The sixth-generation Camaro is quite possibly the best of its kind to ever roll off the General’s assembly lines. Not only is it pretty easy on the eyes, the underpinnings of the car have been improved in almost every way. From the chassis to the brand-new engine, every aspect of the car was fine tuned. And while the most powerful base-model Camaro ever might be quite the performer right out of the box, we all know that certain compromises had to be made for the sake of keeping production costs down.
But what if you don’t want compromises? What if you want to plant every single horse and eliminate any hint of deflection from the suspension? Then you turn to Carlyle Racing for their 15-inch wheel kit and pair it with a set of Mickey Thompson ET Street S/S drag radials for additional bite. Fortunately for us, Cunningham Motorsports (CMS) volunteered their newly acquired sixth-gen Camaro to be our guinea pig. Before we started our install, the car had already received an MSD Atomic Airforce intake, Kooks 1 7/8 inch primary headers, a Borla cat-back exhaust and was running on E85– making it a prime candidate for additional grip.
A New Frontier
When the sixth-generation Camaro first hit the scene, fans everywhere rejoiced. Partially due to the looks of the car, although it’s not a huge departure from the fifth-gen, but mostly because of the fact that the General made the wise decision to move the car to the Alpha chassis instead of retaining the previous generation’s Zeta architecture.
What does this change in military alphabet letters mean to the average person? It means that the new Camaro is considerably lighter— in some cases by as much as 300 pounds— and has smaller proportions. It also means, combined with the 455 horsepower Gen V LT1, that this car can get up and go— pushing the boundaries of the car’s adhesion limits right out of the gate.
When General Motors releases a car like this, they are very focused on making it an all-around performer capable of track days and long commutes alike. But with that kind of power right out of the box, and the potential for substantially more with just a few bolt-ons, it is already very good at one thing: going straight.
From the factory, the SS is equipped with 20-inch aluminum wheels wrapped in Goodyear’s ultra-high performance summer tire — Eagle F1 Asymmetric 3 RunOnFlats in a 275/35ZR20 out back and a slightly smaller size, but identical diameter, up front. And while these tires do exceedingly well at maintaining grip around tracks like Virginia International Raceway and the Nurburgring, they leave something to be desired in the straight-line performance department.
Low-profile tires are great for maintaining a stiff sidewall while going around a track but lack the pliability that makes a good drag tire hook under a sudden impact situation, such as launching the car. If you’ve ever seen a top fuel dragster in slow motion you will see exactly what we mean. For that, you are going to want something with a larger sidewall. But increasing the sidewall height also means decreasing the wheel diameter to maintain the overall diameter of the wheel and tire combination. Unfortunately — for drag racers, anyway— the rear Brembo brakes on sixth-gen Camaros take up a whole lot of the space provided by those 20-inch rollers.
Why Go With 15-inch Wheels?
Due in large part to expanding rear brake sizes, aesthetics, and manufacturer’s desires to set benchmarks on road courses, 18-, 19- and 20-inch wheels have become the standard. Due to this leap in popularity, companies like Mickey Thompson began manufacturing drag radials in 17- to 20-inch tire sizes. While drag radials can increase grip dramatically in those sizes, they are not necessarily ideal.
As mentioned in DOT Drag Radials 101, “A 315/35R20, with a 28.74-inch overall diameter and a 12.48-inch width, is far from the 10.5 tire that many street car classes require. That 28.74-inch diameter means you have about four inches of sidewall (28.74-20=8.74/2= 4.37” of sidewall), compared to the same diameter tire in a 15-inch wheel, which would yield 6.5 inches of sidewall. That extra two inches of sidewall is a lot of room for extra traction.”
You could also run an increasingly tall tire out back but you are effectively changing the rear gear ratio, decreasing the mechanical advantage the car has coming off the line and making it sluggish—not ideal.
Preferably, you want to run the smallest diameter wheel you can while still clearing the brakes in order to provide the tire with as much sidewall as possible, giving it the best possible chance of biting. Carlyle Racing‘s 15-inch wheel kit makes it possible to fit something a little smaller on the back of a sixth-gen and increase the chances that all that power makes its way to the ground.
The Carlyle Racing 15-Inch Wheel Kit
It may seem like the process should be as simple as throwing a set of 15-inch wheels on the back of a sixth-gen and heading off to the race track, however, it is anything but. As previously mentioned, the larger rear Brembo caliper is much too large to allow a 15-inch wheel to clear. Also, the rear toe rod bolt would interfere with any 15-inch wheel you attempted to run. Carlyle Racing remedies this by providing a full kit that comes with everything you need to run the smaller-diameter wheels, and then some.
The kit comes with two great looking calipers that are machined out of aluminum and feature four pistons per caliper — the same as the factory Brembos. The face of each caliper is inscribed with the Carlyle Racing logo and look fantastic behind a set of racing wheels– such as the Weld S77Bs we will be running (more on that later). A pair of GM factory V6 rear rotors are provided with the kit due to the decreased size in comparison to the factory SS units and allow you to retain your factory E-brake. They are available in drilled and slotted variants as well.
“Honestly I don’t feel like you are really losing any stopping power,” said Mark Carlyle, founder and proprietor of Carlyle Racing. “Yes, the rotor is a little shorter, but you still get a four-piston caliper just like it came with stock.”
Tubular upper and lower trailing arms, upper control arms, and toe rods are also provided in the kit. The arms and rods, constructed of .200-inch thick DOM steel for optimal strength, feature high-quality Heim joints sourced from QA1 and replace the stamped steel pieces that appear as if they would deflect by just looking at them wrong. While the Heim joints may add a bit of noise to the setup, they prevent a significant amount of deflection and aid in instantly transferring every ounce of horsepower to the tires. The pieces are TIG-welded and are of the highest quality possible, right down to the stainless steel button head bolt that replaces the factory piece at the spindle.
“For me, the quality is really important,” Carlyle said. “I expect all of our kits to be up to the quality point that I would run on my own car.”
Laying the stock pieces next to the Carlyle Racing components, most would guess that the 15-inch kit would weigh more, but that’s where they’d be wrong. Despite the beefy looks of the Carlyle kit, the components weigh four pounds less per corner — mostly due to the smaller rotor and lightweight caliper — meaning the kit will save you eight pounds overall. That’s a win-win if we’ve ever heard one.
“I wish there was a way to measure how much flex you are getting rid of in the stock suspension,” Carlyle said. “With the amount of deflection the kit removes, even if you didn’t add the 15s and tires, it would still hook way better.”
With the amount of deflection the kit removes, even if you didn’t add the 15s and tires, it would still hook way better. -Mark Carlyle, Carlyle Racing
While the kit is of the highest caliber, Carlyle isn’t happy with the status quo and is always seeking to improve the components wherever possible.
“We are always making revisions to improve the kit,” Carlyle said. “On our first kit, it didn’t retain the parking brake and six-speed guys were saying to us ‘hey, I need the parking brake’ so we made the changes to make that happen.”
With the setup in hand, we headed over to Cunningham Motorsports to install the kit on their resident sixth-gen Camaro.
The installation started by removing the stock caliper, which is secured by two mounting bolts. Next, we removed the set screw that holds the rotor to the hub and then set the rotor aside. After the caliper and rotor were out of the way, we loosened all the nuts and bolts holding the trailing arms, control arms, and toe rod to the spindle to unload any tension on the parts.
For bolts that have an eccentric washer, note the blue paint marks so that you can realign them when putting the car back together. Make sure the washer remains in the same position as when it came out, as the bolts are scored to allow the washer to be keyed in place. This ensures the car is at least moderately drivable to get it to the alignment shop.
Once all of the components are loose, we proceeded to remove them one by one. Once the arms were removed, all of the stock suspension pieces were laid next to their tubular counter part with a bolt through the eyelet on each end. The Carlyle pieces were then adjusted until they matched the stock piece’s measurements. Once the adjustable Carlyle components were locked in via the jamb nuts, they were reinstalled on the car. The toe rod bolt at the spindle is replaced by a stainless-steel button head hex bolt in order to provide more clearance for the 15-inch wheels.
Once all the new pieces were back in place, the blue paint marks were realigned and the bolts were torqued to the factory specifications. After the arms were torqued, we loosened the banjo bolt and set the stock caliper aside. The Carlyle caliper was installed with the brand new hardware provided in the kit. Once the caliper was swapped, the new rotor was slipped over the studs and the set screw was tightened down.
The caliper was then bolted back into place and the brakes received a thorough bleeding starting with the passenger rear caliper. Counterintuitively, with multiple piston calipers, the proper bleeding procedure is to start with the bleeder closest to the brake hose and work out. We then moved to the driver’s side rear caliper working our way closer to the master cylinder. The wheels were then test fit to see if there was enough clearance. While it is a snug fit, the calipers clear the wheels by about the thickness of two sheets of paper — which is how we tested the clearance.
Wheels and Tires
Once the 15-inch wheel kit was in, we needed a set of new shoes for our test mule Camaro. We turned to Weld for a set of their RT-S Series S77B wheels. Not only is the S77B a fantastic looking wheel, it uses a three-piece modular design in order to offer a wide range of backspacings to clear almost any brake setup. The center section is a forged billet design surrounded by cold forged hoops. Weld’s propriety designs and construction not only provide peace of mind knowing they can handle anything we throw at them, they are also an investment in safety; giving us a lot of bang for our buck. We chose to run a 17×4.5-inch wheel up front and a 15×10-inch wheel out back.
As for the tires, Micky Thompson ET Street S/Ss in a 275/60R15 sizing were selected to put all our newly found traction to good use out back. The S/S is a drag radial and D.O.T approved for street use, meaning you can drive on these bad boys all the way to the track. But don’t think for a second that means these tires sacrifice anything in the way of traction. The S/S replaced the ET Street Radial II back in 2015, but still uses an equivalent tread void and the same proven R2 compound; making it one of the most capable tires you could possibly be running on the street and will more than hold its own at the track.
We selected the S/S due to its proven record and dependability. We could have gone with the ET Street Rs, but the S/S gives us a capable package that is just as home on the street as it is on the track and will provide ample traction in either environment– whereas the Rs are much more singular in focus and provide minimal hydroplane resistance for street driving.
Once the bleeding procedure was complete, we mounted the tires on the wheels and bolted them on the car.
To see what the Carlyle Racing 15-inch wheel kit was giving us in the way of added traction, we headed out to our local track: Auto Club Dragway in Fontana, California. We were greeted with air temperatures in the high-90s, with track temperatures in the mid-100s. Not ideal for any drag racing scenario, but the Carlyle kit, along with the Mickey Thompson E.T. Street S/S drag radials and Weld S77B wheels, still performed admirably.
Bone stock, the CMS sixth-gen Camaro had turned in a best time slip of 12.15 at 115.6 mph in cooler temperatures — not bad for a stock Camaro. However, even in standard trim, the sixth-gen was struggling to put all its power to the ground through the factory wheels and tires. Factor in the bolt-ons and you can imagine that our test mule sixth-gen was begging for a better bite.
While we were out at the track, we made a couple of test passes to shake down the car and make sure the suspension was functioning as expected. According to Ryne Cunningham, who piloted the car for all of our testing, the launches were very drama free. The car showed no signs of wheels spin and came off the line at full power with no need to pedal the car. The car would just plant and go.
With the assistance of the Carlyle Racing kit, a set of Weld wheels, a pair of Mickey Thompson drag radials and the bolt-ons we previously mentioned, the car was able to throw down a 11.67-second pass at 118.35 mph with a 1.69-second 60-foot time in scorching hot temperatures on its final pass of the day. It is safe to say that with better track temperatures the car should be capable of 11.50-second quarter-mile passes and 1.5x 60-foot times all day.