This year’s 24 hours of Le Mans will mark the 50th Anniversary of Corvette’s first participation at the legendary race. As part of the celebrations, Corvette Racing assembled a number of historic Corvettes at last months American Le Mans Series round at Laguna Seca.
Corvette also held a press conference, which included an awesome talk from 1960 driver Dr Thompson, and ’67 driver, Guldstrand. You can view their interviews at the YouTube links at the end.
It was truly amazing to witness these guys talk about losing their Drum brakes on a 3000lb car half way through the event and having to work around this ‘small problem’.
Briggs Cunningham was a wealthy sports car racer and aspiring car manufacturer He was defender of the America’s Cup and was the driving force behind the three-car Corvette team at the 1960 Le Mans. A fourth car was entered by Camoradi USA.
Corvette faired very well at the event considering it was the heaviest car. It was also one of the few true production cars to take part. The Corvettes were modified with larger gas tanks, quick-fill gas caps, magnesium wheels, oil coolers, driving lights, racing seats and heavy-duty suspension components among their limited modifications. Most of the other machines were highly converted or one off race cars.
The car we feature here is the Cunningham’s No. 2 Corvette driven by Dr. Thompson and Fred Windridge.
Note the coloured headlamp colours. This is one of the first examples of multi-car teams using colour to distinguish each car. Fast forward to today and all the multi-car teams at Le Mans will have coloured mirrors or windshield strips.
This car had a strong start but as the sun began to set, heavy rain made the track very dangerous. The #2 car crashed, suffering extensive front and rear damage. The car made it back to the pits, where it was repaired, but with 2 hours lost, it was out of major contention.
With six hours to go, the #2 car retired. Thomspon recounts, “It was the brakes, indirectly, that took our car out of the race,” he said. “The engine failed in fairly dramatic fashion, but that was not because of a problem in the engine. The brakes gradually got worse and worse and we relied more and more on the downshifts to help slow the car. The engine had been over-revved by about 1,000 rpm on some of the downshifts, and this was recorded on the tell-tale tach, and it ultimately caused the engine to give up.”
The #1 car has retired earlier in the event after a crash wrecked the car. The #3 car of John Fitch and Bob Grossman finished the 24 Hours with a class win, 8th overall.
This car was lucky to make it.
During one of the last pit stops, a mechanic decided to remove the radiator cap. With all the pressure, water escaped and the team was unable to top up. In those days, you could not add water or oil within 25 laps of your last top up, so the team came up with a ‘cool’ plan.
Every three laps, the car would come into the pits and the engine would be surrounded by ice!!!!
The #3 car is making its pilgrimage to Le Mans this year from the UK and will be on display.
The second car on display was the 2nd Generation Corvette, which was entered at the 1967 Le Mans with ex-Penske driver, Guldstrand and Bob Bondurant driving. While the car was very quick, it retired just before the 12-hour mark.
The car does look fantastic, now owned by Harry Yeaggy the period paintwork and graphics sum up the late 60’s racing scene in North America.
Guldstrand was another guest at Laguna Seca, seen here with Thompson and two-time Le Mans class winner, Ron Fellows.
The third car at the event was a third generation Corvette. Sponsorship was now big business in motorsport, with BF Goodrich sponsoring the team from 1971-3.
This particular chassis started off as a 1969 PR car.
This was converted to a racecar in 1972 and then restored to 1973 Le Mans specification a couple of years ago.
As part of the Legends of Le Mans Celebrations, the Corvettes will race with Legends branding on the hood. It’s a shame the team didn’t go the whole way and have the cars in traditional Blue and White. That would have looked stunning.
Chevrolet have also created this one off Z06 in these colours, expertly parked by Ron Fellows – typical racer, perfect line, touching the rumble strips.
This car will end up in the National Corvette Museum.
This was a fantastic event and a piece of history. The interviews of Thompson and Guldstrand are available on YouTube (links below) and offer a great insight into racing at Le Mans all those years ago.
Today’s drivers had to admit; they have it easy compared to these American heroes.
As part of our Le Mans coverage, we will follow this up with the latest in Corvette racecars, the C6.R GT2
Additional Photo: GM/Richard Prince