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Rising to the Challenge - Lance Miller's R9G in SVRA

Lance Miller Exercises His R9G C4 In SVRA Competition

Walt Thurn Jul 14, 2010
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Chip Miller, co-founder of Carlisle events, was an enthusiastic supporter of the Corvette Challenge racing series. Before he passed away in 2004, he even attempted to revive these popular Corvette-only races. When the Challenge ended in 1989, Miller began collecting these C4 racers and exercising them at vintage events. Today the Miller family owns one B9B '88, five R7F '89s, and two R9G '90 World Challenge Vettes. One of the R9Gs has 15 original miles and has never been raced. The second one, which forms the basis of our story, was raced by Morrison Motorsports in the World Challenge series in 1990 and 1991. Main driver Andy Pilgrim finished Seventh in the 1990 championship and Third in 1991.

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The lineage of these exceptional C4 Corvettes began in the early 1980s, when the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) introduced a new racing class for "showroom stock" cars. With the exception of safety equipment (rollcages, fire systems, and more), the cars had to be raced as delivered from the factory. This meant that if they were equipped with radios, air conditioning, and other power amenities, they had to be raced in the same configuration.

The SCCA's premier showroom-stock event was the Longest Day at Nelson Ledges in Ohio. In June 1984, John Greenwood, Dave Heinz, and Rod Millen entered a BFGoodrich-sponsored Z51 Corvette in the race. This was the first showroom-stock race for the new C4, and it acquitted itself well, qualifying just a tick behind a factory-supported Porsche 944 Turbo. The thirsty Porsche quickly fell behind as the Corvette extended its lead with its superior handling and excellent fuel mileage. It held this position for nine hours until it was struck with the usual new-car gremlins. It finished 24th overall in what would be the only loss for a showroom-stock C4.

In 1985 the SCCA expanded Showroom Stock into a full racing series. The C4s were undefeated from 1985 until the end of 1987, usually filling the Top 8 to 10 finishing positions. Porsche complained so loudly that the SCCA outlawed Corvettes for the 1988 season. As an olive branch, race officials granted Chevrolet permission to develop a Corvette-only series. Chevy accepted and created the Corvette Challenge, which featured a field of identically prepped, factory-built race cars.

The Challenge ran from 1988 through 1989 and was televised on a then-new racing channel called SpeedVision. It was a huge hit with race fans, in large part because it highlighted driver talent. The 50-minute races were noisy, colorful, and grinding, with plenty of fender-to-fender contact to keep things interesting. Escalating costs caused Chevy to stop supporting the Challenge at the end of the 1989 season, but the SCCA invited Corvettes to return in 1990 to a revised racing series called the World Challenge. Chevy built 26 R9G factory race cars and sold them to teams to campaign in the new series. As we mentioned, the Miller family owns a pair of these cars.

Chip Miller's son, Lance, shares his late father's love of these impressive C4 race cars. Lance currently races his ex-Morrison World Challenge R9G Vette in vintage-racing events throughout the country. We caught up with him and his chief crewmember (wife Michele) at a Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) event held in conjunction with this year's Sebring ALMS race. The car remains pretty much as the Morrison team raced it in the early '90s. It's so original, in fact, that Miller had destroyed the rods in the 20-year-old L98 at another vintage event two weeks earlier. Fortunately, he was able to return home, get a spare engine, and transport it to Sebring. He then hired a local mechanic to install the engine and was ready to go racing.

On Wednesday he took his first practice and qualifying laps. It was not long before he brought the car in complaining of a severe vibration over 100 mph. His crew rotated No. 97's driveshaft 180 degrees and put new tires on the old racer, which cured the problem. In Thursday's race, Miller started 36th and finished 18th. On Friday he started 26th and finished 12th overall/First in Class after a stirring battle with Bob Bagby's Porsche 911. He and Michelle were all smiles when he climbed out of the colorful Mobil 1-liveried C4.

We spoke with Andy Pilgrim, who was also racing at Sebring, and he told us that Miller's ride had been one of his favorite C4 racers. He was happy to see that it's been preserved in race condition and is still getting regular exercise. Fans of the sorely missed Corvette Challenge undoubtedly agree.



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