According to Leonard, most of his students are “gearheads, track junkies. They want to get that extra tenth.” But some of those guys can actually be a little too aggressive to learn anything. Osborne, on the other hand, was a model student, even if he was reluctant to thrash his mega-motor Corvette himself. (And who could blame him for that? His experience with the ZR1 at Barber was akin to coming home and discovering that his lovable pet dog had just disemboweled two would-be burglars. A newfound respect was clearly in order.)
Which brings us to our ultimate question for Leonard: What’s the best way to maximize the performance of an already Lingenfelter-ized ZR1—or of any powerful Corvette, for that matter?
First, attend a driving school. Technique, car control, situational awareness—such things are far more valuable than a freer-flowing exhaust or a larger-diameter brake rotor.
As for mechanical modifications, the one thing you should consider doing before attending a driving school is upgrading (or at least replacing) your brake pads and fluid. As you learn to stop faster and with more control, you’ll want your brakes to be up to the task. “It doesn’t matter how fast you go, but it does matter how fast you can stop,” Leonard says.
The next way to get more performance from the typical Corvette may be less obvious: get better seats. Street-car seats, even a Corvette’s, are too loose, allowing your body to slide around in the curves. Better control from the driving position will always produce quicker lap times.
When it comes to actual performance modifications, SpeedSouth recommends removing the magnetic ride control from any Corvette that sees regular, heavy track use. “Stiffer coilovers would make for better control than the magnetic ride. That would be about $3,000. I’d also add thicker sway bars [for] another $1,500,” says Tom Leonard.
“But…doing that is still not as good of an investment as a track school,” notes his brother, David.
Finally, simple tuning and adjustment of the existing package can produce impressive results. SpeedSouth, for example, uses two dyno machines. One is a standard unit that checks horsepower, while the other performs all three of the most critical suspension adjustments at once: corner balancing, bumpsteer, and alignment. These settings are interdependent, so being able to do them all concurrently without jacking up the car between each step makes a balanced setup possible.
In the end, the only thing better than a modified ZR1 is a driver with equivalent performance enhancements. Only then can this vital pairing’s true potential be fully revealed.
SpeedSouth’s Z06 Track Car
You’re probably wondering, What about that SpeedSouth Z06 that’s winning all those races? The car sports a World Challenge carbon-fiber hood, a Riley rear wing, an APR splitter, a custom-built undertray from SpeedSouth Active Power, and a Racekeeper data-logging and video system. A Discovery Parts Coolsuit keeps the driver comfy behind the wheel, while a Go-Pro high-def camera captures all the action for post-race dissection. A sequential transmission is planned for the near future.
More details are in the accompanying Spec Sheet, but some of the really juicy parts can’t be revealed until the end of the season. It is a race car, after all.
Honing Your Skills Behind The Wheel
SpeedSouth recommends starting with a local grassroots autocross. It teaches you car control at a low speed, typically 25 to 35 mph. There’s not much seat time, and it can be a bit humbling—especially when that kid with the hopped-up Civic laps faster than your ZR1—but these events provide invaluable experience in a comparatively safe environment. Next, check with a local Corvette or other car club to find out when it’s hosting a track school or high-performance driving event (HPDE).
Try an independent group such as NASA (www.nasaproracing.com), the PBOC (www.pbocflorida.com), or Chin Motorsports (www.chinmotorsports.com). Of these, NASA is probably the biggest group, with the most frequent schools in multiple locations.
Don’t fall for the myth that a top-dollar driving school, even one with impressive credentials, will automatically make you as good as someone who’s spent time working his or her way through these lower-level schools. “There are hosts of ‘track awareness’ issues that just cannot be taught in a short course, no matter how much you pay,” notes David Leonard.
When it comes to instructors, remember that a great driver won’t necessarily make a good teacher. If you don’t feel you’re learning enough, ask for another instructor; you won’t hurt anyone’s feelings.
Oh, and there’s no need to tip the instructor. “We love doing this, and we get free track time,” says Tom Leonard. “That’s enough.”