Legend has it that William Durant, founder of General Motors, invited Louis Chevrolet and his younger brother Arthur to race for the honor of being Durant’s personal chauffeur. Louis, who was already a respected international motorsports competitor, easily defeated Arthur. But alarmed by Louis’ seemingly complete disregard for personal safety, a nervous Durant handed the chauffer job to Arthur. Louis eventually won, though. A few years later, with Durant’s backing, the first Chevrolet vehicle was born.
Racing has not just been a source of entertainment for the brand, or even a mere marketing tool. Every Chevrolet race car, old or new, is a rolling research laboratory: Those characteristics that are important on a street car can be absolutely critical in a race car.
So much of what Chevrolet has learned from racing over the past century has passed into the production world. It’s called “technology transfer” – invent it, develop it, perfect it and test it on the track, and if it has a place there, it may have a place on your street car.
IndyCar is the sanctioning body for the Indianapolis 500, and the top open-wheel series in North America (“open wheel” means the cars have no fenders). While it may seem IndyCars have little in common with street cars, you’d be surprised at the technology that is shared – the turbocharged V6 engine in the IndyCar has much of the same technology, such as Variable Valve Timing, turbocharging and direct fuel injection, that you’ll find on many Chevrolet passenger vehicles. And as it is in any racing series, designers and engineers have the same goals as the designers and engineers for the Chevrolet vehicles you can buy – safety, dependability, fuel economy, aerodynamics, lightweight components, acceleration, braking and handling. In addition, the program serves as a training ground for production engineers who work on the racing program and bring the technology from the street to the track. When they have finished their stint in the racing program, they take their learnings from motorsports back to the production side to incorporate them in the Chevrolet vehicle lineup. The result continues to enhance the development of smaller displacement, fuel-efficient, high-performance engines available to Chevrolet customers in a variety of models from Sonic to Suburban.
The engines are located behind the drivers in IndyCars, offering an optimum balance for both oval tracks and road courses. Chevrolet engines have won the Indianapolis 500 eight times, including the 2013 Indy500, when crowd favorite Tony Kaanan crossed the finish line first in his KV Racing car. Ed Carpenter was the fastest qualifier, and he and his Chevrolet led the most laps. In fact, Chevrolet took the top four spots in the race. And up front for all of it: the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Pace Car.
The Indianapolis 500 is the world’s most famous race, so there’s also no question that Chevrolet wants to be there. Chevrolet has been a part of the Indy500 for a century – racing is, after all, in the Chevrolet DNA. In fact, Chevrolet has supplied the Pace Car for more Indianapolis 500 races than any other manufacturer.
But the Indianapolis 500, as important as it may be, is only one race in the IndyCar season. Chevrolet driver Ryan Hunter-Reay won the 2012 IndyCar championship, and Chevrolet ended the 2013 season with another manufacturers’ championship. There were 19 races, including three doubleheaders, racing twice in one weekend at the same venue. Tracks included ovals, conventional purpose-built road courses and temporary street courses. Besides the United States, the series visited Brazil and Canada.
For 2014, IndyCar starts the 18-race season March 30 in St. Petersburg, Florida and ends August 30 in Fontana, California.
Here are some of the top Chevrolet-powered teams in IndyCar for 2014:
Team Penske has added former Formula 1 standout Juan Pablo Montoya, who won the Indinapolis 500 in 2000, to the already strong roster of Helio Castroneves and Will Power.
Target Chip Ganassi Racing: Current champion Scott Dixon and last year’s Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan, plus Ryan Briscoe and Charlie Kimball, should be valuable additions to the Chevrolet roster for 2014, and the Ganassi team knows how to win on every type of course.
Ed Carpenter Racing: Carpenter is the lone owner-driver in the series, and he has brought in road course and street course ace Mike Conway to contest those races. The team could have a breakout year.
KV Racing: This team proved it could win the big one with its Indy500 victory last year, and should be strong for 2014 with teammates Sébastien Bourdais and Sebastián Saavedra. Bourdais is a four-time Champ Car champion, and he’d love to add an IndyCar championship to his resume.
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