The Popularity of the Iconic Brand Continues to Swell at Home and Abroad
By Holly Cain
The drive into any IMSA race venue is almost inevitably met with the deep roar coming from a long line of Chevrolet Corvettes – maybe a 1967 Stingray convertible, a 1975 T-Top, a group of 2022 Z06s – all making their way into the front gate of the track.
The distinctive sound of the Corvette engine, the prideful smile of the driver, the look-at-me thrill of the passenger are can’t-miss accessories as this brand of sports car nobility earns waves, admiring nods and tips of the hat from onlookers.
It is the ultimate “entrance.”
Undoubtedly, in the minutes and hours that follow, those same Corvette owners – dressed in Corvette hats and t-shirts – will walk the crowded IMSA paddock with a purpose, heading straight to the Corvette Racing team. It’s where hundreds of enthusiastic fans can see the race cars up close and always count on an autograph and a handshake from their racing heroes.
The only thing more satisfying to this loyal legion than driving a Corvette to an IMSA race is cheering for a Corvette competing in an IMSA race – an effort so often rewarded by a postrace podium celebration.
And this perpetual heavy dose of racing love and support has never been overlooked by the drivers who proudly steer the Corvette in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
“Growing up in the sports car paddock, you always knew that Corvette Racing brought the biggest fanbase,’’ said current Corvette Racing driver Jordan Taylor. “From every autograph session, they had the longest line, kind of wrapping in front of the other trailers, so I think even if you weren’t with Corvette, you noticed how passionate their fans were.
“And then once I joined, it was pretty apparent, pretty obvious, just how passionate they are and how supportive no matter how the weekend’s going, good or bad. They are always there for support, always cheering you on and hoping for a Corvette in victory lane.”
For so many of its 24 years competing in “modern-day” sports car racing’s highest echelon, victory lane has been a second home to the Corvette Racing program. Since 1999, Corvette Racing has earned 122 wins – tops among all IMSA entrants – including four GT-class victories in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, a dozen more in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts and eight wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Passionate Love Affair between Car and Customer
This season, Corvette Racing drivers Taylor and Antonio Garcia are second in the GTD PRO championship category, having earned that heralded 12th victory at Sebring for the make.
Whether winning races and dominating the GT series in America or claiming winner’s hardware overseas, the Corvette Racing program has consistently commanded a loyal and expansive fandom. It’s an “all-in” club filled with pride and expectation.
And a real love for the car.
“Corvette is America’s sports car, that was clear from Day 1, ‘’ said British driver Oliver Gavin, the most successful and longest-tenured driver in Corvette Racing’s storied history.
He recalls his earliest days with Corvette Racing, taking immediate note of the unusual love affair generated by the brand and its fanbase – particularly in America, but increasingly overseas as well.
“You could see they knew the cars and drivers, the Rons (Fellows) and the Johnnys (O’Connell) and then here you were this new boy,’’ Gavin recalled, noting his earliest days with the make competing alongside the “original” Corvette superstar drivers.
“But the fans embraced you, they wanted to hear your story, they were a family. You felt like you joined this huge family. You were instantly their best friend and since you were driving a Corvette, it didn’t matter what you had done before. You were a part of their team and their family.
“That was the thing that stood out to me, the warmth of the people. Actually, it is a people story. We’re racing cars and racing these machines around the racetrack, but it’s really the people that generate this feeling and emotion from being around the cars. They are so passionate about it and it kind of rubs off on you.”
It’s a unique tightly held relationship among carmaker, customer and racer. A relationship identified immediately by General Motors and cultivated at its highest levels.
“I think we have the privilege at Corvette of being America’s sports car,’’ said Laura Wontrop Klauser, GM’s sports car racing program manager.
“When I look out and see over 50 percent of the fans at a race are wearing something Corvette, I’m like, ‘Yeah, we won this one,’” Klauser continued. “We race for our fans. We race to spread the message about the brand and the car, but ultimately, we’re out there because of the fanbase and the pride they have and all our employees back at GM have for this car. That’s why we’re out there.
“So, when you see it’s being received so well and people are excited to be there and see the car and be a part of that, that is what is so cool for me. It really justifies why we’re there and makes all the wins and moments we do well matter even more, because we know we’ve got a huge group of people out there celebrating with us, both at the track and watching from home.”
Spreading the Corvette Love Globally
In recent years, Corvette drivers say the American love affair has noticeably crossed the Atlantic – a further sign of the immense popularity of the brand.
“It’s easy to understand us being a fan favorite here in America when we go to IMSA races, but for me, it really speaks volumes when you go to a race like Le Mans where we’re still a fan favorite and we’re not even in America,’’ Taylor noted.
“That everyone still supports us and is a fan of the team, the motto of never giving up is a huge thing for the team. In sports car racing, it’s endurance racing, and the team has shown they never give up and I think the fans appreciate that mentality and that’s how we go about our racing.”
The worldwide love affair between Corvette Racing and its massive fandom would indicate as much. The pride Corvette owners feel for their vehicles is amplified with the pride Corvette Racing drivers have for their craft and for the relationships it has cultivated.
It’s a unique, unmistakable reality in the IMSA paddock. And it’s what makes Corvette Racing so iconic.
“When I go back 20 years, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but this has led to so many opportunities, so many amazing experiences both at the racetrack and away from the racetrack,’’ Gavin said, the excited sincerity evident as he speaks.
“It’s spectacular to see the growth of the car and now the Corvette name and brand has grown into this global sports car because, yes, it is America’s sports car, but it’s now a global sports car that has taken the world by storm.
“All these years racing in the biggest sports car races, but not just that, winning all the biggest sports car races in the world,’’ Gavin continued. “It’s really transformed the image of Corvette from being a car with the big thumping V-8 you’d race off the lights.
“Corvette is a serious sports car and every single manufacturer is watching to see what we’re going to do next and jealous we sell so many cars and we sell so many great cars.
“The other manufacturers are like, ‘GM and Corvette, they’ve gotten it right.’ And we have.’’