Chevy Corvette Z06 Drag Test - Rumble in Richmond

Two generations of Z06 wage a not-so-civil war for supercar supremacy

Jay Heath Jul 31, 2006 0 Comment(s)
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What a tease.Late last August, in a refreshing display of corporate munificence, GM invited around two dozen auto journalists to the sprawling Virginia International Raceway complex for an early look at the upcoming '06 Z06 supercar (Idle Chatter, Jan. '05). In addition to receiving a full technical briefing on the car, conducted by the Corvette engineering team, the assembled scribblers were allowed solo stints on VIR's 3.27-mile road course and even treated to a few full-warp hot laps with C6.R drivers Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell. For this small group of card-carrying car kooks, the VIR junket was the equivalent of a coke dealer's proffering a free "taste" of his latest cut.

But unlike the white stuff, whose euphoria-inducing effects are brief but easily replicable provided one has the means, this sample snootful of Team Corvette's latest intoxicant was intended to provide a lasting high. With new Z06s selling at an average of $15,000 over sticker, Chevy had little incentive to add the car to its press fleet, making it all but impossible for niche media outlets such as VETTE to obtain a sample for instrumented testing. As autumn expired and what passes for winter descended on Central Florida, our hopes of rounding up our own Z06 tester grew increasingly dim.

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Then, last February, we heard from Virginia's Kevin Helmintoller. A fellow Vette-head with a heavy foot and a crippling addiction to big, silly horsepower, Helmintoller offered up both his 1,400-mile '06 Z06 and his 436ci Mallett/Cartek '01 Z as the subjects of a no-strings-attached drag session at Richmond International Raceway. After carefully considering the matter for, oh, three seconds or so, we dropped what we were doing and hied it for the airport.

'06 Z06
Unless you've been stranded on Io for the past year-and-a-half, you're fully aware that the latest iteration of the Z06 is by far the quickest, fastest, most technologically advanced vehicle ever to sport the crossed-flags badge. Nevertheless, when Kevin Helmintoller showed up at our pseudo-shootout in a Victory Red Z wearing a "LO 11S" vanity plate, we had to wonder if he wasn't setting himself up for disappointment. After all, most published test results showed the car's true quarter-mile-acceleration times to be in the mid-to-high-11-second range, and even Chevy puts the figure at a "mere" 11.7

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Helmintoller got off to a good start, nailing an 11.88 on his first run of the day. After a pair of backup runs failed to improve upon that number, he decided to unbolt the car's factory-issue Goodyear F1 EMTs and replace them with a gummier (and slightly wider) pair of Nitto Extreme Drag radials. While the Nittos helped with consistency, they failed to effect the three-to-four-tenths e.t. improvement we typically see from such a swap.

Ironically, the drag tires may actually have been too sticky for the dead-stock Z, as our test driver found out during one especially vigorous pre-run burnout. Hoping to shave a few hundredths from the car's 60-foot times, our man heated the tires to such a degree that their grip finally overwhelmed that of the factory clutch, instantly converting several thousand miles' worth of friction material into a dense, mephitic cloud. Note to prospective drag racers: Keep SPEC's number handy.

After the wounded clutch had cooled, Helmintoller managed to record the '06's quickest time of the day, an 11.74 at 124.14 mph. With a respectable run in the bag and a 20-mile drive home ahead of him, he elected to park the car and fire up the '01.

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'01 Mallett/Cartek Z06
At what point does a small-block officially cease to be "small"? Thanks to the LS-engine experts at Garwood, New Jersey's Cartek Racing (www.cartek.net), the answer is "a lot bigger than you might think." To create a properly puissant engine for Helmintoller's '01 Mallett Z06, Cartek's Dave Busch and Julio Hormilla wedded a re-sleeved LS6 aluminum block with a 4.125-inch forged Lunati crankshaft. The result is a 436-cube colossus worth a dyno-verified 532 rear-wheel (around 625 flywheel) horsepower. (The total may actually be higher now, as Helmintoller has added a Meziere electric water pump and a freer-flowing 3-inch exhaust system since the car was last dyno'd.)

Unlike the virginal '06 Z, the '01 was a dragstrip veteran that had been painstakingly annealed for the rigors of all-out acceleration testing. We weren't too surprised, then, when the car promptly laid down a string of low 11s at 126-128 mph, easily bettering the efforts of its current-generation competitor. Mickey Thompson slicks and a race-spec clutch meant the C5 Z could be launched much harder without fear of scrambling driveline parts, and a short-throw B&M shifter made executing rifle-shot Two-to-Three shifts a considerably less nerve-jangling affair.

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The car's best run of the day-a 10.93 at 128.46-fell a mite short of its previous benchmark of 10.8 at 132, but we suspect less-than-optimal weather conditions may have had a role in keeping both Z06s from hitting their accelerative bogeys. At any rate, high 10s are exceedingly stout for a naturally aspirated C5, particularly one that sees regular commuting duty on the streets of Richmond.

Although dragstrip blasting is its preferred mtier, the Z's Mallett pedigree means road-course proficiency is but a tire change and a shock adjustment away. By combining exotic-car speed and handling in an eminently livable package, this '01 edition may be the headiest distillation yet of the Z06 performance formula.

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