To paraphrase Muhammad Ali, GM shook up the world with the ZR1. Corvettes have always been world class, but the ZR1, bulging with 133 more horsepower than the already-formidable Z06, was in a class by itself. To prove it, Corvette Racing driver Jan Magnussen lapped Germany’s Nürburgring in a ZR1 at 7:22.4, beating the Ferrari Enzo, the Pagani Zonda F Clubsport, and the Maserati MC12. Take that, world!
Thanks to its carbon-intensive construction and 638hp LS9 engine, the ZR1 hits 60 mph in 3.4 seconds and reaches a top speed of 205 mph. A Magnetic Selective Ride Control suspension allows the use of lower spring rates than are employed on the Z06, making the new King of the Hill both more responsive and more comfortable to drive than its recently deposed predecessor. Best of all, the ZR1 carries a bargain price (for an exotic) of only $103,000. Could it get any better?
Second-generation Corvette enthusiast Mark Osborne certainly thought so. After trading in his beloved Z06 on a new ZR1, he embarked upon a series of modifications that culminated in shipping the car to Lingenfelter Performance Engineering (LPE) in Decatur, Indiana.
Osborne isn’t your typical performance junkie: he likes show cars. He wanted to make this one stand out, so he first sent it to Steve Ray at Airbrush Incorporated for “something menacing.” Next, he added more menace with black-chrome wheels; tinted windows, lights, and markers; polished engine pieces; and a variety of subtle touches, all expertly done. Notice, for example, the additional carbon-fiber trim pieces, which were done by Osborne’s own company, Southern Coating and Nameplate Inc.
But Osborne knew the raison d’être of the ZR1 was performance, so off the car went to Lingenfelter, which added a 2.60-inch supercharger pulley, a 100mm double-bearing idler assembly, a solid supercharger-isolator coupling, an air-intake system, and a 160-degree thermostat—all blended together in a nice, balanced package that only improves upon the LS9’s existing strengths.
Before doing the modifications, Osborne had the then-1,000-mile car dyno tested. It registered 525 horses and 510 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheels. With the LPE bits and a few other small items installed (see the accompanying Spec Sheet), those numbers jumped to a downright alarming 600 rwhp and 580 rwtq.
“The car is completely different, and the throttle response is breathtaking, to say the least,” he says. “It was bad when it was stock, and now the only way to describe it was nasty and mean. It will burn the Michelin Pilot Sport PS2s till close to 90 mph and into Third gear. The supercharger comes alive a lot quicker, and you have to roll into the throttle to even consider getting traction.”
While that level of speed would be enough for most, Osborne yearned for even more. But this time the focus would be on the machine behind the wheel, rather than on the car itself. Specifically, he sought out some first-class driver training from David and Tom Leonard of SpeedSouth Active Power (www.speedsouth.com).
A performance-tuning and race shop in Pelham, Alabama, SpeedSouth’s Z06 (sidebar) won First overall at NASA’s Road Atlanta event last December, and followed up that performance with a First in class at the PBOC’s Sebring race in January, beating Ferraris and Porsches in the process. The next month it won First overall with NARRA and PBOC, then took First in class again in a race the very next day. So maybe these guys know a few things about making Corvettes faster.
Osborne had never been on a track before, but he drove the ZR1 on the seven-hour trip from his home in Arkansas to Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. There, he spent a weekend with David Leonard, learning how to handle this new beast on Barber’s 2.38-mile, 17-turn road course. As it turned out, it may have been the smartest thing he’s done yet with the car.
Despite mostly wet conditions, Leonard was able to take Osborne and the ZR1 out several times. Then, he took out the SpeedSouth Z06, with Osborne following along in the ZR1. Both men exhibited remarkable restraint by motoring along for our photographer at merely “really fast” speeds. With so much horsepower on such a beautiful track, posing for a photog in a slow-moving camera vehicle must have been a challenge.
With a bona fide race driver at the helm, Osborne was stunned at his car’s true capabilities. “We could have passed in the corners!” he said afterwards. “The car felt like it was on rails. The brakes were strong, and [they] were used more on those laps than they ever had been. It was amazing how fast David was...full throttle, then on the brakes hard and back to full throttle again. If my head wasn’t pinned to the left or right, it was pinned to the back of the seat.
“You would see a car up ahead and it wasn’t [but] a few seconds before David was on the rear bumper and going for the pass. To hear the car was impressive: you could hear as soon as he touched the gas, the supercharger let out a scream, and we were gone again. When the exhaust cut-outs opened, the car sounded amazing, like it was where it needed to be every weekend…on a racetrack!”
For his part, Leonard could tell straightaway that Osborne had more experience at car shows than on racetracks. The new ZR1 owner was stunned to discover just how effective those carbon-ceramic brakes really were, to learn what 1g of lateral acceleration really felt like, and to experience the true capabilities of the car’s perfectly balanced suspension.
Even if Osborne never takes the next step with more instruction, he’s already a safer driver knowing that his ZR1 is essentially twice the car he thought it was. As Leonard points out, “That’s important, because guys like Mark need to know how to handle situations with all that power. Most accidents happen with other cars, so the braking and nimble turning [can help him] avoid them.”
Think of it as the “ten tenths” analogy. If a car’s maximum performance is considered ten tenths, most drivers will never experience more than about two tenths of that capability. That’s true even if the vehicle in question is a minivan. Driving instruction helps you find that fourth or sixth tenth of your car’s capability. You’ll not only double or triple your return on investment from a driving-enjoyment standpoint, you’ll be a safer driver in the process.