In December 2005, Team VETTE traveled to Germany to observe the conversion of a stock '06 Z06 into a new FIA GT3 race car called the Z06R. Since then, we have continued to bring you updates on the development of these exciting new Corvettes, of which seven have been built. In the cars' maiden appearance at Silverstone, driver Klaus Ludwig put one of the Z06Rs on the pole for the first race, but teething problems and heavy rains pushed him far down in the finishing order. Based on this auspicious performance, however, we knew it wouldn't be long before a Z06R notched its first win.
As luck would have it, we were on hand to witness the car's first victory, which came last summer in Germany. Here's how it happened. Historic-Corvette racer Uli Martini, from Heilbron, Germany, bought one of the cars from their creator, Callaway/Carsport. Uli, who is competing in all six of this year's FIA GT3 races, decided to take his new racer to the annual Corvette Euro Meet at the nearby Hockenheim racetrack. This is the 29th time the Swiss Corvette Club has run this weekend event, which attracts Corvettes, Vipers, and other American musclecars from all over Europe. The meet includes road racing, drags, autocross, parade laps, and a car show.
Corvettes of every generation-including the C6-were well represented at this year's two-day event. European Cadillac/Corvette dealer Kroymans even brought a large display trailer filled with Corvette merchandise, video games, and, of course, the cars themselves. Large crowds were seen at the display throughout the weekend.
Saturday was clear and hot, and the day was dedicated to road racing. The morning was set aside for practice and training, while the afternoon included four races. Besides Uli's Z06R, three other Corvettes caught our eye-an ex-Doug Rippie Le Mans Corvette, an ex-Callaway LM250, and a beautiful C5-based C12R.
During practice, Uli set the fastest time of the day in his Z06R. He started the final race of the day from the pole position and had a seesaw battle throughout with the ex-Rippie car. Uli prevailed in the end, taking the coveted checkered flag and bringing the Z06R its first victory.
Another notable entrant was veteran Corvette racer John Heinricy, driving a second Z06R. Heinricy happened to be in Germany on business for the GM Performance Division. When Callaway Competition director Ernst Woehr learned about John's trip, he extended him an invitation to drive a Z06R. John accepted and was soon seen inspecting a new Z06R in the Hockenheim garage.
Incredibly, Callaway had completed the car only hours before the race. Further complicating matters, Heinricy had never been to the tricky Hockenheim circuit. Fortunately, the officials allowed him to start Race Three from pit row. John made a couple of exploratory laps and brought in the car to be checked by the Callaway crew. Everything seemed fine, and John was sent back out to learn the track.
The final race of the day included 33 of the fastest finishers from the day's first three contests. Heinricy again started from pit lane. The five-time National SCCA T1 Corvette champion quickly caught the thunderous pack of race cars, passing 30 of them on his way to Third place. John also set the fastest lap during the race.
Each driver was presented with a beautiful silver trophy and a bottle of champagne. It did not take long for top finisher Uli Martini to spray bubbly over all the winners, including Heinricy. John later told Team VETTE that the race was one of his most memorable, inasmuch as it brought him his first European trophy.
On Sunday the Swiss Corvette Club invited Heinricy to take two demonstration laps around the autocross course. Kroymans loaned John one of its display Z06s to use for the autocross. John took the Le Mans Blue Z06 on one slow lap around the tricky course to familiarize himself with the layout. Next, he strapped on his helmet and promptly set the second-fastest time of the day in the stock Z06.
We left this spectacular event with a new appreciation of the Corvette's impact in other parts of the world. These owners are just as enthusiastic about their cars as are Vette fans in the United States. It is telling that Kroymans' Corvette sales continue to increase each year. The car's European brand manager, Koos Pettinga, believes attending events such as the Euro Meet improves the performance image of the car. Based on what we saw at Hockenheim, we'd have to agree.