The Sebring ALMS event always attracts a large number of Corvette owners who come to watch their favorite sports car compete against the world's best. A few years ago, Chevrolet, the C5/C6 Registry, and the National Corvette Museum began offering these enthusiasts a "Weekend at Sebring." The package includes many special "Corvette only" amenities, secure parking, private grandstands on Turn 17, lunch, car displays, a large tent, TV coverage of the race, and a slate of Corvette guest speakers.
This year, four special Corvettes were on display: an '09 ZR1 prototype, an '08 Indy pace car convertible, a 427 Limited Edition Z06, and a Pratt & Miller C6RS convertible. On Friday, retired Corvette Plant Manager Wil Cooksey presented the first 427 Limited Edition Z to the fans (see sidebar). Cooksey gave everyone a walk-around tour of the car, which previously had been presented to him as a retirement gift. Later in the day, the Corvette Racing drivers came to the Corral for the ever-popular autograph session.
On Saturday, retired Chief Engineer Dave McLellan gave a presentation on the history of the original C4 ZR-1 project. McLellan then drove a '90 ZR-1 on an exhibition lap around Sebring, accompanied by current Corvette supremo Tom Wallace at the wheel of a new ZR1. In an interesting twist, McLellan, who serves as an engineering consultant on the mid-engined Mosler MT900, brought one of the Vette-powered supercars to the Corral for everyone to inspect.
Later, Wallace spoke at length about the new ZR1. A large crowd asked him many probing questions about the new car, to which he gave commendably candid answers. Next, IMSA Event Director Larry Hayes honored Cooksey for his contribution to Corvette Racing by presenting him with a plaque. Owners were then presented with celebrity choice awards, and the rest of the day was spent watching the race and bench-racing with other Corvette owners. Once again, the Sebring Corvette Corral proved a winning complement to this season-opening race.
Cooksey's High-Powered Send Off
Wil Cooksey loves to tell people about his dream job: managing the Bowling Green Assembly Plant where the Corvette is built. Cooksey retired from GM and his dream job in early March of this year. His love of fast cars, especially Corvettes, made him the perfect match for this coveted management position. During his tenure, Cooksey worked hard to become an owner's advocate by inviting and listening to customer feedback. He took this feedback to GM executives, and many changes were introduced on the C5 and C6 as a result. Cooksey became plant manager in 1993 and was responsible for producing three generations of Corvettes.
As part of his sendoff, Cooksey was given the job of introducing the 427 Limited Edition Z06 at this year's 12 Hours of Sebring. The introduction marked the culmination of his extensive involvement with the car, which spanned several months. Late last year, Cooksey was approached by Corvette Product Manager Harlan Charles, who was seeking opinions on a new limited-edition model. Cooksey thought the car was a great idea. Charles then asked Cooksey if he would be willing to personally sign each vehicle, a first for a GM employee. "Who wouldn't want to do that?" Cooksey replied. Approval for the project was received in February, and Cooksey autographed the console lids of all 505 cars shortly thereafter.
Four hundred and twenty-seven of the limited-edition Z06s will be sold in the U.S., with the remaining seventy-eight reserved for export. Each car is equipped with "427" seats and emblems, '09 Z06 wheels, and body coloration for the door handles, third brake light, and center console. Crystal Red Metallic with a black, "stinger"-striped hood is the only color offered. In tribute to the man who poured his passion into the Corvette for 15 years, Cooksey was handed the keys to the first car built, No. 001.