It used to be that television was inspired by real life. Those days are gone. Now, we have real life (and its attendant reality series) brought to us by, of all things, a video game. The Forza Motorsport Showdown aired on SPEED TV in late winter, modeled after the popular video game of the same name. The star of the show (at least for us Corvette types) was Louis Gigliotti's '07 Velocity Yellow Z51 coupe.
If the name Louis Gigliotti rings a bell (and it ought to), it's because Louis is the son of World Challenge stalwart Lou Gigliotti. Louis crewchiefs Lou's World Challenge C6 on race weekends and runs the family's full-time speedware business the rest of the week.
For those unfamiliar with the show (and the game), here's a prcis: Six amateur racers were teamed up with six cars and their race teams for the competition. The racers had diverse backgrounds including circle-trackers, an autocross driver, and even a professional (hey, what happened to "amateur" drivers?) drifter.
Each team supplied the car of its choice. Being longtime Corvette racers, the LG Motorsports crew was approached to field a car and a crew for the show. Not surprisingly, they showed up with a Vette, while other teams brought rides ranging from classic muscle to modern sports cars. In the mix were a '69 Camaro, a '73 Challenger, a pair of Nissan 350Zs, and a supercharged '05 Mustang GT.
According to the show's Web site, "Forza Motorsport Showdown was inspired by the realism of vehicle customization and tuning features within the game, and is designed to put contestants to the ultimate test of high-performance driving and mechanical skills." In each installment of the four-episode series, the teams and their drivers competed in two driving disciplines including drifting, road racing, autocross, and drag racing. The payoff was a check for $100,000 in the winner-take-all format.
After each race, the drivers were awarded credits with which they could upgrade their car at the Speed Shop-just like in the game, except on the show it took more than the push of a button. At least, that is how it was supposed to work. Instead, the show completely ignored the points required to upgrade the cars, and mostly ignored the LG crew's upgrades altogether. Instead, they focused on the human drama, most of which was fabricated.
It could be argued that, in the interest of parity, the weakest drivers were teamed with the strongest cars and vice-versa. As it was, the LG bunch was given the youngest driver, an 18-year-old circle-track driver/Napoleon Dynamite doppelganger. As if simply having the brand-new Corvette wasn't a big enough advantage, the driver had the benefit of the LG Motorsports crew providing mechanical support and a cadre of the company's race-proven parts. Better still, the driver had unlimited access to LG himself to offer driver coaching.
We'll come back to the driver and the drama shortly. For now, we're sure you want to know about the car. The Forza C6 (which is now known as "Superstar" around the LG shop) was purchased by Louis in the fall of 2006, and was his first new car. The car was originally slated to be the testbed for the APS twin-turbo kit and some new forced-induction LG camshaft grinds for the turbo market. As luck would have it, the gods of poor timing saw to it that the new car arrived just before Louis departed to Texas for his final semester at Purdue. He returned to school without the car, just as the crew at the shop was preparing to perform the turbo install. The plan was to deliver it to him at the World Challenge race at Road America.
Fate again intervened, this time in the form of a call from the execs at SPEED TV. Lou (Sr.) had several conversations with them to hammer out the details of the upcoming series. Once that was done, the shop turned its attention to finding an appropriate "donor car" for the show. They just happened to have a new '07 Z06 on hand, but that was deemed a bit much for the competition. Instead, Louis's new '07 Z51 car was pressed into service.
With the proper forms filled out, a parts list for the modifications was submitted for approval, and the wheels were in motion. With just a week-and-a-half to ready the car for the show, a full-fledged thrash was undertaken. The partially installed turbo kit was removed, and the car returned to stock. All told, the LG bunch spent five days wrenching on the car to ensure the utmost safety and performance for their driver.
Safety was addressed with the addition of a four-point roll bar, a five-point harness, a thorough flush and bleed of the braking system, and the installation of a set of Cobalt race pads. Next, the LG crew put a wrench on every bolt to ensure absolutely nothing was going to come loose. They trial-fit all of their "upgrades" to ensure the components fit properly, and prepped everything so there would be as little time lost as possible once shooting got underway. At this point, they had no idea how much time would be allotted for modifications, so efficiency was foremost in their minds.
With that, the trailer was loaded with the car, the modification components, and a huge load of tools. The filming was to take place at and around Road Atlanta, so off to Georgia they went.
For once, timing was on their side: Louis and the rest of the race crew were already at Road Atlanta that week for their regular SPEED TV World Challenge GT race. Filming was slated to begin the following Monday. The Forza car and shop crew arrived that Saturday to help with the race car and get ready for the week.
Over the course of the six events, the car was repeatedly upgraded. With the goal of achieving maximum power using minimum mods in mind, the crew installed LG's Pro Long Tube Headers and x pipe system (see our own installation of these parts elsewhere this issue), a FAST intake manifold, a cold-air intake, and a series of combination-specific custom tunes. The rear section of the exhaust was even deleted at one point.
Unlike most of the other entrants, the Corvette was not sprayed. Even so, when all was said and done, the car made an incredible 470 hp at the rear wheels when tested at LG's dyno shop! How'd it do that, Louis? "We worked really hard on the combination and had the tune perfect," he said with a knowing grin.
Even with that much grunt under the hood, the best their "race-car driver" could muster on the dragstrip was a 12.60 at 116 mph-with the traction control engaged. He slowed down approximately two seconds without the aid of the electronic nanny. Yup, he's a helluva driver, alright.
There was far more to the combination than simple power parts, though. As you would expect from a pro race team, the LG contingent came armed to the teeth with trick parts for the suspension and brakes, and key knowledge regarding overall setup. A set of LG's race-proven coilovers was teamed with GM Performance Parts' T1 sway bars to ensure a supple combination that would maximize the car's traction and transient response. This was doubly important because the Corvette was limited to street tires in all events.
Another key element in the dominance of the Corvette was its alignment. The LG crew reset the alignment specifically for each event, even the oval track. Careful observers will have noticed the car was sporting positive camber on the left front corner for this race. "We had it set up so that it looked like a Cup car blowing down the front straight," recounted Louis with a chuckle. It sorta sounded like a Cup car, too.
As if all that wasn't enough, the LG team had one more huge trick up its sleeve: proven aerodynamics. "The show's producer wanted us to put [our] hood on because he thought it looked cool," explained Louis. "What he didn't know was that we had just tested that hood at the GM wind tunnel and found it was worth over 100 pounds of downforce at the front end of the car. We also installed our prototype carbon-fiber splitter and rear spoiler to balance the car. These were worth another 60 and 120 pounds of downforce, respectively. And like the producer said, they do look cool."
Lest you think the cars got all the attention, think again. Before the cameras began rolling, the six drivers were given three days of instruction at the Panoz Racing School at Road Atlanta. Some of the drivers (ahem) even got one-on-one tutoring from a certain pro race driver. "The night before the autocross, my dad took our driver out to the autocross course at Road Atlanta in his Z06 street car. They spent three hours finding the perfect line, nailing down shift points and braking zones." Some of this apparently stuck, as the LG team put a hurtin' on the others to the tune of two seconds, an eternity at an auto-X.
As you may have deduced by now, the LG team did not win the series. They held a commanding lead going into the final stage, having won four of five races. The last event was to be another wheel-to-wheel race on the course at Road Atlanta, which the LG team previously won. It looked like a lock, until the SPEED TV crew threw one final curve ball: The final event points were essentially restructured to be winner-take-all. All six cars were within the allotted points, so whoever won the event won the money.
All of the entries had mechanical issues, even the LG Corvette. A disallowed radiator swap by the LG crew meant a last-minute thrash to replace the stocker. This resulted in air being trapped in the car's cooling system, causing the car to overheat. In one last bit of drama, the eventual winner miraculously made up nearly two full laps in a late-race effort to take the win. The scoring was contested by several of the teams, but the results stood, sending the Mustang to the winner's circle.
With the dust settled, we wanted to know whether the LG crew would be willing to accept an invitation back to a second series. "Absolutely! Every time we race, we learn," said Louis. "It doesn't matter if it is the World Challenge car or a street car. This knowledge is applied directly to our customer's cars and our new products." Maybe next time, they'll get a driver who is as amenable to improvements as the car.
Now that the Forza C6's TV days are behind it, Louis has again started modifying it to test new combinations. Currently, the car is sporting a pair of L92 cylinder heads, an L76 intake manifold and one of LG's G5X3 camshafts. The combination is good for 499 rwhp and 467 rwtq, making for one responsive ride. And as if the car's meatball numbering, sponsor logos, and thumpity cam didn't draw enough attention, Louis is still running around sans exhaust system, making the Vette sound every bit the "Superstar" race car it really is.