Since the early days of sports-car racing, prototypes have had a special aura about them. Typically they look similar to their production-car cousins but share virtually no hardware with them. The first prototype Corvette was the Duntov 1957 SS Racer. This diamond in the rough was literally completed inside the transport on the way to Sebring for its debut race. With zero development time, the results were predictably poor. Then GM's brass put an end to the company's official involvement in racing, and the car was warehoused—but not destroyed. Two years later, the mule chassis was re-skinned as the Sting Ray Racer and campaigned by GM VP of Design Bill Mitchell, who won the 1960 SCCA C/Modified Championship in the car.
The 1963 Corvette Grand Sport was close to being a prototype racer. Although the initial version looked stock and used a production-design suspension, the tube frame and lightweight parts were all purpose-built racing hardware. The next Corvettes to get close to prototype status were John Greenwood's wide-body Spirit of 1976 racers. The Greenwood cars were sinister looking, bloody fast, and loud as hell, but they had trouble finishing races. The arrival of the C4 brought renewed enthusiasm, so Chevy tapped Lola to convert one of its T-600 race cars using a vaguely Corvette-like body. While the turbo V-6 produced 1,200hp, the chassis was outdated. The fast-but-fragile GTP Corvette was retired after the '88 season, having racked up 12 poles and two wins.
With the stunning success of the production- based Pratt & Miller C5-R and C6.R racers throughout the 2000s, no one was pressing for a new prototype Corvette. So it came as a pleasant surprise when the 2012 Corvette Daytona Prototype was announced in November 2011. Previous DP racers had been criticized for looking nothing like their alleged production counterparts. Grand-Am director Jim France met with GM Racing chief Mark Kent to see if Chevrolet might be interested in participating in the series with a more classic-looking GTP car. Kent was very interested indeed.
All current DP cars use a similar design to produce close competition. GM Racing's only involvement in the creation of the car had to do with the design of the body. The team worked closely with three chassis builders—Riley, Dallara, and Coyote—along with Pratt & Miller and Grand-Am. British aerodynamicist Ben Wood worked out the new skin with the help of Windshear, a full-scale, rolling-road, 180-mph wind tunnel in Concord, North Carolina. The finished product was unmistakably a Corvette.
The only "production" item in the car is the basic LS engine architecture; everything else is fabricated. The tube-steel chassis has front and rear unequal-length A-arms, pushrod-actuated rockers, and conventional dampers with coil springs. Other essential hardware includes rack-and-pinion steering, Brembo brakes with steel rotors, and a sequential five-speed transaxle. The all-aluminum LS engine measures 5.0L (305 ci), has 11.5:1 compression, revs to 6,900 rpm, and makes a conservatively rated 500 hp. Earnhardt-Childress Racing builds all of Corvette DP mills, while Pratt & Miller constructs the carbon-fiber bodies. (In addition to its expertise with the C5-R and C6.R programs, P&M has a lot of experience with the current DP chassis, having worked as a subcontractor for Coyote.)
Though designed for privateer racers, the DP Corvettes are arguably the finest prototype Vettes ever built. So how did they stack up against the competition? The first race of 2012, the 50th Anniversary Rolex 24 At Daytona, saw the Corvettes finishing a disappointing Fifth, Eighth, and Ninth. But the rest of the season was a romp. Of the 13 races remaining, the Corvettes won First Place nine times, Second six times, and Third four times. For the season's last outing, the Championship Week, DP Corvettes took the top five spots. Chevrolet also won the DP engine championship.
Endurance racing is a team sport. And while the cars are designed to provide close competition, when one marque wins 69 percent of the races entered, its superiority is difficult to deny.