Learning Curve

Also from Issue 70

  • 1990 ZR-1
  • Katech C6 Z06
  • 2004 Callaway
  • Buyer's Guide: 1953-67
  • 1954 Roadster
  • 1965 Big-Block Coupe
  • Corvette World Tribute
  • Tech: Motor Oil Primer
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Something that will definitely grab the attention of those outside the cockpit is the car’s huge rear wing. It is essentially the same device that Gigliotti used on his ALMS race car. Up front, he bolted on a longer-than-stock splitter in the hopes of balancing downforce front to rear. Despite these aero appendages, the Corvette was still very much a road car, not a race car. Accordingly, it wasn’t fitted with a roll cage, a fuel cell or a plumbed fire extinguisher.

For the 2011 race, Gigliotti returned with a further modified car. He was able to extract another 100 horsepower from the engine by installing a hotter cam, porting the heads and installing a different supercharger pulley to raise the boost pressure. He claims the LS9 now pumps out 760 bhp at the rear wheels.

On the chassis front, Gigliotti swapped out the suspension’s standard sway bars for a pair of stiffer ones that feature adjustable end links. Though he again chose to retain the ZR1’s stock springs and shocks, he did replace the suspension’s rubber bushings with harder, polyurethane ones. At the time, these parts were in development—the ZR1 serves as an LG Motorsports test mule—but now they are offered for sale to the public. The wheel and tire package remained the same, but Gigliotti optimized their effectiveness in 2011 by using tire warmers to bring them up to optimum temperature before each run.

Gigliotti also worked to better balance the car’s aerodynamic downforce. In 2010, the ZR1 had too much front-end stick and not enough in the rear. Using a local racetrack for testing, Gigliotti adjusted the rear wing until he got the downforce he was looking for. This shifted the car’s handling balance toward mild understeer. “This is not what I would want at a racetrack,” says Gigliotti. “It’s not the fastest setup, but that’s the point: Hillclimb racing is different.”

Though Gigliotti took a cautious and incremental approach to preparing for this year’s hillclimb, he wasted very little time coming up to speed. In just his third run up the mountain, he set a time of 3:14.4—7.3 seconds faster than his winning run in 2010. This was on the morning of the first day, and with air temperatures rising rapidly, Gigliotti elected to wait until the second morning to improve upon his time. He knew he could go faster, especially through some of the sweepers at the end of the long straights where he was hitting upwards of 150 mph. The problem was knowing which ones, as the sameness of the terrain made it difficult to distinguish individual corners. (Watch the YouTube clip of the run, and you’ll know exactly what he’s talking about.) In other words, Gigliotti still didn’t feel like he had the course memorized, nor had he grown any more comfortable with the steep drop-offs and lack of guardrails.

Despite these hurdles, Gigliotti found extra speed the next morning. On his best run he was on track to set a 3:12—that is, until a Camaro driven by Aaron Pfadt crashed into a cliff wall. (Fortunately, he overcooked a left-hand corner, not a right-hand one.) When Gigliotti’s ZR1 came on the scene it was travelling at 120 mph. “I slowed down, but did not have time to stop,” says Gigliotti. “I passed him with an inch on both sides.” His fast run was ruined.

Not surprisingly, Gigliotti parked his Corvette after that. However, he was able to rest on his laurels: His time from the previous day proved to be the fastest of the weekend, making him and his Corvette the winners of the Spectre 341 Challenge for the second year in a row.

Gigliotti plans to come back again in 2012. He’d like to take 100 pounds out of the car, further tweak the aero setup and perhaps install closer-ratio gearing combined with an EMCO sequential shifter. That said, he has no intentions of relieving his ZR1 from its daily driving duties. Though Gigliotti is considering entering other hillclimb events, this racer still prefers his courses closed, with large run-off areas and fewer corners.

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