Corvette Racing will open a new chapter in its history with the competition debut of the next-generation Corvette C6.R at Mid-Ohio this weekend [6-8 August].

Created in anticipation of a single GT class in 2010, the GT2-spec machine will be put through a public test and development programme in the final five rounds of the 2009 American Le Mans Series, where it will face up to opposition from Ferrari, Porsche, BMW, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Dodge, Panoz and Ford.

"We're not running for a championship this year, so we're looking at the upcoming races as preparation for 2010," team manager Gary Pratt confirmed, "Our only testing from this point on will be at the races, and we'll be doing it in the public eye. Certainly, we hope to achieve the same level of success that we did in GT1, but the calibre of the competition we will face in GT2 is very high. When we started in GT1 in 1999, it took a while to win and, now, we have ten years of experience that should help us to become competitive in a new category. Everyone at Corvette Racing is looking forward to the challenge."

Like its GT1 predecessor, the new car is based on Corvette's ZR1 supercar, but has even stronger links to the production version than its predecessors as the GT2 class rules require the use of many production-based components. The updated C6.R thus utilises the ZR1's body design, aerodynamic package, aluminium frame and chassis structure, steering system, windshield and other components, with the race team adding the necessary extras for the rigours of endurance racing.

"One of the many benefits of the Corvette Racing programme has been the opportunity to demonstrate the technology transfer between the race car and the production car," GM Racing manager Mark Kent explained, "The global movement toward a single GT class will allow us to compete head-to-head with more marketplace competitors, while increasing both the production content of the Corvette C6.R race cars and the relevance of racing to our customers. This is a step that positions Corvette for the future of production-based sportscar racing worldwide, and a move that is perfectly aligned with GM's marketing and business objectives in racing."

Previous versions of the Corvette C5-R and C6.R race cars dominated the GTS and GT1 categories over the last decade, winning 77 races and eight consecutive ALMS championships. The GT1 Corvettes were retired following Corvette Racing's sixth victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.

"In our decade in GT1, our primary focus was on racing victories and the validation of the Corvette as a world-class sportscar," admitted chief engineer Tadge Juechter, "As an authentic way to communicate to knowledgeable customers, nothing beats racing. As a cost-effective means to improve vehicle performance, nothing beats racing. These are the reasons racing is in Corvette's DNA.

"Behind the scenes, the race team and the production car team have grown closer together, finding numerous ways to support each other and to make both cars better. Most automotive companies give lip service to claims like 'racing improves the breed' or 'race on Sunday, sell on Monday'. For team Corvette, it is a daily reality. It is now impossible to imagine one team without the other."

The proposed GT regulations required a comprehensive redesign of the C6.R package, with the GT1 car's steel frame replaced by the production ZR1's hydroformed aluminium frame as the foundation for a fully integrated tubular steel safety cage. The GT1 version's wide, louvered fenders are replaced by production-based ZR1 fenders with wheel flares and, in accordance with the aerodynamic regulations, rear wing width is reduced by 25 per cent, the diffuser is a flat panel without fences or strakes, and the splitter extends only as far as its production ZR1 counterpart. Steel brake rotors have replaced the carbon discs used previously, and the wheels are aluminium instead of magnesium. The adjustable steering column and steering rack are sourced from the street Corvette.

"Integrating a steel safety cage that meets GM Racing's stringent standards as well as the strength and durability targets required in racing is a challenge with an aluminium frame," explained Corvette Racing engineering director Doug Louth, "Working in conjunction with the structure and chassis engineers in the Corvette production group, we designed, built and tested numerous examples before we finalised the configuration. We went through a similar process with the production Corvette group on the body design and aero components. It was truly a collaborative effort between the production engineers and the race team."

In the remaining races of 2009, the Corvettes will be powered by six-litre GM small-block V8s that are based on the seven-litre LS7.R that powered the GT1 version. This reduction in displacement was achieved by shortening the crankshaft stroke from 3.875-inch to 3.32-inch. The diameter of the series-mandated intake air restrictors was decreased from 30.6mm to 28.6mm, with a corresponding reduction in engine output from 590 to 470 horsepower. A 5.5-litre production-based GM small-block V8 is currently under development and will be introduced at the start of the 2010 season.

"The Corvette Racing team had to take on several challenges simultaneously to execute this programme," programme manager Doug Fehan commented, "We were preparing for our regular race season with the GT1 cars while designing the GT2 version. The cars were being built and tested in the midst of our preparations for Le Mans. The team was multi-tasking to the extreme, operating on a leaner budget and a faster timeline. It was a monumental effort to have these cars ready for the Mid-Ohio race.

"However, in the limited testing we've done so far, we've been very impressed with the car's durability, reliability and performance. We'll continue to focus on those three factors in the upcoming races. We view the rest of this year as a development cycle, and we believe that our experience as a team in preparation, race strategy, and pit-stop execution should allow us to be competitive, even if there is a slight performance disparity."

While much of the hardware has changed, Corvette Racing's roster of championship-winning drivers remains the same. Johnny O'Connell and Jan Magnussen will share the #3 Compuware-backed C6.R, with Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta driving the #4 sister car. The two teams will be joined by Antonio Garcia and Marcel Fassler at Petit Le Mans.