First Drive: Chevy’s C8 Corvette Z06 is a Phenomenal Track-Oriented Street Car

IYKYK. Motorsports and driving enthusiasts can hear “Z06” on its own and know immediately that whoever said it is referring to the most track-oriented variant of Corvette sold by Chevrolet in a given generation. We see a decent number of them as NASA race cars and time trial cars, and we’re starting to see more C8 Corvettes at the track, too. And here comes Chevy releasing the C8 Corvette Z06 – the biggest and baddest variant of their mid-engined sports car.

Chevrolet invited me to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to drive the C8 Corvette Z06 both on the street and on the track. After an evening of dinner, cocktails, and fantastic conversation with lead engineers of the C8 Z06, we were Suburban’d to Pitt Race the following morning to get the day of driving started.

Tadge Juechter, C8 Corvette Z06 Executive Chief Engineer
Tadge Juechter, C8’s Executive Chief Engineer, gave us a rundown of the Z06 using this cutaway

What Is The C8 Corvette Z06?

It’s the fifth generation of the track-y Corvette. Everyone knows about the C5, C6, and C7 Z06, but fewer know about the C2 Z06. Initially built as a way to sell the closest thing to a factory-built race car, the 1963 Corvette Z06 was available by word-of-mouth only, and just 199 of them were sold. The RPO (regular production option) code lay dormant until 2001, when it was resurrected with the C5 Corvette. And since then, it’s been offered with every generation.

At the heart of the C8 Corvette Z06 is a new 5.5-liter naturally-aspirated V8 engine, dubbed LT6 by Chevy. It’s got the mythical flat-plane crank, which most people know little about beyond “it can sound cool and rev to the moon,” which is indeed the case. It’ll spin to 8,600 rpm and produce 670 horsepower doing so. Torque is a healthy 490 lb-ft. Both are sent through a strengthened dual-clutch automatic with an extra clutch plate on the odd-numbered gears, and a reinforced adapter plate so the transmission won’t be shaken off the engine given the flat-plane’s extra vibrations.

c8 corvette z06 lt6 engine

Suspension is refined, spring rates are up with helper springs employed to keep the ride tolerable around town while letting the C8 Z06 corner a bit better than a standard C8 Stingray. Two different versions of Magride adaptive dampers are available based on your build.

Wheels and tires are gigantic, the biggest-ever on a Corvette and huge for any production car. Wheel diameter is up by an inch over the Stingray, which means you have 20s up front and 21s out back. You’ll be on a 275/30 front tire, but a truly nuts 345/25 tire on each 13-inch-wide rear wheel.

Aero is also a consideration, with upgrades made to both ‘regular’ Z06 and upgraded Z07 Performance Package cars. The bigger rear spoiler can produce over 700 pounds of downforce (caveated, Chevy says, at 186 mph… it will produce less at more sane speeds). Choosing that Z07 upgrade will upgrade your tires from already-wonderful Michelin Pilot Sport 4S to track-use-mostly Michelin Cup2R, mounted on carbon fiber wheels that save a total of 41 pounds of unsprung weight. Nice.

Jake Thiewes of Out Motorsports with C8 Corvette Z06 at Pitt Race

Track Time in the C8 Corvette Z06

We got track time in both “regular” Z06 and extra-spicy Z07 Corvettes, starting with the Z06. It’s got all the same feel as the C8 Corvette Stingray I drove at Spring Mountain last summer – loves to rotate, easy to trail-brake, good steering and minimal body roll. It’s an easy car to drive fast, and it’s made faster with the LT6 engine’s additional horsepower.

My favorite chunk of track in the Z06 was turns 3 to 6, in which I could snake my way down an 81.8′ drop, trail brake the hell out of the right-hander, and roll back on the throttle in second gear to climb almost 85 feet as I clicked off gears. Power, torque, chassis – all there.

After a few lead-follow sessions and a 20-minute “go for it” time of open lapping in the street-tire’d Z06, I was ready to see if the hype of the Z07 was just that or something legit.

C8 Corvette Z06 on Pitt Race

It’s legit.

Leaving pit road and approaching the first turn, I immediately felt the extra level of “racecar” in the Z07. That feeling is coming from a few things – the tires in particular, plus less unsprung weight given the carbon fiber wheels and the slight suspension changes. I wasn’t yet going fast enough to feel the difference in aero, but I got there.

As I built confidence in the Z07, speed increased. I tackled the turn 12-13-14 dance with increased tenacity, braking later and harder for 12, running up that hill toward the blind downhill right-hander that is turn 14. Aero helped here and the Corvette reminded me to stay on the throttle dammit as I crested the hill with some steering input. It stuck. It felt great. I came through on one lap and breathed just a hair, and it did not stick or feel great. Aero is awesome but requires the right inputs if you want to carry such speed.

C8 Corvette Z06 with Z07 on track at Pitt Race

Brakes on both C8 Z06 and C8 Z07 were phenomenal, with excellent initial bite and stopping power over and over, lap after lap. Despite being brake-by-wire, Chevrolet engineers have the pedal feel dialed in to be confidence-inspiring everywhere. I do worry about pads and fluid getting hot and appropriate feedback given to the driver’s feet. Engineers assured me the feel will change to match temps, though.

I’d be remiss to talk about all this track time – seriously, GM, thank you for giving us nearly an hour of unrestricted “go get em tiger” lapping in these cars – without discussing PTM. Performance Traction Management is a really well-done bit of software that is basically performance-oriented traction and stability control. I’ve used it on the Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing and I of course used it here. With everything set to “Track” and “Dry” modes, it allowed plenty of slip but was still keeping tabs on my occasional ham-fisted inputs to ensure the car stayed on the asphalt.

PTM impressed me greatly when I approached turn 1 in the C8 Corvette Z06 with a bit too much gusto, having braked very late because “I know the track and there’s a ton of room through one it’s fine.” It was fine, and it would have been fine, but PTM ensured I pulled off a solid drift through the big left-hand sweeper instead of a wobbly fast-handed mess. It helped manage throttle as I provided steering input and we continued on as if that was entirely intentional.

Past generations of Corvette Z06 at Pitt Race
Chevy had brought past generations of Corvette Z06 from their Heritage Fleet (minus the ’63… they’e appropriately hard to find)

On the Street, the C8 Corvette Z06 is Manic

I spent time making a whole video about the C8 Z06 on the street, but the short of it is that where the C8 Stingray feels comfortable and composed on the street, even in Sport or Track drive modes, the C8 Z06 is a complete animal. In Tour, it’s still comfortable and composed, but its attitude changes significantly as you turn the drive mode dial. It’s very cool to feel (and hear) the changes, but unless they’re attacking back roads, I suspect drivers will want to leave it in Tour on the street.

Unless you want to hear the exhaust, that is. I took every opportunity to pop the drive mode dial to Track and go WOT, letting the exhaust valves twirl their way open to the unrestricted center two pipes of the quad-exit tips. Approaching redline with your eyes closed (do not do this on the street, go to a track and stand on the front straight while someone else drives) you’d swear the C8 Corvette Z06 was an Italian exotic.

I guess it’s a sort of American exotic. The C8 Corvette in general deviates from the formula that created so many devoted Corvette fans over the decades. Some really hate it. It’s different, I get it. But the performance and the driving experience of the C8, especially that of the hotter Z06, is on a level that engineers say could not have been achieved with a front-engine layout.

Haters will always hate, but change can be good. It’s great here – the C8 Corvette Z06 is worthy of a lot of praise.

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