On May 30, 1911, Arthur Chevrolet competed in the inaugural Indianapolis 500. One hundred years later, a Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible will lead the 2011 Indianapolis 500, as the car maker and iconic race celebrate their Centennial anniversaries – and start the countdown for Chevrolet’s return to IndyCar racing in 2012.
“Before Chevrolet was a brand, Louis Chevrolet and his brothers made a name for themselves behind the wheel of a race car,” said Jim Campbell, GM vice president of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports. “After Chevrolet became a car company, Louis and his brothers continued to race at Indy, forging one of the most storied relationships in automotive racing.
“That history includes some of the most memorable cars that have paced the Indianapolis 500, well as many checkered flags won under Chevrolet power,” Campbell said. “With a new Chevrolet race engine competing in next year’s race, the relationship between Indy and Chevrolet is heating back up.”
1911 – 1920: Louis, Arthur and Gaston Chevrolet compete at Indy
Although 2011 marks the 100th anniversaries for Chevrolet and the Indianapolis 500, the connection can be traced back to as early as 1905.
That year, Louis Chevrolet and Carl G. Fisher competed while touring the Midwest as daredevil drivers in racing exhibitions, and the excitement of automobile racing shaped the fortunes of both men.
In 1909, Fisher began building his brick-paved auto-racing track near Indianapolis as Louis Chevrolet became a nationally known celebrity driving for Billy Durant’s Buick racing team.
Impressed by Louis’s engineering abilities, Durant invited Chevrolet to partner on automotive projects, including designing a new car to be called a “Chevrolet.” Louis soon took a break from engineering to help his brother, Arthur, prepare a Buick for the inaugural 500-mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
On May 30, 1911, Arthur Chevrolet drove 30 laps in the first Indianapolis 500 before mechanical problems sidelined his car. On November 3, 1911, Louis Chevrolet and Billy Durant incorporated the Chevrolet Motor Car Co. in Detroit.
Three years later, Louis Chevrolet sold his interests in the Chevrolet car company to Durant and moved to Indianapolis to pursue racing with his brothers. Louis competed in the 1915 Indianapolis race, lapping the track at more than 80 mph before dropping out with engine trouble. He returned for the 1919 Indianapolis 500 with brother Gaston, campaigning in cars from their own company, Frontenac Motors Corp. Louis and Gaston finished seventh and tenth, respectively. In 1920, Gaston won the Indy 500 in a Monroe-Frontenac, becoming the first winning driver to finish the race on one set of tires.
1945 to Today: 22 Chevrolets Vehicles Pace the Indy 500
Carl Fisher paced the first Indianapolis 500 – in his personal car – because he felt a rolling start would be safer than the traditional drivers’ sprint. Since then, the pace laps that start the race have become a popular tradition of the Indy 500. This year, a 2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible will pace the 500-mile race – the 22nd Chevrolet to do so.
“Chevrolet has paced the Indianapolis 500 more times than any other brand,” said Campbell. “The 2011 Camaro SS Convertible Pace Car brings a modern interpretation of one of the most iconic cars ever to pace Indy – the 1969 Camaro SS Pace Car. We think this is a fitting way to celebrate Chevrolet’s history with the Indy 500, while gearing up for our next 100 years at Indy.”
The first Chevrolet to pace Indy, a 1948 convertible, was driven by Indianapolis Speedway President Wilber Shaw.
Ten Corvettes have paced the Indianapolis 500. The first appearance was in Corvette’s 25th anniversary year, 1978. That year, the Wall Street Journal triggered a buying frenzy for the official 1978 Corvette Limited Edition Pace Car replicas when it published a front-page story about their collectability.
The 2011 Camaro SS will be the seventh Camaro to pace the 500. The first was in 1967, the year of Camaro’s introduction. Camaro was invited back to pace the 1969 race. The white 1969 SS Convertible pace car, with its domed hood, “Hugger Orange” stripes and specially trimmed interior, became a singularly iconic Indy pace car. Today, Camaro collectors treasure the remaining examples of the 3,675 official replicas built in 1969.
The 2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible Indianapolis 500 Pace Car’s Summit White exterior, with orange stripes, is a direct lift from the 1969 pace-setter, while the orange leather-trimmed interior is a modern counterpoint to the historic exterior. To bring the pace car look to the street, Chevrolet will offer 500 of the 2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible Indianapolis 500 Pace Cars for sale. They are slated for delivery this spring.
2012: The Return of Chevy Power to IndyCar
In addition to pacing the Indy 500, Louis Chevrolet’s namesake has also powered many of the cars that competed at the Brickyard.
Most recently, Chevrolet competed in Indy-style competition as an engine manufacturer in 1986-93 and 2002-05 with V-8 engines, winning 104 races, powering six driver champions, and scoring seven Indianapolis 500 victories.
Next year, Chevrolet will return to the IZOD IndyCar Series with a new twin-turbocharged, direct-injected V-6 racing engine powered by renewable E85 ethanol fuel. Developed by General Motors and Ilmor Engineering, the Chevrolet IndyCar V-6 will have a displacement of 2.2 liters, aluminum block and cylinder heads, and will be a fully stressed chassis member supporting the gearbox and rear suspension.
The Chevrolet IndyCar engine will be available to all entrants in accordance with the series’ regulations. Team Penske is the first IndyCar team to commit to Chevrolet power in 2012. Team Penske previously tallied 31 open-wheel victories with Chevrolet engines, including four Indianapolis 500 wins.
For Chevrolet coverage during the Indy 500 weekend, visit the Chevrolet Facebook page, or follow us on Twitter, hashtag: #ChevyIndy500.
Founded in Detroit in 1911, Chevrolet celebrates its centennial as a global automotive brand with annual sales of about 4.25 million vehicles in more than 130 countries. Chevrolet provides consumers with fuel-efficient, safe and reliable vehicles that deliver high quality, expressive design, spirited performance and value. The Chevrolet portfolio includes iconic performance cars such as Corvette and Camaro; dependable, long-lasting pickups and SUVs such as Silverado and Suburban; and award-winning passenger cars and crossovers such as Spark, Cruze, Malibu, Equinox and Traverse. Chevrolet also offers “gas-friendly to gas-free” solutions including Cruze Eco and Volt. Cruze Eco offers 42 mpg highway while Volt offers 35 miles of electric, gasoline-free driving and an additional 344 miles of extended range. Most new Chevrolet models offer OnStar safety, security and convenience technologies including OnStar Hands-Free Calling, Automatic Crash Response and Stolen Vehicle Slowdown. More information regarding Chevrolet models can be found at www.chevrolet.com.