When the green flag fell on the Rolex 24 Hours At Daytona on January 25, it signaled not only the start of the first major sports car race of the 2014 season, but of a new era. At the end of the 2013 season, the two main competing sports car sanctioning bodies, GRAND-AM Road Racing and the American Le Mans Series, combined into one: the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.
For Chevrolet and other manufacturers, this was good news: All the best cars, the best tracks and the best drivers racing together.
And for Chevrolet, it meant that the two sports cars we race – the ALMS GT class Chevrolet Corvette C7.R, now based on the Corvette Z06, and the GRAND-AM Corvette Daytona Prototype, which is built from the ground up to be an exotic, track-only model – would, for the first time, be racing together on the same track.
They would not race against each other, though – the Corvette Daytona Prototype is a pure racing machine competing against other prototype models, while the GT Le Mans car that Corvette Racing fields competes against other models based on different manufacturers’ sports cars, ranging from the Ferrari 458 to the Porsche 911.
Competition in both classes is brutal, though, and a win in either one is an accomplishment. "This is, inarguably, one of the toughest schedules in sports car racing," said Doug Fehan, program manager for the GT Le Mans Corvette Racing program.
And Chevrolet has plenty of wins in 2014: Six for the Corvette Daytona Prototype – including the 24 Hours At Daytona, where we swept the top four spots – and four wins for the GT Le Mans Corvette C7.R.
And with 12 races in the books, only one remained: the season-ending Petit Le Mans race at Road Atlanta on October 4. And the Corvettes came out swinging, with the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette Daytona Prototype taking the overall win in the 10-hour endurance test, followed closely - after 400 laps, just 11 seconds behind - by the No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette Daytona Prototype, which wrapped up the 2014 season with its first-ever title for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. Chevrolet took the Manufacturers Championship, Action Express drivers Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa won the Drivers Championship, and Action Express won the Team Championship - a clean sweep.
The drivers' standings as the series moved into the final race at Petit Le Mans proved a strong year-long showing by Chevrolet drivers in the top Prototype class. Tied for first with 316 points was the team of Barbosa and Fittipaldi, followed closely by brothers Jordan and Ricky Taylor, each with 296 points, who drive their father's Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette. And a single point behind the Taylor brothers were Richard Westbrook and Michael Valiante, who drive the Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP. At the end of a long season, the top six drivers were all Corvette pilots.
The Action Express team took a healthy lead into the Petit Le Mans, but both the Taylor Racing and Spirit of Daytona drivers were well within striking distance. And despite the overall win by Wayne Taylor Racing, the Action Express Corvette was too far ahead in points to catch for the championship.
A nice postscript for the Wayne Taylor Racing win: Wayne Taylor, as a driver, won the very first Petit Le Mans. Now, 16 years later, his sons repeat the feat, and in doing so become the first American-born Petit Le Mans winners.
In the GT Le Mans class, where Chevrolet races the brand-new C7.R, the No. 3 Corvette Racing team went into the Petit Le Mans a close second to the No. 93 Dodge Viper SRT team. The Viper team made a strategy call - with two drivers, a season-long team, tied at the top of the points, the team decided to split the two drivers into two separate cars, doubling their chances that one driver would gather enough points for the season championship.
The TUDOR Championship series also has a special, separate competition for results in the four longest endurance races, totaling a brutal 52 hours - the Rolex 24 Hours At Daytona, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen, and the Petit Le Mans this past weekend. Barbosa and Fittipaldi of the No. 5 Action Express team led the driver's standing for the competition, called the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup, followed by brothers Burt and Brian Frisselle in the No. 9 Action Express Corvette.
The NAEC team competition was also led by the two Action Express Corvettes, followed by the Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette. Chevrolet is also leading the NAEC manufacturer battle. The number 5 Action Express Corvette took the NAEC title at Petit Le Mans - plus the $100,000 bonus that came with it.
The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship is a tough series - Chevrolet wouldn't have it any other way. "It's a showcase that highlights reliability, power, handling, toughness and engineering innovation," said Jim Campbell, GM's Vice President of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports. "All qualities our customers value in the Chevrolets we sell."
So while it may seem like Chevrolet has time to relax and enjoy conquering the 2014 season, we don’t – the 2015 “Roar Before the Rolex 24” test starts on January 9!