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2009 C6 Z51 - Storm Warning

Jim Barbaro's White Lightning Z is ready to strike anywhere, anytime

Michael Galimi Dec 12, 2012
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The summer season certainly brings its fair share of thunder and lightning storms to the state of New Jersey. The inclement weather chases the beach crowd away from the famous Jersey Shore and causes the roadways to become clogged with motorists who have a hard time driving in the rain. But it isn't the seasonal storms and resulting traffic jams that should worry the car-enthusiast crowd in New Jersey. The real cause for concern is the metaphorical fulguration from Jim Barbaro's Arctic White '08 Z51 coupe. Once behind the wheel of this 820-rwhp lightning bolt, Barbaro is ready, willing, and able to race anything—including European exotics.

Some might recognize this Z51, dubbed "White Lightning Z," from our impromptu Corvette vs. Nissan GT-R challenge last fall at Atco Raceway ("Hunting Godzilla," June '12). There, the car ran in the 10.20 range at speeds around 137 mph. In that trim Barbaro has eaten up his fair share of supercars, including a few different models from Porsche, Lamborghini, and Ferrari. "I like to run from a roll whenever I can," says the enthusiastic speed racer.

The "roll" racing he speaks of is the usually unmentioned kind that takes place on the New Jersey highway system. It's a high-stakes scene of raw horsepower on the empty roadways. Contestants cruise side-by-side, usually at around 40 mph, until one of them honks the horn three times to signal the start of the race. The exhibition of speed concludes when one driver concedes to the other and backs off the throttle. These jaunts up to triple-digit speeds require huge engine output and nerves of steel, and only the strong survive.

This six-figure thrill ride did not require as radical a makeover as one might think to achieve its impressive dragstrip attitude and supercar-slaying capabilities. Cartek Performance Engineering in Garwood, New Jersey, is responsible for the modifications. Barbaro gave the performance shop explicit instructions and goals for White Lightning Z: "I want to have a car I can drive from here to California with the air conditioning on and the bass pumping." That no-compromises approach is indicative of the high-performance world we live in today.

The main ingredient in this high-performance recipe is a Vortech supercharger system. The SQ-trim supercharger head unit pressurizes the manifold to 12 psi, thanks to a 3.6-inch-diameter supercharger pulley. A Vortech intercooler and methanol-injection system keep the air-inlet temps under control in all conditions. The methanol's effectiveness is due to its cooling effect, as well as to its role as a chemical octane additive. The meth activates when manifold pressure reaches 3 psi. Cartek also added a larger fuel pump, a Kenne-Bell Boost-A-Pump, and 60-lb/hr fuel injectors in order to feed the hungry engine. Additionally, the shop handled the custom tuning of the C6's factory PCM.

Expelling the gases that result from the combustion process is equally important. American Racing Headers long-tube headers combine with the company's 3-inch "X" crossover pipe to accomplish most of that task. The final piece of the puzzle is one piece that Barbaro absolutely loves—a modified Chevy NPP dual-mode exhaust. Cartek replaced the vacuum- operated system with an electronic control so Barbaro can open and close the mufflers at his desire. "It can sound like a race car one moment, then I hit a switch, and it's silent like stock," he says.

The automatic transmission required special attention, as Barbaro went through a few different units before finding one that held up. Century Racing Transmissions modified the 6L80E with Alto Racing clutches and some different billet components to withstand up to a claimed 1,000 hp. An FTI torque converter with a 2,800-rpm stall speed helps transmit the power. This configuration allows for a pleasant around-town pedal feel but is loose enough to get the car into its powerband quickly. The suspension is stock, save for a pair of rear lowering springs to help the car sit level.

Visually, Barbaro went for the subtle-but-effective look with Z06-spec front fenders, nose, and rear quarter panels. Slotted and cross-drilled rotors fore and aft help bring the car to a stop quickly from any speed. Adding a classic look are CCW three-piece forged wheels measuring a robust 18x11.5 inches up front and 18x13 inches in the rear. For street driving Barbaro runs Nitto Invo high-performance front tires paired with Mickey Thompson ET Drag Radials, while strip duty sees the former replaced with MT "skinnies" encasing matching CCWs.

White and black accents, as well as carbon fiber, are the themes for the interior; DS Vettes is credited with the package. A few strategically placed Auto Meter gauges let Barbaro keep tabs on his supercharged LS3 during the heat of battle.

At the time of our shootout, the car unleashed 670 rwhp, but Barbaro decided he needed more after the display of power and speed put on by the two GT-Rs. To help him meet that goal, Cartek installed a nitrous system that brought ou tput to 820 rwhp. His goal for White Lightning Z is to run 9.70s with speeds in the mid 140s on the bottle. That power level is risky with the stock internals, and Barbaro knows the LS3 is on borrowed time. With that in mind, Cartek added window switches for the nitrous, so that it only operates in a certain preset rpm range.

It's the lure of competition that prompted this risky upgrade. "I just can't have a Japanese car running faster than an American one," muses Barbaro as he harkens back to some post-race Internet trash talking between himself and some GT-R owners. A new storm will be brewing this winter as a camshaft upgrade, a dedicated fuel system, and a forged bottom-end get underway.

In the meantime, be wary of sudden storms in New Jersey that begin with a crack of thunder from an NPP exhaust and culminate with the lightning strike of a Vortech-supercharged LS3. You have been warned.



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