Sunday, May 27, 2018, marks the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. The 2019 Corvette ZR1 has been selected to be the Pace Car that leads the field of 33 cars around for the start. The Corvette will pull off the track into pit lane as the cars exit turn four and make their run to the starting line. The Corvette Pace Car will also be deployed during caution periods to insure that the field maintains a safe speed. 2018 marks the fifteenth time since 1978 that a Corvette has been chosen as the official Pace Car.
2019 Corvette ZR1 Features
“Chevrolet is proud to once again pace the Indianapolis 500,” said Steve Majoros, marketing director for Cars and Crossovers. “The ZR1 is the most powerful and fastest Corvette ever made. It’s the perfect choice to pace ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.’” The Corvette ZR1 is indeed the fastest and most powerful of all the Corvette Pace Cars. With a 6.9-liter supercharged V8 engine producing 755 horsepower and 715 lb-ft of torque, the ZR1 can hustle from zero to 60 mph in an astonishing 2.95 seconds and has a top speed of 212 mph.
The ZR1 Pace Car will also have the following features:
- Eight-speed paddle shift automatic transmission
- The ZTK performance package with a stanchion-mounted, adjustable carbon-fiber high rear wing; Michelin Pilot Sports Cup 2 tires; and a performance suspension
- Magnetic selective ride control
- Brembo Carbon Ceramic brake system
- ZR1 chrome aluminum wheels, nineteen-inch in front and twenty-inch in the rear
- Standard Performance Traction Management and Electronic Limited Slip Differential
- Unique Indy 500 graphics package
- Integrated safety strobe system
- Performance Data and Video Recorder
The selection of the 2019 ZR1 continues the long history of Chevrolet and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway working together to give race fans the best Pace Car. “Chevrolet and IMS enjoy one of the longest-running and strongest bonds in motorsports,” said J. Douglas Boles, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president. “This year’s Pace Car, the 2019 Corvette ZR1, is an incredible, fast machine that is a perfect fit to lead the ‘500’ field to the green flag.”
GM Leads the Pace Car Field
Since 1997, all Indy 500 Pace Cars have been provided by General Motors. The GM Pace Cars have included Corvette (C5, C6, C6 Z06, C6 ZR1, C7, and C7 Grand Sport), Camaro, Oldsmobile Aurora and Bravada, Chevrolet SSR, and the Chevy Monte Carlo. Of all car brands that have made more than one Pace Car appearance at The Brickyard, no other vehicle has been the Pace Car more times than Corvette. Corvette leads in appearances with 15, Camaro has 9, Chrysler (including FCA) has 13, Ford has 11, Studebaker has 6 and Stutz has 2.
The duties of the pace car include setting the pace for the field of thirty-three cars at the start. The starting field is organized in eleven rows of three cars each and the speed set by the pace at the start has to be fast enough for the race cars to warm up their engines and tires, but slow enough to maintain their alignment before getting the green flag. Typically, a celebrity is chosen to drive the pace car at the start of the race, but when the pace car is deployed during a caution period in the race, the driver is a more experienced driver closely associated with IMS and one who is thoroughly familiar with the track regulations. Corvette Pace Car drivers in the past have included race car drivers Jim Rathmann, Parnelli Jones, and Jeff Gordon, as well as actors Morgan Freeman, Patrick Dempsey, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
Controversial Pace Cars at the Indy 500
While it would seem that the selection of a Pace Car or a pace car driver is a fairly straightforward process, in a few instances that selection has caused an uproar among the 500’s legion of fans. In 1991, Dodge was chosen as the manufacturer and they, in turn, selected the Dodge Stealth as their Pace Car of choice. Although sold in the U.S. under the Dodge banner, the car was manufactured in Japan by Mitsubishi. The fans rebelled against the idea of having a foreign-made Pace Car. Dodge withdrew the Stealth and substituted a pre-production Dodge Viper. Taking no further chances, Dodge also puts well-known American race driver Carroll Shelby behind the wheel and the race went off without a hitch.
Donald Trump (yes, that Donald Trump) was chosen to drive the Camaro Pace Car in 2011, but then, as now, great controversy erupted when the decision was announced and legendary race driver A.J. Foyt replaced him in the pace car driver’s seat.
Considering that the Indy 500 has used Pace Cars for the start since the first race in 1911, it is remarkable that only one Pace Car accident has ever occurred. In 1971, the Dodge Challenger Pace Car was donated by the Indianapolis area Dodge dealers association and was driven by local Dodge dealer Eldon Palmer. At that time, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway had a temporary three-tiered scaffolding structure near the end of pit lane to accommodate photographers on race day. Mr. Palmer was behind the wheel of the Challenger for the pace laps, along with Tony Hulman, IMS owner in the passenger seat, and former astronaut John Glenn and sportscaster Chris Schenkel in the back seat. As instructed, Mr. Palmer pulled off the race track at the exit of turn four and onto pit lane. About halfway down pit lane, when he realized he was going much too fast, Mr. Palmer locked up the brakes and the car skidded into the scaffolding going about 60 mph, causing the scaffolding to collapse and tumbling the photographers in all directions. About 20 photographers were injured, but no one in the Challenger Pace Car was hurt.
It is Indy 500 tradition that the winning driver receives the pace car as part of his prize. In this case, since the real pace car was damaged, the winning driver, Al Unser Sr. received a new Dodge Charger instead. The Challenger Pace Car was repaired and now resides in the American Muscle Car Museum in Melbourne, Florida. Mr. Palmer was never invited back to drive another pace car.
The 2018 running of the Indy 500 will be televised live on ABC with a pre-race show beginning at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, May 27th. For more information including a full event schedule, please visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway website
GM Heritage Center – https://history.gmheritagecenter.com/wiki/index.php/GM_Indy_500_Pace_Cars
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PHOTOS: [CREDIT TO GM]
All Corvette Indy 500 Pace Cars – https://brucetroxell.smugmug.com/2019-Corvette-ZR1-Indy-500-Pace-Car/i-dpSDnHD
Print Ad for 1978 Corvette Pace Car – https://brucetroxell.smugmug.com/2019-Corvette-ZR1-Indy-500-Pace-Car/i-7n7SBmh