Ever since I heard about the Pratt & Miller C6RS project in July 2007, I've been coveting a chance to exploit the car's capabilities. I've worked with the P&M team and its Corvette Racing program for the last eight years, and I know full well its ability to engineer and produce a track weapon par excellence. Anything it builds is executed well, designed to take a beating, and tested for superb reliability and performance. If the team could produce a street-going Corvette with the DNA of its famous C6.R racer, the performance-car world would certainly genuflect at its feet.
Sworn to secrecy over the C6RS's existence until its unveiling at SEMA last November, I had to bite my tongue every time ultra-performance supercars inspired a spirited conversation. When the car was finally revealed, in the form of a prototype built for Tonight Show host Jay Leno, it exceeded all expectations. Still, it was Leno's coveted ride-no chance to get seat time there. Then, in early February, I received an e-mail from P&M C6RS program director Mike Atkins: "Would you like to come to Sebring [International Raceway] while the racing team is tire testing with Michelin and drive the C6RS?" Duh! Cancel the week's scheduling and get me a ticket to Florida-now!
By February of this year, P&M had produced three C6RS cars-Jay's black-on-red prototype, a sinister-looking primer-black test mule, and a sparkling Velocity Yellow convertible built for company principal Jim Miller. All three cars were to be at Sebring, along with the Corvette Racing team. I arrived at the track to find that four P&M/Corvette Racing transporters had spilled their contents into the paddock, and the team was busy preparing for the week's test regimen. Off to one side, the three C6RS cars and a new yellow Z06 were huddled under a transporter's canopy. The next couple of days proved to be as exciting a time as I have ever had driving cars.
The first day, we had a chance to take out the test mule and see what it could do on the street. As I left the roadside, the pull from the 500ci, 600hp Katech engine was significant-downright massive, in fact. Shifting into Second, the rearend stepped out a little-the natural side effect of 600 lb-ft of torque-and the car pulled like the proverbial freight train. Grabbing Third, the C6RS literally felt like it wanted to take off. On the street, you'd be hard pressed to get past Third under full throttle and not be incarcerated for life.
Self-preservation dictated backing off and quickly applying the brakes-another experience in itself. The standard Brembo brake package is capable of extreme deceleration, hauling the car down immediately without getting into lockup. Given the kind of velocity the C6RS is capable of, great brakes are a welcome companion. Ron Fellows has tested this setup on the track at Gingerman Raceway and reports no brake fade with 100-to-0 stops executed lap after lap.
OK, so acceleration is no problem, and the brakes are supremely up to the task. But how about getting around a corner? The C6RS turns in very smoothly and progressively-better, frankly, than the Z06 I drive as an everyday car.
What is more impressive is the flat cornering posture the car takes as you apex the turn and track out. On the street, the car behaves as if it's on rails, with no perceptible lean whatsoever. This type of cornering attitude is usually achieved at the expense of ride comfort. The P&M engineers, utilizing a sophisticated air suspension system from Arvin-Meritor, have achieved a very compliant ride while maintaining exemplary cornering ability. In fact, the C6RS is even smoother and more comfortable than the factory Z06 when traversing bumps, expansion joints, and uneven pavement. The undulations found on the roads around the Sebring track simply melted away under the spell of the car's suspension setup, which is extremely surprising considering the performance of which those underpinnings are capable.
Bringing the car back to the Sebring paddock was difficult, like returning an enchanting first date to her home-you just don't want to let go. But waiting for me was another temptress from the P&M family, the convertible C6RS. The first date's sibling was dressed in spellbinding yellow, and her seductive call was more than this poor soul could bear.
A push of the start button whipped 600 horses into a frenzy, and we were off. There was no extraneous clutch/gear action to distract us, since this C6RS was equipped with a paddle-shifted six-speed automatic. Transmission choice notwithstanding, the driving experience proved no less seductive. In terms of acceleration, there was no perceptible difference between the topless version and her svelter sister. Ditto the magnificent brakes and magic-carpet-ride suspension.
I detected no cowl shake in the drop top, even when traversing the broken pavement that is characteristic of the small roads around SIR. The paddle-commanded gearshifts did require a little time to take effect, and slamming from gear to gear in a gut-tightening display of acceleration wasn't quite the visceral experience it was in the manual version. Still, the pure, large-displacement grunt was unmistakable.
The C6RS's standard Corsa exhaust emitted a nice, throaty burble at idle. At speed, the note was surprisingly muted, which should make the car tolerable for cruising long distances on the highway.
For leisurely, top-down driving enhanced by massive amounts of steroidal muscle, there is little to compare to the C6RS convertible. With all of that performance on tap, it's interesting to note that Jim Miller drove the car from Sebring to Naples and back, recording 20.4 mpg while dancing on the accelerator pedal from time to time along the way.
On The Track
The next day, we had a chance to take the C6RS "mule" out on the track at Sebring. This is where the car really had a chance to display its dance moves. Freed from having to monitor the rearview mirrors for police cruisers, the mind turns from thoughts of ride comfort and interior noise to the serious business of going fast. In this role, the car doesn't disappoint.
The acceleration is amazing. With the gobs of torque possessed by the 8.2L Katech engine, a major push in the back is available at any time, and at any rpm. Just give the accelerator a squeeze and bang-you're gone. But straight-line performance is not all this car is about. The cornering transitions from left to right are simply effortless. The turn-in feel is better than that of a stock Z06, perhaps a result of the P&M car's wider stance and different tire characteristics. (The C6RS uses Michelin Pilot Sports sized 295/30-18 front and 345/30-19 rear.)
What really impresses is how easy it is to maneuver the quick left-right slalom section that makes up the back side of the Sebring track. The snappy alterations in direction are handled with a flat attitude, even under acceleration. The resultant experience is intoxicating. Going faster and faster, you start to realize that the capabilities of the brakes and suspension likely exceed your ability to safely explore them-particularly during an all-too-brief testdrive in the company's only R&D vehicle. Besides, Ron Fellows was scheduled to give the car a proper wringing-out at the Michelin proving grounds in South Carolina the following week. Suffice it to say the C6RS would be a very rewarding date to any local track.
The first question asked by any knowledgeable Corvette nut is, "How does the C6RS stack up against a new ZR1?" At the time of this writing, no ZR1s were available for media evaluation. But I did ask Corvette Racing drivers Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell-who have significant experience in both cars-how they would compare the two.
O'Connell felt the C6RS had better torque and would be faster to 60 than the ZR1. However, he was unable to fully evaluate the C6RS's handling characteristics at Sebring, as a computer glitch prevented the traction-control system from being completely defeated during spirited driving. Fellows echoed O'Connell's comment that the torque of the P&M creation should make it a faster car in initial acceleration. Both veterans got out of P&M's latest ride with big smiles on their faces, commenting that the C6RS has as much power as their "company car," the all-conquering C6.R racer.
Still, the C6RS is not for everyone. First of all, the price of admission is pretty high: $225,000 to $260,000, including the cost of your Corvette donor car. And, as I noted earlier, the car's performance envelope far exceeds the capabilities of even a moderately experienced driver. Pilot it sedately, however, and the C6RS is perfectly capable of filling the role of daily conveyance. Indeed, never before have I driven anything that is so comfortable on the street while being so supremely capable on a racetrack. It's a testament to the skill of the P&M engineers that they were able to blend such disparate characteristics into such a harmonious whole.
If you have the wherewithal to experience a C6RS, do it. Careful, though. Once you've sampled this siren's temptations, you'll be forever under her spell.
For more information on the Pratt & Miller C6RS, visit www.prattmillerc6rs.com.