Going Wide

Considering the relative rarity of her 2009 Corvette, this owner was loathe to modify it—but given her day job, she had little choice but to broaden its horizons.

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June 14, 2013

Floridian Laurelle Balog is no stranger to high-performance cars. She and her husband, Wayne, have been immersed in the car hobby for their entire lives. Their garage houses an eclectic mix of go-fast machines, ranging from highly modified Corvettes and Vipers to old-school muscle cars, foreign supercars and even a monster truck or two. Balog’s personal favorite is a modified 2009 GT1 Championship Edition Corvette coupe. That name is a mouthful, and if you’re like most enthusiasts, chances are good that you’ve never even heard of this option package. So, let’s start at the beginning.

The factory Corvette Racing team has been a dominant force in production-based GT racing for more than a decade. In fact, it has been justifiably labeled the best GT team in the world. In anticipation of the 2009 American Le Mans Series season, when Corvette Racing would transition from the GT1 to the GT2 class, Chevy hatched the idea of commemorating the success the team had achieved thus far. When the special option package was introduced at the 12 Hours of Sebring in March 2009, Corvette Racing’s successes included 74 class wins (including an overall win in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona), five class wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and eight consecutive ALMS GT1 manufacturer championships.

The GT1 Championship Edition option was an appearance package that included special body graphics, including the race team’s menacing “Jake” skull logo on the hood, racing stripes and rocker-panel stickers that proudly, if somewhat awkwardly, declared: “ALMS Manufacturers GT1 Champions” with the eight years (2001-2008) listed below. It also included a ZR1-style body-color full-width rear spoiler, chrome wheels, a leather-wrapped ebony interior with yellow accent stitching, GT1 embroidery on the seats, dash and center console, and a carbon-fiber-pattern engine cover.

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The package was offered in either black with yellow accents or yellow with black accents, and could be ordered on coupe, convertible or Z06 models, but not with the ZR1. Chevy stated that production would be limited to 100 examples of each color for each of the three permissible body styles, for a total of 600 cars. This self-imposed limit was never reached, however. As many fans of the race program have noticed, Chevy has not always done the best job of leveraging Corvette Racing’s success over the years, and the 2009 GT1 Championship Edition option is poignant example of this failing. Chevy did very little to market the limited-edition package, so very few people even knew it existed. As a result, at the end of the Corvette’s 2009 production run, only 125 GT1 Championship Edition cars had been built: 24 black coupes, 29 yellow coupes, 7 black convertibles, 10 yellow convertibles, 17 black Z06s and 38 yellow Z06s.

When Balog decided to buy a C6 in September 2010, all she knew for sure was that she wanted the 4LT Premium Equipment Group option. But owing to the package’s rather steep price of $7,705, there weren’t a lot of 4LT Corvettes sitting around in showrooms. So one day, Balog searched for “4LT Corvette” at an online auction site, and was quite surprised to see what came up first: a black 2009 GT1 Championship Edition coupe. “It was Jake!” she exclaims, the name she immediately attached to the car. “He was still in the showroom at Hare Chevrolet in Indianapolis, so I called them and made a ridiculous offer. We went back and forth for a few days before I gave them a final number and said that I already have five Corvettes, so it didn’t matter whether or not they accepted my offer. The salesman said he wanted to sell me my tenth Corvette, and, ultimately, they did agree to my offer.” The next day, Balog and her husband flew to Indianapolis to retrieve their new acquisition and drive it home.

On the way back to Florida, they made a pit stop at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where a Z06 event happened to be in progress. Balog was surprised to discover that very few people there knew about the GT1 Championship Edition package, and that the few who did had never actually seen a car fitted with it. This helped Balog realize that she owned a special Corvette. Only later did she learn that it was one of three GT1 cars fitted with every available factory option. At that point, Balog was convinced that she needed to take extra good care of her C6 and attempt to preserve it in its original condition.

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That’s much easier said than done when you and your husband own Xtreme Supercars, a company that specializes in wide-body kits and high performance modifications for late-model Corvettes and other sports cars. “Wayne understood and appreciated that I wanted to keep Jake completely original, but he was still after me to do bolt-on upgrades,” Balog explains.

As a hardcore hot-rodder at heart, Balog couldn’t resist her husband’s prodding forever, and ultimately agreed to modify Jake—but only with components that could be readily replaced with the car’s original parts down the road. The coupe’s stock front fenders and rear quarter panels were carefully removed, wrapped to protect their original factory paint and put into secure storage. The crew at Xtreme Supercars painted new wide fenders and quarters to match the car’s original shade of black and bolted these on.

The company makes its own C6 bodywork. Xtreme Supercar engineer Don Claus designed them in two different widths, both of which go beyond factory wide-body proportions. The moderate version adds 3 inches on either side compared to a standard C6; the wilder version adds 6 inches per side, resulting in a Corvette that’s a a full foot wider than a base C6 coupe or convertible. By comparison, the factory Z06 or ZR1 wide-body cars are only 3 inches wider overall than stock.

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Reluctant to modify Jake from the beginning, Balog chose to go with the more sedate body kit, but even this, in concert with Xtreme Supercar’s tall rear spoiler, racing-inspired rear diffuser and sleek side skirts, looks pretty radical. These aggressive appearance modifications necessitated a few additional changes. “Because the width of the fenders made the stock wheels look too small, we installed a set of wider ZR1-style wheels that we had powder-coated black,” Balog explains, adding that even then wheel spacers were needed to fill out the fenders. “Of course, the larger wheels made the brakes look small, so we replaced the OEM calipers with Z06 calipers that were powder-coated in yellow pearl. In place of the stock rotors we installed Centric drilled and slotted zinc-coated rotors, and instead of stock pads we went with Centric carbon/ceramic pads.”

As with the car’s factory body panels, all of the original wheels and brake parts were carefully packaged and put away for safe storage just in case Balog chooses to return the car to its stock configuration in the future.

Balog enjoys showing her car, especially since most people she crosses paths with are unfamiliar the GT1 Championship Edition Corvettes. She says it’s fun to see the looks of surprise when they’re told that Chevrolet did offer such a package. When they learn that the wide fenders, tall spoiler, rear diffuser and other exotic body parts were not part of the GT1 Championship Edition package, the response is always the same: Chevy should have included them.

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And as you’d expect, Balog also gets a lot of pleasure from driving the car, but, interestingly, she almost always drives it pretty gently and to date has only racked up about 3,000 miles. This is partly because she wants to maintain its pristine condition, but it’s also a reflection of her driving style and philosophy. When she wants to go fast, she does go fast—as in really fast. And for that, she much prefers other, way more radical cars in her garage, including some highly modified late-model Corvettes and an extreme, track-ready first-generation Viper.

Now that Balog has gotten used to the body and brake alterations that she didn’t intend to do in the first place, she is planning to go further and modify the 436-horsepower LS3 engine and Z51 suspension. “Future plans for Jake include a supercharger and Pfadt sway bars and coil overs,” she says. Looks like she’s going to be putting more original Corvette parts in storage.

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Also from Issue 83

  • 2014 Stingray Indy 500 Pace Car
  • 2014 Stingray development
  • Interview: John Fitzpatrick
  • Buyer’s Guide: $20K
  • 1978 Coupe
  • Profile: Dave Hill
  • 1985 Coupe
  • Tech: Electronic Aids
  • 1964 Restomod
  • Corvette Racing: Laguna Seca
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