2001 Corvette Z06 by Hib Halverson
Last winter, Pirate Racing, a SCCA/Speedvision World Challenge team, let me test its #01 Les Stanford Chevrolet Corvette Z06. It’s the same car Bill Cooper drove to a win in the 2000 World Challenge opener at Lowes Motorspeedway last April.
After my experience with the stock Z06 in early May, I mentally compared the three flavors of hardtops I¹d tested on race tracks: Pirate #01 (2800 lbs, race prep¹ed T1 suspension and 440hp LS6) at the Bragg Smith driving school in Nevada and both ¹01 Z06 and ¹00 Hardtop at Mid-Ohio. While it hasn¹t got the power or the braking, handling-wise, I think a production Z06 is closer to "Wild" Bill Cooper's World Challenge race car than it is to last year's Z51-equipped Hardtop. Nevertheless, it¹s still intended for street use, so it¹s more forgiving than the race car. As for ride, the Z06 is somewhat more firm than the Z51 but not near as harsh as the race car.
The word "tossable" was dreamt-up by GM to describe Corvette’s forgiving qualities when run past the limit. Several times at the Z06 media preview, I heard GM folks say about the car’s handling, "It’s more tossable."
When a forgiving car is driven very hard, it will let a driver get more in over his or her head and still save the car before it spins. This quality is not to be exploited frivolously. Consistently run past your car’s limit (lots of sliding around and gathering it up at the last second, ie: "tossing" the car) and you won’t be as quick around the track as a driver–John Heinricy, for example–who’s smooth and runs on the near side of the limit or right on it, all the time. One reason a Z06 is more tossable is its combination of suspension tuning and Goodyear tires. How can we demonstrate this tossable thing?
A performance driving technique is "trail-braking". With an understeering car which sometimes resists turn-in (some C4s are good examples), trail-braking can be an acceptable strategy to improve turn entrance performance. In short, you carry your braking into the first part of the turn. In most cases, this induces a bit of oversteer and rotates the car sooner.
Trail-braking is not a useful C5 driving strategy. Because the car is more neutral, trail-braking degrades lap times and, in extreme cases, causes the back end to step-out. On one of my test laps at Mid-Ohio, I had Active Handling off, came flying up to a turn and trail-braked. Sure enough, the Z06’s back stepped out, like–I found myself a bit crossed up, but I saved it. In many other cars, I would have been embarrassed with a spin and ride into the weeds. Ok, Z06 is more tossable.
Driven more smoothly at Mid-Ohio the Z06 shows it’s race-bred "stuff" and no Z51 can catch it, nor can most other production sports cars. Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is the premier, medium-length road race facility in the central U.S. It’s either 2.25 or 2.4 miles, depending on course configuration and includes a wide-variety of road race challenges.
Out of Turn One, on slightly-uphill straight, headed for a Turn Two, a 180 deg. right hander also called the "Keyhole," I’m briefly in fourth gear.
Coming up to Two, I braked hard, backshifted to third, turned-in and held some throttle. This is where I first felt the lateral acceleration the Z06 chassis and it’s new Goodyears generate. The car sticks like crazy. It also showed me the stock seats are inadequate. They lack side support.
Two exits onto the track’s longest straight, so getting off it is the most important maneuver at Mid-Ohio. In a Z06, it’s actually pretty easy. Just don’t early apex.
My line is such I don’t have to lift as the car approaches driver’s left, exit. Then, I floored it–not whacked the throttle, mind you, but smoothly and quickly floored it. I let the car slide a little and touch the curb at driver’s left, just past exit Two. It was here I could feel the Z06 was better getting power down than Z51s I’d tested previously.
I rocketed down the long, slightly-downhill back straight. Starting about 4000rpm, I heard the different sound of the titanium exhaust. While it’s not a loud as some aftermarket systems, it’s got a distinctive tone everyone will know is not from an ordinary Corvette.
Just before I saw 6500 rpm, I grabbed fourth gear. Flat-out through Turn Three, a little dogleg right-hander. Speed is building. My pulse is racing. This sucker is fast. I want one of these cars!
Well into fourth gear and nearing 130 mph, I see Turn Four, a 90 deg. right. I keep my foot flat on the floor. Wait–wait––now! Hard on the brakes. I mean, like–way hard. The ABS is working. Speed bleeds off and I backshift to third then turn-in at Four. As I exit Four in a right turn I suddenly turn left for Five. I can really feel the Z06’s quicker transient response.
Five is a sharp left with an uphill entrance and a rather steep, downhill exit. There is a short straight, then Turn Six, another 90 deg. right at the bottom of a hill. After another little straight, then comes Seven, with its exit at the crest of a second hill. Five, Six, Seven and the short straights between them come bang, bang, bang. Get the rhythm going, and you’re transitioning, braking, turning and on the power in rapid order.
The car gets really light exiting seven, but if you know where to put the car (because you can’t see over the hill) you can stay on it (if you dare) all the way to entrance Eight.
I could go on for the track’s other six corners, but I’m running out of space. You get the picture, though, don’t you? The 2001 Corvette Z06 flat hauls ass.