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Little French Corvette! America's sports car and Le Mans favourite

2019-06-14 10:44
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Image: AFP / Jean-Francois Monier

Dubbed America's sports car and a staple of US pop culture, the storied Chevrolet Corvette and its signature, whirring V8 engine will roar into action at the Le Mans 24 Hour Race this weekend, almost 60 years after its debut.

For devotees of the gruelling race, the impressive model is synonymous with the event but this year could mark its last appearance.

"It's kind of a record," said Doug Fehan, the Racing Program Manager for the team which is an arm of parent company General Motors, in reference to the car's Le Mans history which stretches back to 1960.

But there are doubts over whether or not the 2019 edition of the race, which takes place this weekend, will also be its last after the US manufacturer announced a new Corvette model will most likely have a six-cylinder engine. 

"I do not know what you know.. and I do not know," added Fehan.

"The new Corvette will be presented on July 18 but we have not yet implemented any plans and we could still be here next year" with the current model.

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Image: AFP / Jean-Francois Monier 

In 20 years at Le Mans, Corvette Racing has won the GT category eight times.

Its last win was in 2015, with a team featuring Simon Pagenaud, the recent winner of the Indianapolis 500.

These days, it faces competition from Porsche, Aston Martin, Ferrari, BMW and great American rival Ford.

In 2018, Corvette Racing could not do better than fourth in its category.

Despite that, Fehan has no doubt that a car with a big V8 front-end engine can still thrive at Le Mans thanks to rules developed by organisers to ensure a more level playing field for competitors.

"The GT class is a great investment for us because it's what we build and sell," he added.

"I understand Formula One and all the magic that goes with it, but that does not reflect our product. You need to see something running that fans can buy and I think this will be our strategy for a long time."

Le Mans organisers are expected soon to agree new regulations for the coming years -- among the possibilities is a new category "hypersport" or "hypercars".

But Fehan is not convinced.

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Image: AFP / Jean-Francois Monier 

"Where have we seen the best battles in Le Mans in the last five years in the GT category," he says. 

"I understand all the excitement around hypercars but in my opinion GT cars represent the purest expression of racing."

One of Corvette's drivers at Le Mans since 2004 is Denmark's Jan Magnussen, a former F1 driver and father of Kevin Magnussen, who is now racing in F1 for the American Haas team. 

"I do not know what the future will be but I love to drive the Corvette," he told AFP. 

At 45, he still hopes to one day drive with his son in Le Mans.

"I'd like to do it here with a Corvette, Kevin wants to do it, Haas agrees, you just have to organize it while I'm still able to drive fast!," he said.

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Read more on:    corvette  |  france  |  motorsport  |  le mans

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