Corvette As Top Indy 500 Pace Car

The Indianapolis 500 has been around since 1911 and the Corvette, since 1953, but it wasn’t until 1978 when the first Corvette got to lead the pack. America’s favorite sports car, the Corvette, began its long legacy in 1953, born from an American Dream. Corvette has since has lead the Indy 500 fourteen times since that very first lap in 1978. To those of us who love and admire Chevrolet’s two-seater powerhouse, it’s not hard to understand why it paces the Indy 500 so often. In fact, more than any other car ever has. Why do you ask? Good question!

1978 Chevrolet Corvette Indy 500 Pace Car

The official Indy 500 pace car has two jobs. Its primary function is to lead the pack at the start of the race. It assembles the grid for a few warm up laps prior to unleashing the thrust and thunder that is hurled around the track of speeds up to 200 miles per hour! Also the pace car returns to the front of the pack during a yellow (caution) flag appearance, picking up the leader to reduce the speed of the race cars still on the track.

As of 2017, Corvette has boasting fourteen appearances as an Indy pace car! Following close behind is Chevrolet’s Camaro–with nine appearances– while the Mustang, Trans Am, or Viper have only appeared two or three times. Let’s explore the world of Corvette as an Indy 500 pace car and an amazing love affair that started in 1978 and continues to this day.

The 1960 Indy 500 winner Jim Rathmann, drove a 1978 C3 Indianapolis 500 decorated Corvette for the very first time in Corvettes long history of appearances at the Indy 500. It was the 25th Anniversary of Corvette and Chevrolet had introduced the most extensively redesigned Corvette since 1968.

Chevrolet had planned to only produce 300 replicas of this extraordinary Corvette but eventually had to produce one for every dealer for a total of 6,502 replicas. This was also the 25th year anniversary for Corvette and Chevrolet would produce a 25th Anniversary Corvette as well for 1978. We would not see another Corvette pace car leading the pack for eight years.

Then in 1986, when Corvette was introducing the return of the convertible, the Corvette again took its place at the front of the lineup at the Indy 500. This beautiful 1986 C4 (fourth generation) convertible was driven by famous test pilot and retired Air Force General, Chuck Yeager. This was Corvette’s second Indy 500 pace car appearance.

The C4 was the first street-legal Corvette to pace Indy 500, since the 25th Anniversary C3. It was introduced at the Detroit Auto Show in the fall of 1985 and incorporated the new ABS braking system that became standard in all 1986 Corvettes. A unique twist for Chevrolet was that no specific replicas of the 1986 Corvette pace car were going to be issued and that all 1986 convertibles were produced as pace car replicas regardless of color.

Nine model years later, the Chevrolet Corvette paced the Indy 500 again. In 1995, another C4 Corvette, equipped with larger brakes, traction control and optional run-flat tires made its third appearance in Indianapolis. Aside from mandatory safety features, no modifications were needed to meet pace car specifications.

The 1995 Corvette pace car was piloted by Chevrolet General Manager, Jim Perkins. Chevrolet produced 527 replicas with the exact same option package sported by the pace car.

After the subdued paint scheme for the ’78 pace car, Chevy threw caution to the wind with the paint scheme for the ’95 pace car. A two-tone Dark Purple Metallic with Arctic White featuring a broad red strip across the front that transformed into flags on the sides of the car, not for the faint of heart.

Now we only had to wait three years before the Corvette would make it fourth appearance leading the thunder at the Indianapolis 500! The 1998 C5 Convertible would make a wild showing with its Radar Blue exterior, bright yellow wheels and an interior made of black and yellow leather. This loud looking Corvette was driven by the famous Indy 500 driver, Parnelli Jones! He is now the oldest living Indy 500 race car driver!

A yellow graphics package with a checkered flag  stretched from the front grill all the way to the tail. The Corvette engine was a stock 345 horsepower 5.7 liter V-8 under the hood and needed no modifications to handle the Indy 500 pace laps. All 1163 replicas were identical to the original pace car and thirty-seven of them we even exported out of the United States. Adding to the reintroduction of the convertible with the 1998 Corvette, was an impressive Active Handling Chassis Control System, known today as “Stability Control.”

From the ’70s to the ’90s, Corvette left a lasting impression at the Indianapolis 500. The only car without any performance modifications to stand-up to the pace car duties of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

At almost every Indy 500 race, tradition send the winner home with one of that year’s pace cars or replicas. Each year a special driver is selected from among former racing drivers, notable figures from the automotive industry or an invited celebrity. It is considered a high honor to be showcasing a pace car from respective automobile manufacturers. This is one reason Corvette has been out in front of the pack more times than any other vehicle selected for pace car consideration.

We still have ten more Corvette Indy 500 pace cars left to discuss. If your already asleep, we’ll try and wake you up with the next article of this spectacular Corvette Indy 500 Pace Car edition.  The very next Corvette Indy 500 pace car take us only four years from our last model. We leap forward into the 2000s to show off the 50th Anniversary edition Corvette as 2002’s Indy 500’s pace car. Our next article in this series will focus on the years 2002 model years and up until today, as we continue to explore the history of the Corvette Pace Car.

With the Indianapolis 500 race here to stay and the next generation (C8) already planned, I’ll sure bet you’ll see another Corvette Indy 500 pace car produced, favored, and holding tradition leading the pack of thunder at the Indianapolis 500 in Indianapolis, Indiana!

 

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