Learning Curve

With no run-off areas and steep cliffs lining the course, the Spectre 341 Challenge hillclimb race demands respect, not just a fast car. This year's winner, Lou Gigliotti, brought both.

October 28, 2011

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One weekend each year, Nevada State 341, a 5.2-mile stretch of winding road that climbs from Silver City to Virginia City, is closed to traffic for the Spectre 341 Challenge. Driving modified street cars equipped with DOT-approved tires, racers attempt to cover the distance between the two cities as quickly as possible. This year, the fastest entrant was Lou Gigliotti in a ZR1—his daily driver.

Best known as the owner of Corvette tuning shop LG Motorsports, Gigliotti is a veteran professional road racer. Behind the wheel of his flame-festooned yellow and black Corvettes, he’s won multiple World Challenge championships and, up until recently, was competing in the American Le Mans Series. When it comes to hillclimb racing, however, Gigliotti is a rank novice.

His first-ever event of this type was the 2010 running of the Spectre 341 Challenge. The thought of entering such an event had never crossed Gigliotti’s mind. He just happened to read a posting regarding the race

on an online Corvette forum. Spectre Performance, the aftermarket outfit that sponsors the race, had placed an open invitation for a Corvette entry in the 2010 event. Gigliotti took up the challenge; he figured his modified ’10 ZR1 would be the right tool for the job, and that his decades of road racing would stand him in good stead. The Texan was in for a surprise.

“A minor mistake on a road course does not kill you, but here it does,” says Gigliotti. “You gotta respect the mountain; it’s a dangerous place.” Though drivers are able to use both side of the road, there are no run-off areas like on a racetrack, and much of the course is cliff-lined and bereft of guardrails. Getting a corner wrong doesn’t mean a trip through the gravel trap; instead, it could mean the end of your life. That’s the fate that befell Alexander Djordjevic in the 2010 event, when the 37-year-old entrepreneur lost control of his 2001 Porsche 911 Turbo and plunged off the side of the side of mountain.

“I don’t have a death wish,” says Gigliotti, which is why he took a very conservative approach to learning the course. He did seven or eight runs up the hill just to figure it out, and got a ride in a competitor’s car, a Griggs Racing Mustang, to better acquaint himself with the course. By the end of the race weekend, he had gone up the mountain a total of 13 times, but still didn’t feel like he had the course wired. “There are just too many blind corners,” says Gigliotti. He learned from more experienced hillclimbers to take risks only on left-hand bends, where there is usually a rock wall to run into, and to play it safe on the right-handers, where there is nothing to arrest a slide off the cliff. Comfortable or not, Gigliotti set the fastest time—3:21.7.

In 2010, Gigliotti’s ZR1 was surprisingly stock. It had been lowered about an inch using his company’s drop spindles. He left the standard Magnetic Ride Control shocks in place, finding no need to replace them. As for rolling stock, Gigliotti went with Hoosier autocross tires. This DOT-approved rubber was so wide that it required Forgeline wheels with custom offsets in order to fit under the stock fenders.

With the LS9 already developing 638 horsepower, Gigliotti didn’t feel the need increase the engine’s output dramatically, so he was content only to add a set of his company’s Super Pro Longtube Headers. The stock mufflers were left in place since they are bypassed at high rpm, anyways. To allow the engine to rev more freely, a custom lightweight flywheel was bolted on. More weight was shed through the installation of an ultra-light Tilton three-disc carbon clutch; it weighs a mere 65 pounds. Gigliotti admits this grabbier unit demands the driver “pay attention.”

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