class wins between 1968 to 1972. A year after the model’s last GT win, participation hit an all-time high in Sebring, with 12 Corvettes starting the 12-hour endurance race in 1973.
The 1980s brought about another development of the Corvette race car – the Corvette GTP. Although this iconic racer was capable of over 1,000 horsepower, the car proved to be fragile, achieving a best finish of ninth place in 1988. That year also marked the one and only year where a fourth-gen Corvette achieved a class win.
In 2002, Corvette Racing saw its first of seven Sebring class wins with a C5-R model. The car was driven to its ’02 victory by Oliver Gavin, Ron Fellows, and Johnny O’Connell. In 2009, O’Connell achieved his fifth Sebring class win with Corvette Racing and eighth Sebring class win overall, making him the most accomplished racer in Sebring history. O’Connell was also inducted into the Sebring Hall of Fame on Friday.
Both celebrating their 60th anniversaries, Corvette and Sebring once again came together Saturday March 17th. With a total of 231 Corvettes before them and 24 class or category wins, the Chevy Corvette is sure to represent its American racing history.