Ferocious Corvette Z06 gets 670-hp C8.R race engine, aero upgrades

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Warren — Chevrolet on Tuesday unveiled the track-focused model of its mid-engine Corvette supercar, the Z06. They might have called it the Z-OMG.

Sporting the most powerful, normally-aspirated engine ever made, the Z06’s bespoke, 5.5-liter, dual-overhead-cam V-8 (General Motors code name: LT6) boasts a colossal 670 horsepower — 175 more than the standard, mid-engine Corvette Stingray, and 20 more than the last-gen Z06 and its supercharged V-8 LT4 engine.

The Z06 achieves its outrageous output using a free-spinning, flat-plane crank and 8,600-rpm redline — technology usually associated with Ferrari supercars costing three times as much. The spine-tingling shriek of the Z06 will be familiar to race car fans who have heard the engine propel the Corvette C8.R to seven wins and an IMSA sportscar championship since its introduction in 2020.

"It's been hiding in plain sight. (We were) developing the heart of the beast," smiled Corvette Executive Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter as we circled a menacing, pumpkin-colored Z06 under GM’s Warren design center dome a week before Halloween.

The 2023 Chevy Corvette ZO6 development team lead by veteran Executive Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter (third from right).

To realize the full potential of the ferocious LT6 engine, Juechter and his elves had to make significant upgrades to the nimble Corvette C8, which — at $62,195 — has sold like hotcakes with 495 horsepower and European-supercar good looks. Stingrays are trading at some dealerships at $30,000-plus above sticker price.

Though pricing for the 2023 Z06 won’t be announced until closer to its summer 2022 release, expect it to start around $85,000. The Detroit News was first to report on the LT6-powered Z06 variant (along with forthcoming ZR1 and Zora performance models) in April 2020.

Equipped with the must-have Z07 handling package, the orange Z06 looks like a four-wheeled, alien insectoid that just invaded earth.

The high wing on the back of the 2023 Chevy Corvette ZO6 is part of a Z07 aero package that makes 735 pounds of downforce at 186 mph.

A huge, carbon-fiber rear wing juts from the rear chassis like a scorpion’s tale. Fang-like dive planes pepper the face below the ‘Vette’s familiar, brooding headlights. Contrary to past Z06 upgrades, the ‘23 model shares only hood, hatchback, doors, and roof with the base Stingray.

Two features instantly distinguish the Z06 from the standard model. The first: larger side intakes shaped — appropriately — like a stingray’s tale.

“Performance aspirations force the car to look different,” said Juechter. “(It’s) enabled by the tires. That width drives the rear quarter panel out and makes the duct opening bigger, and the engine needs that.”

To harness the power of the LT6 mill, Michelin PS4 tires have been widened 1.3 inches over the already fat, 12-inch standard tire. Gummier Michelin Cup 2s are also available. The big rubber forced a 3-inch widening of the rear bodywork.

The second signature feature is the center-mounted quad tailpipes out back (the base V-8 splits its quad pipes into pairs on either corner of the rear diffuser). Juechter said the change was necessary in part to better channel the high-revving V-8's sound — not just for exterior presence — but also for the enjoyment of the driver riding in the forward cabin.

The new, bigger fascia leers like a jack o’ lantern. Its more pronounced lantern jaw holds three heat exchangers (the standard Stingray has two) to cool the beast within.

The 2023 Chevy Corvette Z06 is the first performance variation of the mid-engine Corvette. The supercar sports the same high-revving engine as the C8.R Corvette race car that has dominated IMSA racing the last two years.

“We start with the Stingray, then amp everything up. This is the first time we’ve done a full perimeter” on a Z06, said Juechter, referring to the exterior bodywork. “This enables us to do a better job on aerodynamics, package more coolers. We wanted this to be extremely capable on track.”

The 2023 Chevy Corvette ZO6 carries a bespoke engine amidships. The 5.5-liter, dual-overhead-cam V-8 is the highest-output, normally-aspirated engine ever at 670 horsepower.

Capability is its mission.

Juechter said Chevy’s new track weapon significantly outruns the previous-gen Z06 — and can go wheel-to-wheel with the winged, $122k, 755-horse ZR1 C7 uber-'Vette. With the Z07 package, the Z06 makes 734 pounds of downforce at 186 mph, the most of any Corvette ever. On the skid pad, Juechter says the Z06 will pull a neck-straining 1.22 g-loads compared to ZR1’s 1.2. At 186 mph, it boasts 6% more downforce, 8% less drag.

The interior of the 2023 Chevy Corvette ZO6 is familiar - but sports more upscale materials like acres of carbon fiber in the console and on the doors.

The standard Stingray’s high-tech interior already shames most European exotics, and the Z06 doesn’t fiddle with the formula. The instrument displays are digital, configurable. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard so you can find the nearest racetrack. The square steering wheel is festooned with useful buttons, including Z-mode so you can instantly transform the car from interstate comfort to nuclear weapon should any muscle-car peer dare to challenge.

The interior of the 2023 Chevy Corvette ZO6 beats supercars costing three times as much with clever layout, high-tech features, square wheel for better gauge visibility, and lots of upscale materials.

Purists disappointed that the Stingray didn’t option a manual shifter will still be left wanting — only a quick-shifting 10-speed, dual-clutch automatic is offered. They may be reassured that the Z06 is returning to its roots with a normally-aspirated powerplant after the last-gen car’s detour to supercharging.

In keeping with its expected $20k premium over the standard car, Z06 has turned up the volume on materials.

The steering wheel can be trimmed in carbon fiber — as can the entire center console.

All this performance is still available in both coupe and removable hard-top convertible configurations, and trunk and frunk (front trunk) storage are uncompromised. The coupe version allow you to gaze into the engine chamber at the 5.5-liter engine.

Not only does its high-pitched note sound like a Ferrari, its output is well north of the $300k Ferrari 458 Speciale V-8's 597 horsepower. More mind-blowing comparisons? The production LT6 engine has 170 more horsepower than the C8.R race engine due to Balance of Performance restraints placed on the race car to keep it from running away from class competitors.

This orange, 2023 Chevy Corvette Z06 features the Z07 package with high-wing, front-dive planes, and side rocker skirts for added downforce.

“We have a lot more power than the race car,” laughed Juechter, who also points to the sophisticated, standard, magnetic dampers on the Z06 — also prohibited in racing.

The race car and production Corvette C8 were developed in parallel, ensuring a direct technology transfer from track to street. The C8.R shined in its first year of IMSA sports car competition, capturing six victories and winning the GT manufacturers title.

“The new Corvette Z06 defines the American supercar,” said GM President Mark Reuss, himself a race-licensed driver. “It builds on the groundbreaking dynamics introduced with the mid-engine Corvette and elevates them too.”

Chevrolet revealed its all-new, 2023 Chevy Corvette ZO6 in GM's design dome in Warren.

It will be built in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in left-and-right-hand drive configurations — the latter for overseas markets.

“Ex-Corvette racer Oliver Gavin has been doing development work at the Nürburgring,” said Juechter, referring to Germany’s epic 140-mile racetrack. “(We want) to make sure the car is competent on track and on the Autobahn, which is why we go there. We want to sell this car in Europe.”

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.