It was black, fast, and one of the first '06 export Z06s built and shipped overseas. VIN 84 was delivered to Corvette Europe during the summer of 2005, whereupon GM's product-development team and Cadillac/Corvette Europe tested the car extensively. The purpose of the tests was to give GM USA feedback on the Z06's performance in a European setting. The black Z06 was thrashed over the continent's toughest roads for 5,000 miles and even evaluated at famous racing circuits such as the Nrburgring.
When testing was completed, Koos Pettinga, Corvette Europe's manager of Corvette Events, decided the Z06 should start a new life. Why? The Fdration Internationale de l'Automobile, or FIA, had just announced a new five-race series for the '06 season. Called the GT3 European Championship, the series was designed to allow nonprofessional, "gentleman" race drivers to compete in the world's top supercars.
The Z06 was sent to the newly established Team Carsport Europe, owned by Dutchman Toine Hezemans. Hezemans also owns Team Carsport Holland, which currently races the ex-Pratt & Miller No. 11 C5-R. Based on their racetrack-test results, Team Carsport officials believed the Z06 would be competitive in the new GT3 series.
Hezemans next enlisted Callaway Competition, in Leingarten, Germany, to convert the black beauty into a GT3 prototype race car. A racer at heart, Callaway Competition Director Ernst Woehr jumped at the chance to work on the new Z06. Woehr and his partner, Giovanni Ciccone, were already somewhat familiar with the car, as Callaway's U.S. arm had recently performed engine, exhaust, and air-intake tests on a customer's vehicle. This provided Woehr and Ciccone with some baseline performance information they could apply to the race car.
Unfortunately, the FIA decided to hold the GT3 press conference during the 2005 GT1 awards banquet, scheduled for December 2 at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo. Teams interested in competing in the GT3 class were encouraged to display their cars in front of the hotel on press day. The FIA was also holding a test session the next day at the Circuit Paul Ricard to determine each car's performance potential. Because the black Z06 wasn't delivered to Callaway Competition until October 26, the firm had only five weeks to transform the street car into a track-ready racer.
Team Carsport assigned its C5-R team engineer Mike Gramke to work with Callaway Competition until the car was completed. The Callaway Competition crew invited Team VETTE to visit their shop during the last days of the construction and attend the Monte Carlo press conference. A small team of six people completed their work on the body and chassis on December 1, just one day before the car's scheduled debut. Work on the engine and wiring system was not finished by the vendor in England, however, so a non-running spare engine was installed for the Monte Carlo display.
Even without its race-prepped engine, the car was stunning. Most notable were a bright-yellow paint scheme and a graphics package that included the car's new name: "Z06-R GT3." As the car was rolled out of the shop for a late-afternoon photo shoot, a small crowd gathered to drool over the transformed Z06. After our photo shoot the car was shipped to Monte Carlo for the press event. (We'll bring you more details on the Z06-R's construction in a future issue.)
Ernst Woehr and Team VETTE flew to Nice the next morning to attend the press conference. We were met at the airport by an old friend of Woehr's, ex-F1 driver Jochen Maas. Maas, who lives in nearby Monte Carlo, knew the quickest route around the city and kept us entertained with his often amazing life stories.
The cars were already on display when we arrived at the Hotel de Paris. In addition to the Corvette, vehicles on hand included the Dodge Viper and entries from Lamborghini, Porsche, Maserati, Venturi, Ascari, Lotus, and Aston Martin. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain, and cars without windows-including the Corvette-were getting soaked.
Later, at the press conference, FIA GT3 Director Stephane Ratel explained the main objective of the new series: "We have to balance performance. We believe that Aston Martin and Porsche are the fastest unrestricted. Then you should have the Dodge and Maserati. We don't know about the performance of the Lotus, Venturi, the Corvette-but basically, it should not be that difficult to balance performance with weight."
The next morning, Maas transported us to the spectacular Circuit Paul Ricard, an FIA test track and former home of the French Grand Prix. Maas was intimately familiar with the facility, having held the F1-car track record there for a number of years. Several cars were already circulating the 3.55-mile circuit when we arrived. By day's end, Darren Turner had set the fastest time driving the Prodrive Aston Martin.
As we winged our way back to Leingarten, Ernst told Team VETTE he would be taking delivery of six more Z06s in January. Callaway Competition will convert all six cars to Z06-R specifications. Based on our observations, the FIA GT3 European Championship should provide a terrifically exciting venue for these cars to showcase their on-track abilities.
The author would like to thank Jochen Maas for his kind hospitality and Ernst Woehr for giving Team VETTE an early opportunity to watch this project unfold. To stay up-to-date on Team Carsport's activities, log on to www.corvettemotorsport.com.