Wilwood, Brembo, SSBC, StopTECH, and AP Racing are a few of the big names that immediately come to mind when the phrase "Big Brakes" gets thrown around. What's lesser known is that a large number of people misinterpret information like rotor size, drill patterns, pad material, and the number of pistons in a caliper. I'm writing this article to try and put a cap on some, if not all of these issues for the reader out in the world wide web of information. The goal is to try and explain some of these terms and concepts and their meanings to the best of my abilities, and narrow a couple of brands (maybe even one) down that seem to stand above the rest, in terms of fitting the needs of the new Corvette. But in order to do that, we must first understand the basics of braking, and how it is best achieved. Believe it or not, it doesn't start with how big your brakes are…
It starts where the rubber meets the road. Literally- your brakes don't stop your car, your tires do. Your tires are your first point of contact in the war against momentum. Think about it this way- if you can lock up your stock brakes, then you don't need bigger brakes, you need stickier tires. This is the point of contact on the road for everything- turning, acceleration, and braking. But before you go out and purchase a brand new set of Mickey Thompson drag radials to run on the street, let's briefly discuss a few basics on the tires. I am not advocating one tire supplier over another in this article, but the Tire Rack articles I reference happen to be some of the best tech articles on the internet for informational purposes. I'm sure most of you are well aware that each tire has a size to it. But, for those of you that don't here's a basic rundown of things to look for when choosing a set of tires. Size is obviously most important and is measured by width, aspect ratio, and rim size. This is stamped on the side of each tire in the width/aspect ratio/speed rating and rim size format. So a tire that is 225/50/R16 (like the one shown in the diagram from Tire Rack) is 225mm wide, has a 50mm aspect ratio to the wheel, is a radial tire and fits a rim size of 16 inches (tire size article here). The next most important piece of information for our purposes will be focusing on tread wear rating. Basically, in short the tread wear rating achieved on a tire is a good indication of how sticky a tire is. Plainly speaking, the stickier the compound the better the tire grips the road but the faster it wears out. This translates to having to replace tires more often, and wet weather driving should be approached with extra caution. So without writing a full tech article on how to determine all of these factors, I have provided another link to Tire Rack's tech articles outlining each of these points (tread wear/ UTQG test standards here). So, now that you've gone out and bought the stickiest tire you could legally run on the street, (***It bears repeating once again that when purchasing tires, a general rule of thumb is: the stickier the tire, the lesser the tread life, and generally speaking the worse the wet weather traction is going to be. ***) you want your braking to be improved further. Understandable.
Press on eager eyes, press on.
Suspension is the next area I want to touch on briefly as well. I'm not writing a tech article on how to modify your suspension today, but think of it this way: your tires are only able to remain connected to the road as much as your suspension keeps them planted on the road. In short, your contact patch (the area that your tires are actually touching the road-generally less than one square foot); can only be efficiently used if it is firmly planted on the road. So, on the new Chevy Corvette (or any new car for that matter) this shouldn't be an issue initially, but aftermarket springs and shocks go a long way in terms of keeping your car planted to the road firmly and more effectively. Factory suspension is designed to be comfortable and usually not maximized for the track. So, if your plans are to track the car, I strongly encourage upgrading the suspension for better handling and traction. The more effectively your car is connected to the road, the more the contact patch is efficiently used. The more your contact patch is efficiently used, the better the traction. The better traction is maintained, the better the braking. See? Great braking starts with great tires and great suspension.
Rotors: Cross-drilled vs. Slotted vs. Blank
Now I'll move on to perhaps the biggest debate in aftermarket braking: rotors. I repeatedly hear people debating whether or not cross drilled is better than slotted rotors, or whether slotted rotors are better than blank face rotors and vice versa for each of those, or a combination of the two. This is not an easy debate to settle, but before I anger the World Wide Web, we should examine the strengths and weaknesses of each. Cross drilled, although they may be the cooler looking of the bunch, are susceptible to cracking under heavy use (such as track time). By drilling holes in something (this may be obvious…) the structural rigidity of said object is reduced (it should also be noted that it substantially reduces un-sprung rotating mass, but this is negligible compared to the downfalls stated later). Brakes work on the principle of friction, and when friction happens- the byproduct is heat. Rotor temperatures can reach upwards of 900 degrees Fahrenheit when used heavily on the street and occasional track days, temperatures on the track have been recorded for an F1 brake rotor generating heat in excess of double that at 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. So as these components heat up, they also cool down, expanding and contracting putting these stresses on normal metal or alloy components is harsh enough; let alone drilling them full of holes. So, after repeated use in these conditions, the weakest area of the rotor tends to give way to the stress. This is evident in the manifestation of cracking around the weakest area of the rotor: the holes. A prime example can be seen in the picture below. This can result in catastrophic brake failure, which not only can be dangerous to you and others, but be extremely costly to repair. When the big names in racing technology like Brembo, Wilwood, etc. recommend against using cross drilled rotors on the track, their advice should be heeded. The only exception to this rule I can see is when the manufacturer uses ceramic or carbon/ceramic brakes, a markedly more expensive option seen on the feet of Ferrari, Porsche GT series cars, and other high end supercars.
After ruling out cross drilled rotors as a serious track or heavy use option (in my honest opinion, I question why they are even still made as an aftermarket option) the next rotor face design most heavily debated is slotted rotors. Slotted rotors serve multiple functions in their design: they help to expel hot gases as they are generated against the face of the rotor and the pad, while simultaneously sweeping the face of the pad free of dust, and any (in the uncanny event) debris that might have been sucked into the rotor/pad braking surface. Slotting rotors also helps the "bite" characteristic of the pad- much in the same way drilled rotors have the same effect. Slotted rotors have been around for quite some time now, and have proven themselves to be a viable option over blank faced rotors. However, the reasoning behind a slotted rotor is the same as a drilled rotor without the apparent disadvantages, and has proven so in various forms of racing.
The next option is a blank faced rotor; this is structurally the strongest of the three discussed options. But a blank face rotor lacks the advantage of slots to help expel heat and debris from the pad and rotor area, effectively running hotter than the slotted rotors. However, a vented, blank face rotor seems to be the rotor of choice for most race teams. By venting the rotor, with vanes inside the rotor itself, the air in the surrounding wheel and hub is effectively impelled through the surface of the rotor itself drastically dropping temperatures on the rotor face. Many manufacturers have developed an excellent system, as seen in the cut away picture from StopTECH-the impeller design pulls air through the surface of the already drilled rotor aiding in cooling. It is a fact that the heat generated by the braking process must be dissipated. The rotor (disc) handles roughly 80% of this job; therefore any advances in cooling this component are of great benefit. Vented rotors were initially introduced by Ford on the GT40 in 1966. With this we should also note that cooling is a large part of effective braking. Although not practical for most street cars, large ducts are often used in race car design to aid in cooling brakes; less heat means longer life, and less wear.
Brake pads are another serious point of contention for many enthusiasts and racers. The brake pad itself is a shaped conglomeration of friction material bound to a backing plate usually made of steel. Pad material can and has been made of various materials including asbestos (not commonly used anymore for obvious health reasons), ceramic, Kevlar, copper, aramid fibers, and other various organic and semi-metallic combinations. For the sake of argument I will not delve deeply into the "best" pad or pad materials, but there are a myriad of companies that produce brake pads, and each generally defines the differences between common light economy car use, and those designated for heavy truck, street performance or race only abuse. Some commonly noted companies include Hawk, EBC, Porterfield, Project Mu, Brembo, and so on. Different pads are geared towards different goals, some value less noise over less bite, others value less dust over less noise, and others still are designed for maximum performance regardless of noise or dust. The choice in pad is almost as unique as the driver, but more importantly the goals the driver has for the car and its performance and how the driver likes the brakes to perform at a certain point. Some racers prefer a harsh initial bite, making braking less initially modulated; while others prefer a moderate bite to help them gauge modulation in extreme braking situations. Again, pad choice is as unique as the car and varies uniquely from driver to driver,
Ahh, those big shiny, colorful, name bearing beauties we all see behind the wheels of the cars on the greatest circuits in the world, clamping down on massive rotors slowing the car in impeccable fashion. These beauties are engineering feats in themselves, and are the final product of months of R&D, reshaping, resizing, structurally balancing, and finally matched to the car for perfect clamping force distribution. That being said let's delve into some of the different setups that calipers come varied in. There are many different configurations for a caliper that go into play in order for it to function at its maximum efficiency. Things like number of pistons in the caliper, caliper material, piston material, the brake fluid being used, the size of the piston(s), the weight of the vehicle, the intended use of the vehicle, etc. The list goes on for quite a while longer, but for our purposes I will explain very simply how the caliper functions. In a nutshell, the process goes as follows: your car has a brake fluid reservoir usually behind a brake booster/master cylinder. This master cylinder is connected to the pedal which pivots on an axis- acting as a lever. When you place your foot on the pedal and apply pressure, this lever (pedal) amplifies the force of your foot and forces fluid in the brake master cylinder and through the closed system traveling throughout the vehicle to each corner at the same time, expanding and driving the piston out of the cylinder in the caliper against the pad to clamp down on the rotor. A simple cutaway of a caliper is below courtesy of howstuffworks.com and for a further in-depth explanation of how disc brakes work, please click on the picture to link to the article.
Now that we know how a caliper works, let's examine how companies reach a conclusion on which size rotor, what size caliper, and what size piston within the caliper to use, and how many of them. This is an extremely complicated process that focuses on the corner weight of the vehicle, and starts and ends with the factory braking bias. The engineers of each braking system from the factory, for every car and manufacturer, had to put the system/car through an extremely stringent series of tests. In order for the car to pass, it had to be deemed road worthy after hundreds of hours of testing and reevaluating and ultimately the approval from the DOT and other governmentally mandated safety laws. In reference to braking bias, it is logically apparent that when you brake, weight shifts forward, and say you had just slapped some no name (or-as popular in the sport compact world, taking a higher performance model and installing its bigger brake setup on the base model car) bigger brakes, and would actually find that your stopping distances increased. What? Bigger brakes taking longer to stop the car? That's right; by upsetting the braking bias you upset exactly how much pressure the brakes apply to each corner. By installing a bigger rotor, with a bigger set of pistons, it might be setting the braking bias too far forward resulting in the undue amount of pressure being put up front with not enough bias in the rear consequentially creating longer braking distances.
Fluid and Lines
Fluid is an entirely big subject in itself, and for our purposes I will refrain from making extreme recommendations, but if I was to over broaden the subject and make a **GENERAL** recommendation, I would say that it would be safe to do three things regardless of brake set up. Initially, I would recommend first and foremost following the exact specifications of any brake kit manufacturer that you end up purchasing. The amount of time these companies have spent researching which fluid works best for their kits, and the components that they use in each kit (rubber seals, and different metal components of the system react differently with different chemical make-ups of different fluids). Secondly, for a performance application, avoid DOT 5 fluids as they are silicone based and more compressible over glycol-ether based DOT 3, 4, and 5.1 fluids. Thirdly, I would recommend bleeding your brakes 2-3 times a year, more if you drive hard or especially if you track the car, or live in a humid climate. But honestly, this is not an easily approachable subject for the amount of depth we're going into for this article. But on the subject of lines, I am a firm believer in stainless steel braided, Teflon coated lines. They do not expand in the same way that factory rubber lines do, creating a stronger pedal feel with better response. Dollar for dollar, it's probably the cheapest and most noticeable performance upgrade you'll spend on brakes.
Summary and Notes on Fitment
So, how do we determine which kit is better for our new Chevrolet Corvette? There are a few big name companies with great kits on the market, namely Wilwood, Brembo, and StopTECH. These are all big names and can offer incredible quality, and superb fitment. They each are 6-piston front/4-piston rear kits with the options of either slotted, or drilled and slotted rotors. As discussed earlier, slotted is the better option when choosing high performance rotors. Each kit comes with a set of stainless lines, and requires a minimum wheel size of 18 inches. It should be taken into consideration also when purchasing a kit of this magnitude that these will be larger than the factory brakes, and wheel fitment is crucial. The minimum clearance for each of these brake manufacturers is 2mm. This is easily accounted for when you follow the brake manufacturer's directions for test fitment. The manufacturer will provide a FREE template online to be printed out to scale and then applied to poster-board or cardboard and then cut out placing this inside the wheel and double checking measurements and fitment. Pretty straight forward and easy to do with the wheel obviously removed from the vehicle. I hope that this article has helped clear up some of the misconceptions on big brakes, and brakes in general.
By now I'm sure a lot of us have seen or experienced the dual mode exhaust by now offered as an option on the 08+ Corvettes. It is an incredibly good idea in itself, appealing to the quieter preference crowd, while also appealing to the loud crowd that still happen to live in quieter neighborhoods. The mild setting for the exhaust works below 3500 RPM and effectively pulls your V8's growl down to kitten level. But magically, after 3500 RPM, the kitten like purr becomes a monster growl ready to make anything under the tender age of 11 cry. Chevy accomplishes this by utilizing vacuum activated baffles inside the exhaust system, effectively either bypassing the mufflers, or routing exhaust through the mufflers. If your car is equipped with it, and you find yourself constantly trying to end up in that glorious point over 3500 RPMs, we've got the most cost effective solution for you. The creation of the Corvette Mild 2 Wild Exhaust switch allows you to control exactly when and where you want to have this mode active. The Corvette Exhaust Switch comes with two key fobs that control this function, as well as the option to program your factory Homelink visor, if your car is equipped with one. The installation is simple and easy along with being quite possibly the cheapest exhaust modification you will ever do to the car.
This is however, nothing new to the scene. These little guys have been around for a couple of years now and have been very popular. The ability to control your bi-mode exhaust system from inside OR outside the car is pretty impressive. I talked to the guys over at southerncarparts.com, and they informed me that this was one of their fastest sellers, simply due to the fact that it is so easy to install, and the results are instant. And to be honest, who doesn't like the sound of a V8-especially the eight cylinder beating of an LS series motor? On top of the convenience of it all, the MSRP for this little device is somewhere in the $90-$110 range and for what you get-that's a pretty rocking deal.
The convenience of being able to change between a quiet subdued tone, from a fear inducing growl is not only helpful to slide stealthily by Johnny Law, but more applicable for the occasions in which you might be coming home late and would rather not be on the receiving end of the HOA's letter of disapproval. Being that the switch is a simple fuse controller, it works quickly and efficiently. The key fob can be attached to the keys themselves, or mounted somewhere else in the car if you're clever enough to find a nifty hiding spot. But honestly, one can't help but feel a little bit like James Bond when all it takes is the press of a button on the Homelink visor and the exhaust changes from kitty to carnivore. The overall pleasure with this system in its stock form was good enough from Chevy to honestly be noted as one of the smarter solutions they've come up with, and deserved a nod of approval from many an enthusiast.
However, the control over this system was a simple stroke of genius, and deserves a nod from everyone that runs a dual mode exhaust.
Whether you're a SCCA champion, the mountain king himself, competing in a manufacturers sponsored car, or just the Z06 enthusiast, there is one common ground: suspension. You can have all the power in the world under your hood, but if you can't put it to the ground- it's worthless. So, the question we always ask when it comes to a car is: what are we going to be doing with it? Will it be used for road racing? Rallying? Mountain runs? Each one of these disciplines is an entirely different beast in itself therefore requiring an entirely different suspension set up for each event. The wisest decision, and our firm belief in building a car is that it begins from the ground up. The first things to be tackled in a car are the suspension and brakes. The suspension is the life force of the car. With cheap, worn out or shoddy suspension, the car won't handle properly and only makes life harder for the driver. So, with a proper suspension set up, the driver should acquaint him/herself to the car at its fullest and then, and only then should they begin to increase power. The engineering team at Pfadt Racing have put together some of the finer Corvette coilovers on the market and in the most engineering savvy way we can imagine. An engineer looks at things differently: he looks at something and thinks of ways to make it better, more efficient. This is exactly what Pfadt Racing has done with their Corvette C6 Z06 coilovers. They took something that was already an great product and made it better, more efficient.
Pfadt Racing's Corvette coilover system for the Z06 is not only a brilliantly designed package, but it would be a stupid decision for any company to introduce a new product without first applying it to the discipline it was intended for. Pfadt has done just that. Not only has their team equipped their NASA Championship winning race car with Pfadt suspension and done repeatedly well, but they have their products installed on some of the best Corvette racecars in the business. The team at Pfadt relentlessly subjects their Corvette Z06 coilovers to measured dyno tests ensuring that their products are up to the stringent specifications they set forth, while at the same time they're putting them through the most grueling test available: actual track time. At any given time, you could call up Pfadt, ask for the exact specs on any one of their kits, and be greeted with a host of data points, as well as firsthand knowledge of how each system performs in a certain car under certain conditions. Quite impressive.
Today, what we're going to be showcasing is the Adjustable Coilover Kit for the C6 Z06. This kit comes with a fairly industry standard 16 point adjustability and a threaded shock body allowing the adjustment of ride height without affecting spring preload. Where they've gone above and beyond the call of duty is by completely re-vamping their already innovative mounting solution, and making it even better by allowing maximum shock travel for maximum performance. This not only speaks volumes about their engineers, but their drive as a company that continuously looks for ways to improve their products. On the multicolored graph you will see a plot of compression to rebound above and below the zero mark, and the capabilities of each setting starting from setting 1, and increasing up 3 settings for each run from there. For a detailed explanation on how to read this graph from the engineers themselves, click here. What Pfadt aims to do with this system is make it versatile enough to be run on the street, COMFORTABLY, while still having the cojones to put up a ferocious performance on the track. We believe they have succeeded.
We installed this kit on a C6 Z06 and after getting the car back together, we took it for a spin. First install impressions were that fitment for everything was spot on, and well placed. Installation was very straight forward. The ride was definitely firmer, but not overly harsh. This improved at-the-limit driving, and only inspired a new level of confidence through the new found feedback that we'd been missing out on with the stock set up. Cornering was greatly improved as well as the fact that body roll was drastically reduced to the point of being almost nonexistent. In fact, the cornering capabilities were so greatly improved that the stock seats were not capable of doing their job of keeping our rears planted as the car was capable of pulling markedly increased G turns. In the track department, we unfortunately have not had a chance to do a before and after, but it would be easy to see how this improved handling could only drop lap times, especially if only coupled with a set of sticky tires, and maybe a better seat/harness configuration.
Our overall impression of these Corvette Z06 coilovers is extremely good. The team at Pfadt has done a superb job of coming up with an excellent product worthy of being put on the most heavily abused track cars, while maintaining an acceptable balance for those who prefer not to feel exactly how deep the potholes are that plague the road. They are capable of being firm, while also having the ability to offer an OEM+ feel to them.
Earlier this week, a brand new, redesigned website went live for the public Corvette audience. The website is a move by Chevrolet to try and raise the public image of their Corvette and, hopefully, bolster sales for the next few years before the C7 model is released. The new website also features a number of fascinating videos involving various different members of the Corvette production and Corvette racing teams.