Photography by Dave Cruikshank

“I was traveling on business and I called my wife up and said, “Hey, uh, I think I might have just won an auction on a Corvette,” recalled Matt Montesa, an IT engineer from Oceanside, California. “I caught some heat for that one, but it all turned out OK in the end…”

Truth is, Matt had been on the hunt for a new machine for a while. “It really goes back to my [fourth generation] Pontiac GTO,” he said. “I’d done some track work with the car – I had the setup dialed in pretty well in terms of suspension and power – but I realized that I’d pushed that car as much as I could, and if I wanted to step beyond that, I was going to need to move to a different platform.”

Matt tells us he was quite fond of his former ride, a fourth-generation Pontiac GTO, which he had spent plenty of time and money dialing in for track duty. After extensive suspension tweaks and some under-hood modifications that brought the output up to 400 horsepower at the rear wheels, he says he felt like he’d reached the limit of how far he wanted to push the Pontiac, and realized that if he was going to make significant strides in capability, he would need to move to a more performance-focused platform. To that end the Corvette seemed like a great fit, not only because of its purpose-built sports car chassis, but also due to the strong aftermarket support for the car.

While the Holden-derived GTO is a great muscle car in its own right, its sedan-based design has inherent performance disadvantages versus a purpose-built sports car platform like the Corvette, which has much more focus on rigidity and weight distribution, as well as a lower center of gravity.

“Knowing the background of Corvette in endurance racing and how much effort had been put into motorsport development, I figured that would be a good move to make,” he explained. Especially since the GTO – as far as performance parts went – had limited aftermarket support, whereas with the Corvette there’s just a million different ways you can go.”

Though this car largely sticks to the factory aero kit strategy and lacks dive planes, a big front splitter or a massive rear wing, it’s clear from a brief once-over that this C6 Z06 has a few tricks up its sleeve . Astute observers will not only note the carbon fiber bits and pieces and Nitto high performance rubber but also the Pfadt Performance tow hooks at the front and rear, which are a must for cars that see regular use at the track.

Matt became the third owner of this clean, 2008 Victory Red Z06 example back in 2012 and quickly set to work dialing the car in for dual duty as both a track machine and a daily driver. “I wanted a car I could track, but knowing what I knew about building track cars, I realized that going down that road with a project was endless,” he told us.

“So, realizing that the majority of the car’s use would be on the road, the real goal was a car that could do both well. This car was already a bit modified when I bought it and the previous owner had started in a similar direction, so I just kept going.”

Matt’s Z06 carries something of a red and black two-tone theme throughout, though the carbon fiber bodywork adds a bit of texture during daytime hours, while the bronze HRE wheels and white-lettered Nitto Invo performance tires bolster the car’s purposeful look.

Inside and Out

Though far from garish, it’s clear from a glance that this Corvette is anything but factory stock. Carbon fiber plays a significant role in both its aesthetic and weight reduction efforts.

A Carbon Creations H-design hood and CF Kits & Performance front splitter are complimented by APR side skirts, a Katech carbon fiber rear spoiler, a C7 carbon rear diffuser, and Halltech carbon brake ducts.

A gloss black roof wrap helps round out the two-tone look, while tinted Eagle Eye LED tail lights, HID headlights, and Pfadt Performance tow hooks at the front and rear bring a purposefulness to the look while adding function as well.

One of the crucial elements of performance driving is the ability to easily operate all of the car's controls, and that's not possible if you're spending half the time bracing yourself against the door or the center console because the factory seats don't provide enough lateral support. To that end, this Z06 gets a pair of aggressively bolstered Caravaggio race seats which accommodate the Sabelt six-point harnesses seen here. Not only do these two components keep the occupants safer, they allow the driver to focus more of his or her attention on the task of driving rather than worrying about being tossed around the cabin while under high-G loads.

Inside that theme continues, with Caravaggio race seats, Sabelt 6 point racing harnesses, a VetteWorks Sharkbar harness bar, a VetteWorks fire ext. bracket and a VetteNuts heat shield add a significant measure safety and function while American Hydro carbon fiber interior trim, a DS Vettes padded center console, and an Elite Engineering pedal set help to class up the C6’s cabin. An MGW short throw shifter also hides beneath the factory shift knob and boot.

Wide Open Throttle For Life, red ‘Vette, blue skies…Good stuff.

Under The Hood

Despite the fact that the LS7 lurking beneath the hood of Matt’s C6 Z06 has been wrenched on by the likes of Pratt and Miller, Katech, Cunningham Motorsports, Total Engine concepts, and Evod Garage it remains naturally aspirated, retaining the linear, consistent power delivery that is often taken away by forced induction.

This route is also particularly ideal for sports cars as it avoids adding any significant weight high up on the front end of the car to bring about a significant increase in power over stock.

Although this LS7 maintains a stock block and compression, it’s far from being in factory configuration. After having the bottom end blueprinted by Total Engine Concepts, Matt set to work upgrading the engine internals, eventually finding another 118 horsepower and 53 pound-feet of twist over the stock LS7 while keeping the engine naturally aspirated, thus maintaining the Z06’s near 50/50 weight distribution between the front and rear of the car. That mill is hooked up to an RPM Transmissions Level IV TR6060 gearbox with a Katech LS9x clutch.

The Corvette’s 7.0-liter mill now dishes out 623 horsepower and 523 lb-ft of torque thanks to a blueprinted bottom end with Mahle forged pistons and Clevite engine bearings prepared by Total Engine Concepts – the same folks who’re responsible for the Mosler MT900’s LS-based power plant – while an ATI damper, WCCH cylinder heads, a CMS “Stage IV” spec camshaft, a Nick Williams ported 102mm throttle body and a Mamo Motorsports shaved, ported, and color matched intake manifold round out the package.

A Finspeed dual pass radiator and external oil cooler help keep engine temperatures down during intensive track work, while a Fore Innovations fuel system and CMS flex fuel conversion allow Matt to alternate between pump gas and E85 as needed. Air intake is handled by a Halltech Super Bee CF112 cold air system while exhaust gases are routed through a pair of Kooks 1 7/8” long-tube headers, cat-less mid-pipes, and modified factory mufflers.

Suspension and Chassis

Matt also made sure that the car’s handling and braking could still hang with the added motivation applied to the LS7.

While the factory C6 Z06 wasn’t a slouch when it came to stopping power, cornering ability and grip, there’s certainly room for improvement with the array of aftermarket upgrades on the market now. For instance, these HRE wheels don’t just look sharp – they also reduce the rotating mass involved, allowing the axles to spin up and slow down with less effort. That in turn translates to better acceleration, stronger braking, and quicker lap times.

Stopping power is administered by AP Racing Radical calipers with two piece J-hook rotors (370mm up front and 360mm rear) as well as a brake duct kit for added heat management, while a set of Pfadt Gen I coilovers, Pfadt competition sway bars, and a Pfadt camber kit have been equipped to curtail brake dive and body roll while bolstering the Corvette’s road-holding capability.

The car sits on a set of HRE 893R wheels built from 6061-T6 forged aluminum that are wrapped in Nitto Invo high performance rubber that measures 285/30/19 up front and 345/25/20 in the rear.

At Speed

“The way that the car is built, it will do road course work very well, but I also spend a lot of time roll racing with it,” Matt explained. “It’s seen its share of run sessions at Willow Springs and Auto Club Speedway’s Roval sports car course, but road course competition and time trials is a financial rabbit hole I wasn’t really looking to go down with this car.”

Though elements like the Halltech carbon fiber brake ducts are equipped here largely for aesthetic continuity, bigger pieces like the Carbon Creations H-design hood help to shave a few pounds from above the car's center of gravity, and a pound here and there starts to add up. Along with giving the car a more aggressive look, the hood also allows for better thermal management due to the built in heat extractors, and larger hood bulge gives Matt a bit more real estate to work with in the engine bay for pieces like the Halltech Super Bee CF112 carbon fiber cold air intake and its associated shroud.

That said, the car has clocked a 196.9mph top speed in a standing 1.5-mile run at the Mojave Mile, while personal bests of 181.3 mph in a standing mile and 161.7 mph in a standing half-mile show that this C6 is capable of seriously hauling the mail. “I wanted this car to serve as both a track car and a canyon carver – something that still worked on the road,” he told us.

“When you start getting into dedicated track cars, it’s an entirely different ball game where you need trucks, trailers, race slicks and all of the wear and tear involved. You better have some endlessly deep pockets if you’re not a pro because those expenses start to add up really quick. I bought this car with money I’d saved from a deployment to Iraq – a war trophy, if you will.”

When enthusiasts start wrenching on sports car like the C6 Z06, it’s not uncommon for folks to find themselves in a never-ending journey of trying to achieve factory-like harmony amongst the various aspects of performance. The key is to recognize that all the stock components were designed to work as a package from the factory, so when one element changes significantly, the others must be upgraded in turn in order to keep the car’s capability balanced. Matt’s Z06 is a great example of this, as the braking, suspension, drivetrain, and cooling hardware have been beefed up to ensure they can handle the extra horsepower and grip on tap when driven at the limit.

Until Chevrolet shows up on his doorstep looking for a new factory driver, Matt is happy to just hit the track for the occasional shakedown and enjoy the incredible handling, the noise the LS7 makes at wide open throttle, and the car’s solid reliability – although he admits the odd electrical gremlin does rear its head now and then, which is to be expected with a car this far from factory stock.

Though the car has been in its current state of tune for about a year and half, Matt tells us that “there’s really no end state” to the project. Considering the near-endless amount of ways to tweak modern Corvettes to one’s liking and Matt’s penchant for serious all-around performance, we have little doubt that this Z06 has yet to see its final form.