When you match up two world-class Corvette superstars-in this case, record-holding C6.R driver Johnny O'Connell and Vette-suspension specialist Pfadt Race Engineering-you know you've got a successful pairing.
You've also got the perfect street suspension upgrade for your '97-'11 Corvette: the Johnny O'Connell Signature Line C5/C6 suspension kit, manufactured by Pfadt.
"I wanted to create a suspension upgrade specifically tuned for street enthusiasts," O'Connell tells VETTE in an exclusive interview. "I've been with Corvette Racing for 10 years and made appearances at hundreds of Corvette car corrals. Many people ask me to drive their aftermarket-suspension-modified Corvettes, and I do. Unfortunately, some of these kits are brutal-they're not ideal for racing, and they're really not ideal for the street, either.
"I always had it in my mind to offer Corvette owners an upgrade that improves on the amazing suspension engineered from the factory," O'Connell continues. "The vast majority of '98-'11 Corvettes out there are street cars-only a small minority of them are dedicated race cars. I wanted my suspension package to cater to Corvette's large following of everyday drivers."
The project's backstory began in 2008 when Pfadt Race Engineering owner Aaron Pfadt met O'Connell at Katech Engineering's "Track Attack" performance-driving event in Joliet, Illinois. O'Connell was there as Katech's professional wheelman, to help Corvette owners hone their driving skills. Pfadt was there as a vendor.
"Amazingly, I had never met Aaron or heard of Pfadt Racing Engineering before," O'Connell says. "I remember driving his '06 Z06 and telling him, 'You are the first guys who have got it right.'"
Enter heavy-metal guitarist Dan Fastuca-"the world's biggest Corvette nut," according to O'Connell-who approached Pfadt and suggested he team with O'Connell for a new line of late-model Corvette suspension kits. Pfadt agreed it was a good idea, re-introduced himself to O'Connell, and both men discussed their goals for the project.
"I told him if my name was on it, it needed to be something I was very confident in," O'Connell says. "Just as important to me was that everybody who bolted it onto their Corvettes would be get a big performance improvement.
"Then I explained what I didn't and did want in the package," O'Connell continues. "I didn't want harshness in any aspect-in steering input or over bumps. I wanted the suspension to have improved performance, but not lose compliance."
Pfadt agreed. "I understood what Johnny wanted and knew it [corresponded] with my goals, too," he says. "We both wanted to make the Corvette faster, but more approachable for the average owner who understands performance and wants to use the car primarily on the street and occasionally on the track or autocross."
Relying upon his substantial experience in engineering suspension packages for the Corvette aftermarket, Pfadt chose prototype test parts he thought O'Connell would approve, including a 35mm, non-adjustable, hollow front sway bar; a 28mm, three-way adjustable, hollow rear sway bar; and custom-valved, gas-charged, non-adjustable monotube shocks.
On July 12, 2010, two days after Corvette Racing participated in the ALMS Utah Grand Prix at Miller Motorsports Park, O'Connell met the Pfadt Race Engineering team at its private testing facility on MMP's campus, where it had exclusive access to the facility's smaller, 2.2-mile road course for the day. It was the perfect location for O'Connell to test Pfadt's suspension prototypes on the company's '07 Z06.
Here's how the testing proceeded: O'Connell drove with Pfadt in the passenger seat, allowing both men to make mental observations on the Corvette's ride and handling. The Corvette was equipped with data-collection devices, which logged rpm, throttle position, and wheel speeds. "We also installed sensors on all four shocks to measure shock position and velocity, and that was very important for our testing," Pfadt says.
O'Connell drove the Corvette with its factory dampers and sway bars still installed, and with all electronic driver-assist controls turned off. "It was a hugely well-behaved car. However, when you have such a big-horsepower car in manual mode, there's a bit of snappiness," he says.
After baseline runs and data review, Pfadt technicians installed new sway bars, allowing O'Connell and Pfadt to evaluate which rear-bar setting gave them the best combination of body roll, turn-in, and finish on the corner. "Johnny and I really liked the way the sway bars felt, and we only had to try one alternate setting until we were both completely pleased," Pfadt says.
Then the techs installed new shocks, which they revalved after each testing session. This allowed O'Connell and Pfadt to determine which specific valving they felt had the best feel and met the kit's stated goals. "Dampers determine ride comfort and weight transfer front to rear," O'Connell explains. "I wanted a set that did not allow too much weight transfer on the front for corner entry, to adjust for drivers who enter a corner too quickly, and a damper in the rear that would add control under hard acceleration exiting corners."
By the end of the day, the men had found what they were looking for-the right components working in concert with each other to create a Corvette suspension kit O'Connell was proud to put his name on. "Average, everyday Corvette owners are going to love this kit," O'Connell says. "It dramatically improves the Corvette's stock performance on the street and track, and maintains everyday driveability. You not only have my word on it, you have my name on it."
For more information on the Johnny O'Connell Signature Line suspension kit for C5/C6 Corvettes, visit www.pfadtracing.com.