Corvette Racing, in its 25th anniversary season, has plenty to look forward to. In 2023 it will be fighting on two fronts in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the FIA World Endurance Championship, competing in two very different GT classes, with C8.Rs in two different specifications, with two sets of drivers, run out of two different headquarters.

While its GTD Pro effort in IMSA has a familiar feel to it, running a GTE C8.R modified to compete against GT3 machinery with a full pro driver lineup, its FIA WEC program in GTE Am poses a new challenge for Pratt & Miller. In what will be the final campaign for the GTE spec C8.R in both series, ahead of the launch of the new Z06 GT3.R in 2024, Corvette Racing, for the first time as a factory, is competing in a Pro-Am class.

With the WEC’s GTE Pro class no more after Ferrari and Porsche opted to step up to Hypercar for this season, Corvette has been forced to switch to GTE Am in order to continue competing on the world stage.

It is something that Corvette will need to get used to if it plans to continue making its annual pilgrimage to the Le Mans 24 Hours as a GT manufacturer each year. This is because the WEC and Le Mans as an event will only accept GT3 cars with pro-am lineups once the GTE Am category is removed from the structure in 2024.

With the Hypercar category attracting an abundance of factory teams and GT3 budgets at an all-time high, the new world order in global sports car racing has arrived. Cadillac is already representing GM at the head of the field in GTP and Hypercar, so Corvette, realistically, has nowhere else to turn.

This isn’t bad news, though. Behind the scenes there is a real interest from customer teams, with orders already placed and the potential for programs from left field to emerge in the coming months. At present, RACER understands that a two-car effort in IMSA’s GTD Pro will be joined by up to two customer cars in the first season with the FIA WEC also targeted as a priority program, most likely with a new customer team or teams.

Supporting multiple customer teams around the world going forward, in particular with expansion in sales and support structures expected after 2024, makes both sporting and business sense. It ensures Corvette can continue to have a presence and remain a significant player in the ever-evolving GT racing marketplace, at a time when interest in IMSA and the FIA WEC is at an all-time high.

For this season in the WEC, Corvette Racing has assembled a trio of Ben Keating, Nicky Catsburg and Nico Varrone. They will drive its single No. 33 C8.R in GTE Am, which is being prepped at Larbre Competition’s base in France by Pratt & Miller staff. Interestingly, RACER was told by Corvette that the car is a brand-new chassis and not the Pro car from 2022. Clearly, a lot of resource is being poured into this.

Despite this group having no prior experience competing together, and Varrone and Keating’s time behind the wheel of the C8.R having been limited so far, this group should be considered as potential title contenders.

Keating is the reigning LMGTE Am world champion and Le Mans class winner, who has made the switch to Corvette from British Aston Martin customer TF Sport. The Texan is arguably the most accomplished and talented Bronze driver currently competing in GT racing. He’s driven a slew of GTs and prototypes over the years and the C8.R will be the sixth different GTE car he’s campaigned at Le Mans.

“It’s significantly different than all the others,” Keating explains. “It’s taken a little bit to get used to. I’ve been in a turbo car for the last couple of years, and the big V8 has a lot more torque instantly at low RPMs than having to wait for that big turbo to wind up, so you don’t have that lag — which takes a little while to get used to. The year before, I was in the Porsche RSR and again it doesn’t have the same level of torque that a big V8 has. They all have slightly different handling characteristics.”

To have him joined by Catsburg, another driver with a wealth of experience in different cars — and, crucially, with Corvette in recent seasons as a third driver in its Pro efforts — is key. Varrone is the only question mark here, but he has impressed in his GT racing career to this point. The WEC will be new to him, but if he can adapt quickly, as he is expected to, this will be a crew that won’t be underestimated by anyone in the Am paddock.

“Last year, I raced in the ELMS and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, so I have experience,” Varrone explains. “I didn’t do a full season in WEC but doing races in both championships helped me quite a lot. I don’t think it will be a big change for me. I feel ready for the challenge.”

Sebring has been a happy hunting ground for Corvette over this years, with 13 wins over the years, but getting up to speed quick enough to challenge for victory in the season opener will be no easy feat in this company

In amongst the 14-car field, Corvette will have to get the better of entries from an old rival in Aston Martin Racing, Keating’s former team TF Sport (returning with Aston), Ferraris from AF Corse and Kessel Racing and Porsche run by Team Project 1 and future Hypercar outfits in Proton Competition and Iron Lynx.

It would surprise nobody to see a Corvette factory effort win on its GTE Am debut, but you’d do well to find many weak links in the class. The Prologue test this weekend is therefore crucial because Keating and Varrone’s time behind the wheel has been so limited to this point, having only tested in Bahrain last year and at Sebring.

Both will have to lean on Catsburg to get the most out of the car in the early part of the season. Being the lead driver is something that the Dutchman will not shy away from, though — it’s actually a challenge that excites him.

“It’s definitely going to be different,” Catsburg admits. “I was always the third driver at Corvett,e so I was filling in for the few endurance races — Daytona, Sebring, Petit Le Mans and Le Mans. So this is the first time I’m doing a full season with Corvette Racing with two new teammates. I’m the one with the most experience in the car, which is a first for me. It’s definitely going to be a change.”

The team members on the pit wall will have plenty to learn too. The strategy and racing itself has a different flavour to the always flat-out, often political GTE Pro class that Corvette was part of last season. Balance of Performance isn’t usually as much of a talking point in Am — that’s not to say that there are zero complaints, but the success ballast system does well at keeping the field close and making it extremely difficult to run away with the title.

Corvette’s WEC program in 2023 may not appear as exciting as a full factory bid in a pro class on the face of it, but this is a serious project and it is being taken very seriously internally. Achieving a Le Mans class win and a world championship title in the final year of GTE racing is the aim. If Corvette Racing can pull this off, it would feel just as sweet as any of its previous achievements over the past two and a half decades and serve as a fitting GTE swan song for the GM brand.