2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 first drive

Willie Grace | 11/24/2014, 1:23 p.m. | Updated on 11/24/2014, 1:23 p.m.
“I don’t see any cones … ” observes sports-car racing champion, Cadillac factory driver and Autoweek road-test ringer Andy Pilgrim, ...
A unique hood and grille, as well as flared fenders, differentiate the Z06 from mere Stingrays.

No need to even start the engine or resort to the spec sheet, however, to know immediately the Z06 is far from typical Corvette fare. It shares doors, roof and hatch with the Stingray, but fenders, quarter panels and carbon fiber hood are its own, as are the half-NACA/half ramjet quarter-panel snorkel ducts feeding air to the gearbox (left side) and differential (right side) coolers. Flared bodywork accommodates front Michelin tires 1.5 inches wider than the Stingray’s (P285/30ZR19); rear’s are 2.0 inches wider (P335/25ZR20). Front fenders extend outward 2.2-inches combined, rears 3.15.

There’s plenty of conspicuous aerodynamic addenda, too, and it soon becomes the day’s favored topic, causing more head shakes than even the pupil-dilating power. Pilgrim, who spent five seasons driving for Corvette Racing in the American Le Mans Series, quickly picks up on it at Road Atlanta.

“For instance, going down the hill in turn four, you’re rolling on a little more speed and when you turn in—it’s a downhill off-camber right-hander—you feel it’s getting some help,” he says. “You immediately realize this car, with the Z07 pack, has some downforce, you can feel it. And the additional damping [35 percent higher spring rate than a base Z06] works with it very well.”

By “some” Pilgrim means the most downforce, easily, either he or we have experienced in a stock road car. Though we’ve yet to run instrumented tests on new hypercars such as Porsche’s 918 Spyder or Ferrari’s LaFerrari, whether or not they can lap racetracks quicker than the Z06 is mostly irrelevant, as their million-dollar price tags, give or take, place them far outside the Corvette’s competition canon.

How much downforce you get is both somewhat unquantifiable and dependant on how you equip your Z06. Unquantifiable because, as Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter explains, “A lot of times [people] say a total vehicle has downforce, which typically really means downforce on the back but still lift at the front. We don’t like to say a pound figure; there are so many different ways to calculate and estimate that [by] extrapolating from wind-tunnel data, and every tunnel is different. … So if we put a number out there somebody would cherry pick it and then you start a war between manufacturers, and it turns into this technical debate how you’re measuring it.”

This explanation might sound convenient if not apocryphal. (Editor’s note: It’s certainly reasonable, however; see the ongoing absurdity surrounding manufacturers’ claimed Nürburgring lap times as Exhibit A when it comes to unchecked rules of engagement. Speaking of which, an official Z06 ’Ring time is not yet available.) But any doubt about the Z06 out-aeroing and out-lapping rivals like Porsche’s GT3, Ferrari’s 458, McLaren’s 12C and Nissan’s GT-R vanishes when you drive one—notably, one outfitted with the $7,995 Z07 pack.

Z06s start at $78,995, and feature a front splitter with small, bolt-on wickers, and a rear spoiler. Ticking the option box for the $3,995 carbon aero package adds a larger carbon-fiber front splitter with winglets, carbon side-rocker extensions, and larger rear spoiler with a fixed wickerbill. For ultimate grip, add Z07 to the carbon pack (required) and the car benefits from larger, removable front-splitter winglets, and larger, adjustable outboard wickers on the rear spoiler; it also boasts a removable, clear wicker bridge. In other words, there is a solid range of aero adjustability here, which some owners will undoubtedly make even broader by drilling their own holes for extreme spoiler attack-angles. Z07 also includes 15-inch Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes front and rear, and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 ultra-performance rubber, rather than standard Pilot Super Sports.

For more information go to http://www.autoweek.com