This must be what it was like to be Saul "Slash" Hudson back in the early Nineties, I thought to myself. Over the four days of Performance Car of the Year testing I'd received dozens of social-media and text messages from various friends and/or acquaintances trying to find out what was happening. Had we crashed any cars? (Sorta.) Had anybody gotten arrested, maybe after a long police chase? (No.) Did I talk somebody into letting me borrow his straight-piped chopper, riding it at window-shattering full throttle through a small Kentucky town at 2 am while said dude off his shirt and rolled around in the grass outside my hotel, screaming improvised obscenities at the assistant manager? Well, nobody asked me that, but it did happen. I felt like I was one of the Sons of Anarchy, except I was wearing a linen sportcoat and a pair of Allen-Edmonds long-wing brogues, custom-made from shell cordovan.
The most frequent text I got however, from auto journalists and casual friends and my own relatives was this: Did the Z06 blow up yet? Did it overheat? Did anything happen to it? After the tenth message to that effect I started to view PCOTY as a Guns N' Roses tour during the "Use Your Illusion" period, where sometimes eighty thousand people and all the event workers and all the security and the roadies and the whole band would be there waiting to get started... but Axl Rose would be face-down in a public restroom somewhere. It was bound to happen, right? At some point, the Z06 would just check out. It would overheat or someone would put it in a tire wall or maybe one of the massively complicated computers that control everything from the differential to the multifunction LCD dash would just check out. I was told again and again that it was bound to happen. Just a matter of time.
And yet it didn't. Not really. The most dramatic thing that happened was this: During our first day of track testing at NCM, the Corvette displayed some engine oil and transmission temperatures that were definitely all the way into the red zone. , and some of that was just due to our decision to have eight drivers in a row take the car out for multiple-lap evaluation runs. You wouldn't ask your own Z06 to endure that many track sessions in a row without a break, and in truth the only one of our eight cars that didn't appear at least occasionally troubled by the demands of our regimen was the Viper ACR. Each of the other cars managed to overheat something, even if it was only the brake fluid.
So the Z06 was pretty well-behaved during PCOTY. It's easy to see, however, that unless your favorite local racetrack is one of those Canadian snow courses where they put spiked tires on old Vettes (meaning Chevettes) and run them until somebody crashes into a wall of ice, you're going to occasionally face heat-related issues using this remarkably powerful and hugely complex sportscar in open-lapping sessions. Which raises the question: Is this Corvette Z06 really a Z06 at all?
Think about it. Fifteen years ago, the C5-generation Z06 quickly earned a reputation as the fastest and most capable off-the-showroom-floor trackday car that sub-Ferrari money could buy. Those early cars weren't perfect—they had transmission heat issues of their own, and experienced Z06 pilots quickly learned to bring extra brake discs to the track with them—but they were, and to an extent still remain, the gold standard for a "fast car" in HPDE or club events.
The C6 Z06 took that formula and cranked it up with a lightweight subframe and even more power from a seven-liter small-block. It's a rare "supercar" that can put any distance on a well-driven C6 Z06 around a track, even today. After the Z06 debuted to universal acclaim, Chevrolet introduced the supercharged ZR1 to fill the Maximum Corvette role among people who simply wanted more straight-line power and weren't interested in things like heat soak or brake costs over the course of a ten-event open-lapping season.
After driving the sublime Z51 Corvette Stingray and awarding it the first-ever PCOTY back in 2013, many of us dreamed of that same car with a wider track and a high-revving 600-horsepower naturally-aspirated V-8, but 'twas not to be. The Z06 we have now is a sort of all-purpose techno-tour-de-force that nominally replaces both the old Z06 and the old ZR1.
During the first two days of this year's PCOTY testing, the sheer amount of power available "under the curve"—which is to say, the amount of white space beneath the torque line on a dyno chart—proved utterly hypnotizing. Those of you who have ridden a Suzuki Hayabusa know what it's like to have eyeball-flattening power that appears with the flick of the wrist and simply never lets up until your helmet pushes all the way through the other side of the California redwood that was about a quarter-mile away in front of you just a few seconds ago. The Z06 is like that. It doesn't really appear to have any "engine characteristics" as such. You just hit the throttle and warp to the next corner. Such is the power of the thing that you can leave it in fourth gear coming out of slow corners and still be a little worried about wheelspin.
The rest of the car fails to feel special, but the Z06 is not exactly premium-priced in the context of today's sportscar market. Look at it this way: you're buying the engine and getting the Corvette for free. It makes sense because the driving experience is so relentlessly engine-focused. This is that rarest of automobiles: a "ten-second car" that feels faster than it actually is. If you've driven any of the modern turbocharged Fiestas or Hyundais or GTIs, you probably know what it's like to hit the gas pedal off a stoplight and surf the wave of turbo torque with a Laird Hamilton-level of intensity—and then look over and see the rear bumper of the realtor-driven Yukon Denali that just took your pink slip.
In much the same way, it defies belief to floor the throttle out of a corner in the Z06 and look up a few seconds later to see something as mundane as a Ferrari 488 GTB right behind you. Your senses just don't want to accept the reality of it. How could anything else on earth be this fast?
The last two generations of Z06 made their bones on racetrack prowess, however, so when we rolled up to NCM the question on everybody's mind was: Does this thing have enough motor to show heels to the Viper ACR? In a straight line, the answer was "Hell yes." Around the whole track though... well, you're just going to have to read the magazine when it comes out. Unless you want to start texting me about it, but all you're going to get in return is a picture of the chopper I rode. So here it is, in advance: