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Lola, Chevrolet and Hendrick – Corvette becomes a mid-engine IMSA GTP car

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[Editor’s Note: Roughly 17 years ago, John Starkey composed the story of Chevrolet Corvette’s quick transition from a civilian sports car into a venerable racing machine, which also offed insight from those who were at the track during the early days of Corvette’s race history. John has recently revisited the compelling topic, an updated version of which has recently been released by Veloce Publishing’s ‘Classic Reprint’ series titled Chevrolet Corvette – The first four decades of racing success 1956-1996. This 192-page hardcover book, accompanied by 162 images, delves deep into the ‘Vette’s race development and history; from Daytona to Le Mans, and everything in between. Veloce was kind enough to provide a some of that history, including the development of Corvette’s first mid-engine racer for the IMSA GTP series in the mid-Eighties – teething issues and all – depicted in full color on the book’s cover.]

Although it bore almost no relationship to the road-going car, the Corvette GTP of 1984-1988 certainly saw a lot of racing and bore the Corvette name with pride. The GTP Corvette was borne [sic] in an effort to raise the Corvette’s profile in the public’s eye by taking part in the burgeoning IMSA GTP race series, which had begun in 1981 with the Lola T600, driven by Brian Redman, winning the Camel GT Championship. Observing the success of their T600, Lola designed two all-new “customer” GTP cars, known internally as the T710 and T711. The T710 was built to accommodate the Ryan-Falconer Buick-based 3.4 liter V6 turbocharged engine (originally an Indy car engine from 1980) and the T711 the normally asperated Chevrolet 350 V8.

Chevrolet initiated the project, specifying that, as far as was possible with a mid-engine GTP car, the bodywork had to resemble their production car.

First of all, Chevrolet gave the only T711 built to Lee Racing of Pennsylvania to test and race. The car was fitted with a 366 cubic inch V8, the largest small-block engine that could be used at the time, and testing at Daytona resulted in the rear wing coming adrift. Although Lew Price brought the car to a halt away from the wall, all the bodywork was torn  off. The car was repaired in time for the 1985 Daytona 24-Hours but the car had a dismal showing, retiring after just 160 laps.

At Sebring, the new Corvette GTP car completed just twenty-seven laps before retiring and it was the same story at Charlotte, Mid-Ohio and Watkins Glen. At the second Watkins Glen race, Lew Price and Carson Baird drove the car to eighth place overall. At the Daytona Finale, the car finished in tenth place, although it had taken pole position. (Incidentally, a “production” Corvette had won the SCCA Showroom Stock GT National Championship in 1984.)

The T710 project was put in the hands of Rick Hendrick in 1985, who had previously managed Chevrolet efforts in NASCAR. The V6 engine was now a Chevrolet product, reduced from 229 to 209 cubic inches by shortening the stroke and increasing the bore. Power was quoted at 775bhp with 20psi of boost.

Sarel van der Merwe and David Hobbs were hired as drivers and Ken Howes, previous team chief of the “Kreepy Krauly” March GTP cars that had done well in 1984, took on the same position within the Hendrick team. Goodwrench sponsorship provided the necessary financial backing. In the first race for the team, held at Road America, Hobbs qualified the car eleventh on the grid, but the GTP car retired when the engine failed.