When auto enthusiasts equate muscle cars with road racing, sooner or later the discussion always goes back to the golden age of the Trans-Am series. These were the glory days of American road racing and the ’67-69 Z/28s were born out of Chevy’s desire to dominate the ponycar category. The ripples from that time period are still being felt today.
Larger wheels, wider rubber, bigger brakes, beefier sway bars, air dams, rear spoilers and even seats with high bolsters all found their way not only onto later production cars, not just those with performance pedigrees, but also onto four-door family sedans as well. Horsepower ratings increased also, but the emphasis from the factory led to the development of well-rounded cars and not just drag machines. Chevrolet carried that trend over into the development of the new Gen V Camaro--and then in a brilliant marketing move brought even more attention to the new car by fielding near-stock production Camaros in ’10 with a familiar look from the halcyon era of Trans-Am.
Handling all the nuts and bolts behind this factory-Camaro road-racing team last year was Stevenson Motorsports. Based out of the Jacksonville, North Carolina, area, Stevenson Motorsports is a Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series GT team that has been competing in Grand-Am Road Racing for several years with a variety of cars, including a Corvette and a Pontiac GXP-R. With strong connections to General Motors and a successful racing pedigree, Chevrolet saw them as the best choice to campaign the new Camaro bodystyle in the Rolex Series, along with two other Camaros in the Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge.
Of particular interest for Chevy were the two Grand Sport class entries to be run in Continental Tire. With stock suspension mounting points, no internal engine mods and OE-style brakes, these cars were the closest thing on the track to a stock production car and an excellent test bed for future performance parts. Drawing from the Trans-Am tradition of the past, Bow Tie fans were particularly excited when an updated Penske/Sunoco livery was chosen to adorn the cars throughout the racing season. Jeff Bucknum and David Donohue, sons of the original Penske drivers Ronnie Bucknum and Mark Donohue, were co-drivers when the Camaro made its competition debut at the last race of the 2009 season.
"The cars have to be as close to stock as possible, meaning that they come straight from the showroom floor for the most part," said Mike Johnson, team manager for Stevenson Motorsports. "We have aftermarket brakes, performance exhaust systems, and safety equipment, but the biggest changes involve the suspension with shocks, springs, and sway bars. We also replace a lot of the rubber bushings to stiffen everything up, but everything has to be in the stock location. Other than that, everything else is basically bone stock."
While 2010 produced two pole positions and podium finishes for the two-car effort, it was a somewhat frustrating season for this championship-caliber team as much of the year was spent sorting out an entirely new racing platform. On the other hand, it provided much needed data about gearing, tuning, and suspension for what is an essentially stock production car that will give the team what it needs for a more successful campaign this year.
"In the Continental series, we are returning with a one-car effort after spending the ’10 season as a development year," said John Stevenson, owner of the team. "I am glad to have Matt Bell returning to GS. Matt said after testing at Homestead driving this Camaro GS car was like driving a different car than last year. John Edwards will be joining Matt as co-driver in the GS Camaro. I welcome John to our team as he is a professional in every way and will complement our organization."
"Last year we learned so much running two cars in GS," Johnson added, "but going to one is going to give us the best chance for a championship. GM has really come on board to make the Camaro GS.R a championship contender and with everything we learned last year, we are going to be in great shape."
While the Sunoco livery will be gone this year, look for Stevenson Motorsports to start making some new legends of their own.