Fear Factor

Darren Friedman’s smartly modified “Casper” C8 is a terrifying apparition on the racetrack

Photo: Fear Factor 1
November 4, 2021

While the original cartoon Casper was a pleasant enough revenant, it would be a stretch to say the same of Darren Friedman’s spectral C8, which takes its sobriquet from the original “friendly ghost” of the 1940s and ’50s. The Stingray started out plenty appealing, as a 2020 model fitted with the Z51 Performance Package and posh 3LT Equipment Group. But in its second life Friedman’s ride became a true on-track terror, smiling Casper logo on the side notwithstanding. As of this writing, the ghostly-white racer appears to have a lock on the Super Modified Class in the Wilwood Corvette Challenge. 

What was involved in transforming this street machine into a fiendish track banshee? Before digging into the details, Friedman hastens to note that the eighth-generation Corvette is quite a satisfying ride right out of box. “Off the showroom floor, the C8 drives and handles great,” he observes. “[And] it’s almost as fast as my 2015 Callaway on the track.

“[It] is a solid, exciting, and predictable performance track car,” he continues. “It shifts fast and smooth, and pulls in every gear. For me, the responsiveness gives a sense of control that equals better lap times.” Friedman has also owned a C7 ZR1 and has Porsches and Ferraris in his stable, so he obviously has a craving for speed.

Photo: Fear Factor 2

In keeping with his profession as a manufacturer of medical ventilators, Friedman took a careful and methodical approach to modifying his C8. He notes that the production process for these life-saving machines involves precision measurements and adjustments, to ensure the settings are perfectly calibrated. “I took that same approach to upgrading an already track-capable car,” he says. “Small steps and evaluating the performance to get the desired outcome—going faster and keeping it safe.”

In breathing more life into his C8, Friedman eschewed any internal engine mods that might trigger diagnostic codes or send the car into “limp mode.” Instead, he initially focused on the suspension settings, a task that posed a different set of challenges than what he’d faced on the previous model. “Out of the gate, on the track I noticed the C8 understeered, along with a bit of oversteer at corner exit,” Friedman relates. “Unlike the C7, the corner oversteer when you lift off the throttle takes getting used to.”

Fellow Corvette racer Jake Rozelle, who lends a hand (and his feet) in testing Friedman’s C8, agrees. (Regular readers might recall our recent feature on Rozelle’s trophy-winning purple C5.) “The strongest attribute of the C8 from the factory is its incredible rear grip and ability to put down power in a way that no previous generation of Corvette could from the factory,” he says. “This is due to the mid-engine placing the majority of the vehicle’s mass on the rear tires, rather than the front.”

Photo: Fear Factor 3

But that doesn’t mean the C8’s suspension calibration is ideal for road-course use right out of the box. “The factory car is under-sprung and under-damped for folks like us who mainly drive the cars on the track,” Rozelle adds. “This leads to the car pitching and rolling more than we want.”

He notes that the stock C8 primarily pitches too far forward, causing the front tires to overheat quickly and making the car understeer even more. “This handling characteristic is common in modern cars,” he points out. “It is safer to have a car be ‘tight’ [prone to understeer] than be loose on the street, where a less experienced driver might spin.”

To compensate, Friedman says that, “We did the recommended track alignment and lowered tire pressures, which helped with those issues and lowered lap times a couple seconds.” (For those taking notes, the C8’s camber setting for track duty is three degrees negative.)

Photo: Fear Factor 4

NX nitrous system provides a 75-hp boost at the touch of a button. Interestingly, Friedman only employs it on the street.

With the underpinnings dialed in, wheels and tires were the first equipment upgrades. Friedman swapped out the OEM wheels in favor of lighter Forgeline GSIR rims measuring 19×9.5 inches in the front and 19×12 inches in the rear. Instead of factory-specified Michelin Pilot Sports, the new Forgelines are fitted with 265/35-19 Bridgestone Potenza RE-71R rubber up front and Kumho ACR 355/30-19s out back.

As for the brand mismatch, Friedman notes that Kumho doesn’t offer front tires that will fit the car, and switching to a smaller size would confuse the C8’s ABS computer. The combination apparently works, as borne out by lap-time reductions of as much as two seconds over the original Michelins.

As for the inevitable comparison with his (also modified) C7 ZR1, Friedman feels that the C8 is way more predictable. “The C7…is just twitchy and takes more confidence to get around the track,” he notes. “I always felt the C7 wanted to kill me,” he laughs. “[It was] ‘Hold on and hope for the best!’” 

Photo: Fear Factor 5

Rozelle agrees, adding that, “The C8 will push the front tires in a turn sooner than it will break rear traction. So this car on a racetrack is limited by its front grip, not the rear grip [as] with the ZR1, which could break the rear tires loose in essentially every corner thanks to its torque and front-weight bias.”

Getting back to his methodical approach to modifications, Friedman next improved the already strong factory brakes with AP units and race pads. This change allows him to “out-deep” competitors when diving into hard corners. He also swapped out the factory coil-overs with adjustable JRI units, which can be independently tuned for rebound and compression to better plant the car on the track.

“We were able to run a stiffer spring all the way around,” Rozelle notes. “And especially in the front to control how much the car pitched.” He points out that the JRIs also have more rebound dampening, so the pitch and roll motions are smoother and more controlled, making the car much easier to drive at high speed.

Photo: Fear Factor 6

This view provides a peek at the C8’s modified suspension and exhaust hardware, as well as its staggered wheel widths.

For hunkering down on the pavement, Friedman added a Lingenfelter Performance Engineering front lowering kit, which replaces the front-lift actuator seat for a slight, .75-inch drop. LPE claims that the setup maintains the car’s original ride while creating a more predatory stance.

The Indiana-based tuning firm also enhanced the C8’s engine output with a carbon-fiber “tunnel ram” intake supposedly good for 25 or more horses at the rear wheels when used in conjunction with a 95mm throttle body. (Friedman’s car has both items, though unfortunately neither had been installed at the time of our photo shoot.) Further enhancing engine respiration is a set of LG Motorsports headers featuring 1 7/8-inch primaries. These connect to either OEM catalytic converters, as on Friedman’s car, or LG’s own high-flow cats.

Friedman notes that without any cats installed, the C8’s exhaust sound became “absolutely evil—horrendous.” Removing these emissions devices also caused the engine’s ECM to throw codes, so he decided to retain the factory setup. Even so, he didn’t hold back in other areas, as he felt some forced induction was needed.

Photo: Fear Factor 7

Rather than employing a turbo or supercharger—either of which would have added weight, complexity, and another heat source—he went with a chemical that, appropriately enough, can be found in the medical industry. A Nitrous Express nitrous-oxide system not only provides a significant gain of 75 horses, but also gives Friedman more points in the Design and Engineering judging aspect of the Optima Challenge in which he competes.

Even so, he hits the bottle on the street, not on the track. His favorite spots to do so are on clean straights of the Pacific Coast Highway, between Malibu and Port Hueneme. Away from the workaday pressures of the ventilator business, he jabs the “juice button” to blow away all the stress in a rush of speed. It’s not just about how fast he goes, though—it’s the sounds and sensations of the engine that really make his day.

For more beauty and safety, Friedman installed an RSR four-point roll bar, a job that took longer than he expected as it required removing a lot of the interior. Other items outfitting the cabin include a Garmin data-logger, an electronic fire-suppression system, Sparco seats, custom suede trim for the truck, and a Chillout cool-suit system.

Surprisingly, for all the car’s performance upgades, Friedman says what he likes most about the car is its overall fit and finish. By comparison with other hot rides in his stable, “The interior is as nice as my Ferrari and Porsche.”

Even so, Friedman is not a car-show junkie, and instead lives to haunt tracks with his “Casper” C8 several days a month. Which explains why he’s spent so much time refining it. “I wanted to start with the new mid-engine platform and see where we could take it,” he says. And this spooky-good eight-gen now has the competition running scared.

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