"When we improve a car, it...
"When we improve a car, it doesn't mean you have to be a racing driver. We actually make the car easier to drive," says Johnny O'Connell of the new suspension that bears his name.
When you match up two world-class Corvette superstars-in this case, record-holding C6.R driver Johnny O'Connell and Vette-suspension specialist Pfadt Race Engineering-you know you've got a successful pairing.
You've also got the perfect street suspension upgrade for your '97-'11 Corvette: the Johnny O'Connell Signature Line C5/C6 suspension kit, manufactured by Pfadt.
"I wanted to create a suspension upgrade specifically tuned for street enthusiasts," O'Connell tells VETTE in an exclusive interview. "I've been with Corvette Racing for 10 years and made appearances at hundreds of Corvette car corrals. Many people ask me to drive their aftermarket-suspension-modified Corvettes, and I do. Unfortunately, some of these kits are brutal-they're not ideal for racing, and they're really not ideal for the street, either.
"I always had it in my mind to offer Corvette owners an upgrade that improves on the amazing suspension engineered from the factory," O'Connell continues. "The vast majority of '98-'11 Corvettes out there are street cars-only a small minority of them are dedicated race cars. I wanted my suspension package to cater to Corvette's large following of everyday drivers."
O'Connell (driving), who was...
O'Connell (driving), who was the 2001 24 Heures du Mans winner, and Pfadt Race Engineering's Aaron Pfadt prepare to collect baseline data on a stock '07 Z06 at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah.
The project's backstory began in 2008 when Pfadt Race Engineering owner Aaron Pfadt met O'Connell at Katech Engineering's "Track Attack" performance-driving event in Joliet, Illinois. O'Connell was there as Katech's professional wheelman, to help Corvette owners hone their driving skills. Pfadt was there as a vendor.
"Amazingly, I had never met Aaron or heard of Pfadt Racing Engineering before," O'Connell says. "I remember driving his '06 Z06 and telling him, 'You are the first guys who have got it right.'"
Enter heavy-metal guitarist Dan Fastuca-"the world's biggest Corvette nut," according to O'Connell-who approached Pfadt and suggested he team with O'Connell for a new line of late-model Corvette suspension kits. Pfadt agreed it was a good idea, re-introduced himself to O'Connell, and both men discussed their goals for the project.
"I told him if my name was on it, it needed to be something I was very confident in," O'Connell says. "Just as important to me was that everybody who bolted it onto their Corvettes would be get a big performance improvement.
"The car is well behaved,"...
"The car is well behaved," O'Connell said of the stock Z. "In manual mode, though, it may be too much for an average, everyday driver to handle."
"Then I explained what I didn't and did want in the package," O'Connell continues. "I didn't want harshness in any aspect-in steering input or over bumps. I wanted the suspension to have improved performance, but not lose compliance."
Pfadt agreed. "I understood what Johnny wanted and knew it [corresponded] with my goals, too," he says. "We both wanted to make the Corvette faster, but more approachable for the average owner who understands performance and wants to use the car primarily on the street and occasionally on the track or autocross."
Relying upon his substantial experience in engineering suspension packages for the Corvette aftermarket, Pfadt chose prototype test parts he thought O'Connell would approve, including a 35mm, non-adjustable, hollow front sway bar; a 28mm, three-way adjustable, hollow rear sway bar; and custom-valved, gas-charged, non-adjustable monotube shocks.
On July 12, 2010, two days after Corvette Racing participated in the ALMS Utah Grand Prix at Miller Motorsports Park, O'Connell met the Pfadt Race Engineering team at its private testing facility on MMP's campus, where it had exclusive access to the facility's smaller, 2.2-mile road course for the day. It was the perfect location for O'Connell to test Pfadt's suspension prototypes on the company's '07 Z06.
Pfadt (left) shows O'Connell...
Pfadt (left) shows O'Connell the prototype set of Johnny O'Connell Signature Line sway bars that the two men will test on the Z06.
Pfadt installs the prototype...
Pfadt installs the prototype bars as O'Connell looks on.
With new sway bars installed,...
With new sway bars installed, the men head back out to the track for further evaluation and data collection.
After the sway-bar upgrade,...
After the sway-bar upgrade, the Corvette is already feeling better on the track.
Here's how the testing proceeded: O'Connell drove with Pfadt in the passenger seat, allowing both men to make mental observations on the Corvette's ride and handling. The Corvette was equipped with data-collection devices, which logged rpm, throttle position, and wheel speeds. "We also installed sensors on all four shocks to measure shock position and velocity, and that was very important for our testing," Pfadt says.
O'Connell drove the Corvette with its factory dampers and sway bars still installed, and with all electronic driver-assist controls turned off. "It was a hugely well-behaved car. However, when you have such a big-horsepower car in manual mode, there's a bit of snappiness," he says.
After baseline runs and data review, Pfadt technicians installed new sway bars, allowing O'Connell and Pfadt to evaluate which rear-bar setting gave them the best combination of body roll, turn-in, and finish on the corner. "Johnny and I really liked the way the sway bars felt, and we only had to try one alternate setting until we were both completely pleased," Pfadt says.
O'Connell and Pfadt discuss...
O'Connell and Pfadt discuss their observations and review the data.
Then the techs installed new shocks, which they revalved after each testing session. This allowed O'Connell and Pfadt to determine which specific valving they felt had the best feel and met the kit's stated goals. "Dampers determine ride comfort and weight transfer front to rear," O'Connell explains. "I wanted a set that did not allow too much weight transfer on the front for corner entry, to adjust for drivers who enter a corner too quickly, and a damper in the rear that would add control under hard acceleration exiting corners."
By the end of the day, the men had found what they were looking for-the right components working in concert with each other to create a Corvette suspension kit O'Connell was proud to put his name on. "Average, everyday Corvette owners are going to love this kit," O'Connell says. "It dramatically improves the Corvette's stock performance on the street and track, and maintains everyday driveability. You not only have my word on it, you have my name on it."
For more information on the Johnny O'Connell Signature Line suspension kit for C5/C6 Corvettes, visit www.pfadtracing.com.
|Johnny O'Connell Signature Line Corvette Suspension
||Gas-charged, non-adjustable monotube design
||35mm hollow front (non-adjustable), 28mm hollow rear (three-way adjustable)
||Length-adjustable end links (front and rear, uses factory mounting hardware), shock-mounting hardware
||Users' guide featuring suspension-setup recommendations by Johnny O'Connell
||Not available at time of print
Pfadt next installs new shocks...
Pfadt next installs new shocks with various valve settings, letting O'Connell choose the set he finds best for performance street driving. O'Connell then pilots the Corvette around the course to make a final evaluation.
This screen capture from the...
This screen capture from the Racepak G2X Pro data-acquisition system shows a comparison between the baseline lap with the Z06's stock suspension and the comparison lap, which took place after Pfadt installed the prototype O'Connell Signature Line kit. The baseline testing shows a time of 1:44.941, whereas the comparison lap time is 1:43.610-an improvement of more than a second. You can also see the map of the track and some of the segment times on the lower section.
Since production pieces weren't...
Since production pieces weren't available at press time, we'll awe you with an engineer's rendition of the Johnny O'Connell Signature Line shocks, which feature a gas-charged, non-adjustable monotube design.
The kit's sway bars will feature...
The kit's sway bars will feature 35mm hollow front (non-adjustable) and 28mm hollow rear (three-way adjustable) construction. O'Connell approved the final visual design of all the major components.
When development was complete,...
When development was complete, O'Connell applied his signature to the Corvette's dash panel to show he was pleased with the prototype testing of his new suspension kit.