The action has now moved on to other tracks, but let’s spend some bandwidth recognizing what was a big weekend for the Chevrolet Corvette and one of its long-time drivers, Johnny O’Connell, at the recent 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race. Both were inducted into the Sebring Hall of Fame this year in conjunction with the race festivities, with the Corvette becoming the very first American entry to achieve the honor. (Oh, and Corvettes took second and third places in their class in the race itself.)
The Corvette joins the usual suspects—like Porsche and Ferrari—in the Hall, and the only real question here is “what took so long?” As one of the few cars truly worthy of the term “icon,” the Corvette has been racing at Sebring since 1956, when drivers John Fitch and Walt Hansgen teamed up for a class victory in the car’s first appearance there. That historic win was an early turning point in the history of the Corvette, providing it with instant credibility as a high-performance sports car that could run with the best the Europeans had to offer.
It also marked the beginning of a strong and successful Corvette presence in international endurance racing that has included multiple class wins at all three of the sport’s “triple crown” events: The 24 Hours of Le Mans, 24 Hours of Daytona and the Sebring race. And O’Connell was a motivating force behind many of them.
Although he got his start racing for other manufacturers, notching his fair share of victories along the way, it was when O’Connell joined Corvette Racing in 2001 that his career reached true Hall-of-Fame proportions. During his initial Corvette campaign, he helped pilot the car to overall victory at Daytona—a first for the Corvette—and a class win at Le Mans; he finished the year by taking five checkered flags in seven events in the Corvette in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS).
That kicked off one of motorsports’ most dominating partnerships, with O’Connell driving the Corvette C5-R racer to two consecutive Le Mans titles, three straight wins at Sebring, and a pair of ALMS driver’s championships from 2001-2004. He then picked up right where he left off when the Corvette C6.R debuted in 2005, reaping three more victories at Sebring, another Le Mans class win and one more ALMS driver’s championship before retiring after 2009 to provide expert racing commentary on ESPN.
Coincidentally, there’s also another connection between the 12 Hours of Sebring and the Corvette that’s making news this year: Both are celebrating their 60th anniversaries. But in the case of the Corvette, Chevy is the one handing out the presents. In fact, Chevrolet has planned two different ways to keep drivers in a celebratory mood: The first is the 2013 Chevrolet Corvette 427 Convertible, which leverages goodies from both the ZR1 and Z06—including the latter’s 505-hp, 427-cubic-inch V8—to debut as the fastest, best-handling Corvette rag-top of all time (production-wise).
Also launching this year is a 60th Anniversary Package that will be available on all 2013 models and feature an Arctic White exterior, Blue Diamond interior, ZR1-style rear spoiler, and assorted logos and badges; the setup can be further enhanced with an optional graphics package that includes full-length racing stripes.
Both are scheduled to reach Chevrolet dealers this summer.