Lap Time: 2:38.6
Class: LL3 | Base: $137,180 | As-Tested: $141,855
Power and Weight: 670 hp • 3646 lb • 5.4 lb/hp
Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 R ZP; F: 275/30ZR-20 (97Y) TPC, R: 345/25ZR-21 (104Y) TPC
With a 670-hp LT6 V-8, the new Corvette Z06 isn't the most powerful Vette ever, and, at 3646 pounds, it's certainly not the lightest, but no Vette is its equal on a racetrack. This C8 Z06 is the best street-legal Corvette ever.
The last few Corvettes came with a bogey time from Chevrolet engineers, but aside from some development laps at VIR, the Z06 hadn't yet set a good time on the Grand Course. At other tracks, the Z06 ran comparable laps to the 755-hp C7 ZR1. So we were excited to beat our old ZR1 time by nearly a second despite the ZR1's 85-hp advantage and 4.5-mph higher peak speed on the Front Straight. The Z06's 2:38.6 time is the fifth fastest in Lightning Lap history, and it's also the best lap time for a car with a naturally aspirated engine. Everything quicker is considerably faster down the straights and costs more than twice as much. Please don't think the engine is a weak point—far from it. Out on the street, this Z06 is all motor, screaming at 8500 rpm, startling pedestrians with its wail. But on the street, there is no safe way to exploit the lofty limits of this chassis. It's capable of 1.22 g's in Turn 1 and averages 133.4 mph when ascending the Climbing Esses. The longer we lapped it, the more we concluded that this Corvette is really meant for the track.
Equipped with optional carbon-fiber wheels, which shave 41 pounds of rotating (and unsprung) mass, this car turns in like no other at high speed. There's almost no understeer at any speed, and the chassis is so balanced that you can easily adjust the nose grip by feeding in brake pressure. The willingness to turn in is so pronounced that we ran the car in the heaviest steering setting, not because it offered any more feel than the other modes but because the heavier on-center effort offered a little more resistance to diving into a corner.
Once you're in a corner, the optional competition sport seats don't hold you in as well as Porsche's equivalent. Instead of the seat holding the driver's body in place, arms and legs are left fighting massive g-forces, resulting in fatigue. Put the GT4 RS's bucket in the Z06, and it might shave some time off the lap.
As much as the Z06 story is one of power and chassis equilibrium, it is also one of temperature. Run the LT6 hard for 10 laps, and the oil temp is barely fazed. During the development of the LT6, the engine team found hot spots in the main bearings that it attributed to cavitation near redline when the oil thinned out at higher temperatures. To combat that, the Z06's nose has a number of heat exchangers that keep oil temps below 200 degrees. Those coolers are what other cars on the track see in their rearview, but the Corvette Z06 never lingers there long.
K.C. Colwell is Car and Driver's executive editor, who covers new cars and technology with a keen eye for automotive nonsense and with what he considers to be great car sense, which is a humblebrag. On his first day at C/D in 2004, he was given the keys to a Porsche 911 by someone who didn't even know if he had a driver's license. He also is one of the drivers who set fast laps at C/D's annual Lightning Lap track test.