For one hundred years, the South France village of Le Mans has hosted the iconic 24-hour endurance race bearing its name. While many, particularly Americans, call the Indianapolis 500 “The Greatest Spectacle in Sports,” plenty would disagree, considering the rigors of a 24-hour endurance race featuring non-spec, bespoke designs to be the biggest challenge in motorsports.
The provenance of Corvettes at Le Mans is one of great success. Not only have the C5, C6, and C7 cars racked up seven victories since 2000, but many privateer Corvettes have seen success at the continental circuit going back to the twin-headlight C1. In 1960, in an entry from Briggs Cunningham, the 4.6-liter Corvette was the first of a long line of Corvettes that would finish — and in the future — win the arduous race.
The Corvettes will run the GTE-Am Class for the final time this season. The C8.R’s power plant is a naturally aspirated 5.5-liter V8 featuring direct injection and a dry sump oiling system. The engine makes 500 horsepower sent through a 6-speed manual sequential gearbox.
So far, in 2023, Corvette is leading the standings by a sizable margin in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC). They will, however, only field one team car this year. Pilots Ben Keating, Nicky Catsburg, and Nico Verrone have had quite the run so far, leading the class with 82 points, nearly double the 43 points posted by the Ferrari team of Richard Mille AF Corse.
Nicky Catsburg is very optimistic about the team’s chances. “I want to win this race extremely bad! I feel, in a way, that I’ve been so lucky already this season, winning some cool races and cool events. But I cannot deny that I really think we have a shot this year at Le Mans. That’s not always the case. I believe that we have an awesome team with all the experience there. We have awesome drivers. We have a cool car. I don’t see why we shouldn’t be fighting for the win. I’m already nervous and feel like, ‘Come on… let’s not make mistakes. Let’s bring it home.’ But it’s never easy. It’s still a mechanical sport. We saw what happened with the 64 car last year. You never know, and you never know until the last five minutes of the race. It’ll be super cool, and I cannot wait.”
With a list of drivers that reads like the sports car racing hall of fame, including Ron Fellows, Johnny O’Connel, Oliver Gavin, Jan Magnussen, Andy Pilgrim, Chris Kneifel, Justin Bell, Antonio Garcia, Nick Tandy and Tommy Milner, the new generation of Corvette racers are ready to fill that seat in the hopes of becoming legends themselves.
Additional GM offerings will also contest the race. Counting them all, one Corvette, three Cadillac V-Series.R entries in Hypercar and the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 will run under the Garage 56 banner this year.
The mid-engine Corvette will make its final appearance at Le Mans in 2023 as next year will see the debut of GT3 cars at the 24 Hours, including the Corvette Z06 GT3.R. But naturally, GM is hot on sending the C8.R out at Le Mans with a victory and getting closer to the FIA World Endurance Championship’s GTE Am title.
Le Mans is no easy race, and with only one car entered, the specter of tragedy and heartbreak are always chasing as the hours wear on. Driver Nico Varrone has considered it a learning experience. “One of the biggest things I’ve learned is on pit stops and how to be precise with where I stop. I’m learning to see how important it is for a pit stop to be on your marks. Corvette Racing takes it so seriously, and that’s why they are so quick on their stops,” Varrone said. “We work on how to get in the box, how the procedure works, and how important it is for the car to be right on the point. It’s much easier for the mechanics to do the tire changes and fuel the car. I’m also really lucky to have Nicky as a teammate. He’s one of the best drivers in the world, and he’s helping me a lot. I can see what he’s doing not only in the car but outside the car as well, how he manages situations and deals with things. He’s such a nice guy that he has no secrets with me. He shares all his experiences and knowledge with me just for me to get better and improve as a driver and a person. That’s something I really appreciate.”
Ben Keating also wants to look fear in the eyes. “Everyone wants to win Le Mans, and no one is really going to show what they have until the race starts. Then the gloves come off. Who knows what’s going to happen. That’s something you can’t control. All we can control is doing our jobs to the best of our abilities. We will deal with whatever comes up. I’ve often said that it’s really special to win a World Endurance Championship race as an American driver racing an American car, racing something I sell, and racing for an American team. It’s hard to imagine what that would be like at Le Mans and the 100th Le Mans. That would be on a totally different level.”
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is scheduled for 4 p.m. CET / 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, June 10. MotorTrend and MotorTrend Plus will provide both live television and streaming coverage, beginning with Wednesday’s opening practice. Radio Le Mans will stream audio coverage of the test day, practices, qualifying, and the race.