Corvette Forum Exclusive: Ask Tadge Juechter
Update 1/23/2015: Corvette Forum is announcing a collaboration with Tadge Juechter, Corvette Vehicle Line Executive and Chief Engineer.
Tadge has agreed to answer your questions in the forum’s new “Ask Tadge” section — a Corvette Forum exclusive.
Each week, you will be able to ask Tadge questions as well as vote on the best questions submitted by other Corvette Forum members. The question that wins will be submitted to Tadge Juechter for his response.
Best of all, this will happen on a weekly, recurring basis.
All of us here at Corvette Forum are very excited for this opportunity to have a direct line to Tadge Juechter, and we can’t wait to learn more from one of the greatest Corvette insiders ever. For more details about how we are kicking off the “Ask Tadge” project, click on this thread here.
And now back to Marcus Amick’s original Q&A with Tadge Juechter.
Corvette Forum Exclusive: Tadge Juechter Talks Z06 Development, Losing a Street Race to Viper TA, and Future Plans
When it comes to understanding the 2015 Corvette Z06, no one can provide more insight on the car than Tadge Juechter. The Corvette Chief Engineer has spent years working with his team to develop the car. After having a chance to get a more personal take of the new Z06’s capabilities on the track, I sat down with Juechter to learn more about the car and address some concerns raised here on Corvette Forum about the higher-performance track variant of the C7.
Corvette Forum: When your team found out they would be tasked with engineering the fastest production Corvette ever, what were your initial thoughts given the huge magnitude of the undertaking?
Tadge Juechter: The idea that we were charged with building this is not the way it works. We, the Corvette team, which has been a consistent team within General Motors for a long time, are the guys who think this stuff up … and say, “Hey, we want to go build this thing.” It’s not the other way around. It’s our team generating the ideas, the concepts and the bundle of technology that we are going to use to create such a car.
Corvette Forum: OK, what was it that said to you and your team, “We need to build this car and make it the most powerful production vehicle Chevy has ever made”?
Tadge Juechter: Customers. We do everything for customers. We are unusual in the whole automotive world. We’re more accessible to customers than any other team in the world. We’re out there at Corvette events. We talk face-to-face with customers. We don’t have to do a lot of market research because we just ask the people we know who own the cars, or who are influential and very insightful about … the Corvette community. We just stay super, super close to customers, our current customers, and what would bring new customers into the Corvette fold.
Corvette Forum: Since Chevy first started releasing the specs on the new Z06, there have been a lot of comparisons made between the car and the Porsche 911. What other sports cars were benchmarked when engineering the Z06?
Tadge Juechter: We pay a lot of attention to the Porsche 911, but we benchmark everybody. And we don’t say there is one single competitor we are going after.
The 911 is compelling because it does a lot of the things we do. It’s a good daily driver, it’s not hard to live with.
It’s reliable. It has a decent amount of utility to it, and it’s also a high-performance vehicle. The Porsche 911 is a broad-bandwidth car just like we are a broad-bandwidth car.
There are other more niche kinds of cars we benchmark as well, but they are not really in our line of sight.
For most of the cars we benchmark, the prices are two or three times what we charge. So there may be things they do that we won’t do or can’t do for one reason or another.
There are a lot of things we do that they don’t do — like if you look at the way we build up our cars: all-aluminum body structure with composites on the exterior, whether it’s fiberglass, a mix of fiberglass and carbon, or pure carbon. That’s a bill of materials more exotic than a Ferrari 458, which is aluminum structure, aluminum skin.
So it’s a little bit of a miracle that we can offer a car for a tiny fraction of a Ferrari 458 price because if you look at the types of things we make the car out of — the type of technology we put into it — it’s a pretty good match, and even superior in some ways.
Corvette Forum: Speaking of comparisons, when news breaks of situations like that Viper TA beating the Z06 in that street race that was captured on video, what if any impact does it have on your team’s strategy for improving the car?
Tadge Juechter: I think the strength of the Z06 will be born out. We’ve got 1,500 Z06s we’ve sold, and I think once we get a critical mass of cars out there, and the customers see what we’ve given them, they are going to be very, very happy.
We didn’t design the car for consecutive street races up to high speed. I don’t know what was done before that race. I don’t know how stock the Viper is. I don’t know anything about that. The [Z06] is extremely competitive.
Normally aspirated engines have an advantage over time for heat soak. Anything where you are compressing the intake charge, you have a disadvantage. So yeah, the performance of a Z06 will fall off faster than a Viper in a situation like that. But is that important with the way people are really going to use the car? Is the overall balance of what we are giving the customer better or worse?
You can take any car and put it in a situation where it’s going to look bad relative to some other car if it wasn’t designed for that particular mission. The Z06, since 1963, has been track-specific. Good lap times: that’s what we are all about. We’re not about top speed.
That’s why we didn’t worry about top speed being over 200 mph. In fact, the Cadillac V-Series coming out with the same LT4 engine is going to have a higher top speed than the Z06, even though it’s a sedan. It’s a different kind of purpose. But our [Z06] track times are going to be very, very impressive. That’s what the car has been bred to do.
Corvette Forum: How do you respond to some criticism that the new Z06 is weaker than the ZR1 when it comes to performance?
Tadge Juechter: With the exception of top speed, the new Z06 is not weaker than the previous-generation ZR1. Yes, performance falls off over time, but even after a full tank of fuel of running flat out, the new Z06’s slowest lap is faster than the best lap in a ZR1. Both cars heat soak at the same rate.
Even though people talked about the heat soak issue on the ZR1, and how the performance would fall off over time, it wasn’t a huge deal. It didn’t lessen the value of the car. People still love the ZR1 and use it as a performance benchmark. This [Z06] is a very, very compelling car at a remarkable price point.
We have billionaires who can buy any car in the world, and they are lining up to buy a Z06. I worked really hard on the C6 ZR1. I was, and still am, very proud of that car. It is an historical performance benchmark in many ways, and ZR1 owners are justifiably proud.
It still has the highest top speed of any Corvette ever produced. If you’re a current ZR1 owner and you paid $120,000 for your car … you might be upset we are now bringing out an $80,000 car that is more capable on the track. However, our job is to continually improve our products. That’s the way technology goes.
Corvette Forum: Do you think there’s been some misunderstanding among consumers about the Z06’s purpose as a performance vehicle considering there has been so much centered on the car’s 2.95-second 0-60 time? I guess the question I’m really asking is, if I’m a guy who wants the fastest car out, is the Z06 the car?
Tadge Juechter: Every car is a series of compromises. If we wanted to make the Z06 a pure top-speed-getter, we would be sacrificing a bunch of other stuff. We would be sacrificing confidence in daily driving. We would be sacrificing lap times.
You look at a Bugatti Veyron, a $1.4-million car, and their mission is top speed. They’re always bragging about top speed. You don’t hear them bragging about Nürburgring times. That car is aimed at going fast in a straight line. Even though it does a lot of other things well, that’s what they decided they are going to brag about.
There are other cars that are less expensive that will beat the Veyron around the track. The Z06 might be one of them — I don’t know. The point is that even when you are looking at a million-and-a-half bucks, you’re facing compromises on what your priorities are for design.
We’ve sacrificed some drag for massive downforce. We have 500 more pounds of downforce on this car than the previous-generation ZR1. It makes it hugely confident on the track, but it limits the top speed. It limits the quarter-mile trap speed, and it limits how competitive we are in high-speed street races like that.
Corvette Forum: The fact that a Z06 engine blew with only 891 miles also sparked lot of discussion. Has the Corvette team taken a look at that engine to see exactly what went wrong? What, if anything, can be learned from that engine?
Tadge Juechter: We got that engine back, and we are tearing it apart. Every manufacturer that does highly stressed engines pushes technology to the limit, and you don’t understand the exact manufacturing durability until you start making thousands of them.
When we introduced the Stingray, we had a few engine failures, and Porsche had to replace every GT3 [engine]. So we are going to learn something from that engine. We are really sorry that happened. We got that guy back into his car with a new engine in less than a week.
That [first] engine is in Pontiac, MI right now getting torn apart to see what’s wrong. I’ll know what happened as soon as everyone else knows. We will incorporate whatever we learn into our process to make sure we never get a failure for that reason again.
Corvette Forum: Looking back, is there anything you think the team should have done differently when engineering the new Z06 to improve its performance capabilities?
Tadge Juechter: We’re going to keep working on automatic transmission track performance. I think that’s something we can keep working on. In 61 years, we’ve never put an automatic transmission out that […] is track-capable.
Yes, you could buy a Z51 Corvette, but we always said, “It’s not robust on the track.”
Now, we’re getting very close with the Stingray and the Z06 with the new eight-speed transmission. We are going to keep making that better and better in terms of shift response time, cooling and all the track capabilities. We’re there, and 95 percent will be absolutely blown away by it.
But for a pro driver on a hot day, on a very tough track when they are qualifying and there is nobody else on the track hammering lap after lap, we can do better.
I think there are a lot of little software things we can do on the car. We just put that VIR Grand Course time PDR video out, and I’ve had people say, “Why isn’t Jim Marrow (our driver) using our rev-match on that?” And I know that Jim does, but it doesn’t [show] it in the PDR recording. That’s an example of something that is a good idea for continuous improvement.
Corvette Forum: Of course, a lot of the buzz around the future of Corvette is centered on the possibility that there is a more highly competitive model in the works that will bear a Zora badge. What’s the official word on those plans? Will the next-generation Corvette have a mid-engine version?
Tadge Juechter: We do not talk about future product plans, for competitive reasons, so I cannot confirm any details about the future of Corvette. But, the concept of a mid-engine Corvette is not new.
Zora Arkus Duntov built the CERV I concept in 1959, and there have been several concepts of a mid-engine Corvette since.
However, the mid-engine concepts have never been produced simply because we have yet to develop a package that betters the combination of performance, design and attainability of the front-engine Corvette.
Every iteration of Corvette pushes the boundaries of performance as far as technology will allow. When we introduced the C6 Z06 in 2006, it was absolutely as far as we could go with the technology available.
That car was then eclipsed by the ZR1, which is now eclipsed by the new Z06.
Some elements of the Q&A with Tadge Juechter were edited for clarity and transition.