Kevin Burke cut his teeth in road racing time trials with a Honda S2000. After taking his Honda through an exhaustive tuning regimen, he’d experienced all the strengths and shortcomings of a low-torque, twitchy sports car. As fast and fun as the Honda was and is, he sensed he was nearing the end of its development process.
Photo credit: CaliPhotography
“The aim was hitting 1:50 or lower at Buttonwillow 13CW, but after a while, it became clear that getting there meant taking on huge costs and compromising reliability,” Burke began. Not interested in swapping out supercharger belts, repairing differentials, or trailering his car, he decided to find a new platform.
Despite the additional weight, a Corvette seemed a natural choice. Better power, plenty of room for tires, and a better suspension setup were appealing and a way of compensating for greater heft. Burke liked that it didn’t have any of the toe change under compression he’d gotten accustomed to in his S2000. He also appreciated how many there were nearby. Soon after he started his search, Burke stumbled upon one tastefully modified example for a reasonable price.
Burke didn’t opt for the entry-level Corvette or even a frill-free Grand Sport — this Watkins Glen Grey example came with the 3LT package, the seven-speed manual, and the Stage 3 aero package. Within a week, it was in his garage. Two days later, he was driving it around Willow Springs. Racing drivers are usually pretty relaxed people away from the track, but Kevin doesn’t ever seem to slow down much.
There were a few engine modifications already in place, but not much had been added to make it track-worthy. True, it had a set of Carbotech pads, Forgeline wheels, and two-year-old 305/325-section Nitto NT01s, but it was far from track-oriented at this stage. Despite this somewhat stock setup, he snagged a 1:29 in his second session on that first outing. When suitable suspension geometry makes a 500-horsepower Corvette a “puppy dog” of a car, it’s not impossible to go this quickly with little seat time.
Even now, Burke describes his Corvette as “almost totally stock.” No, he doesn’t have a point to prove, nor has he been stuffing some optimistic stuff in a water pipe during his free time. Even today, a few additions to the footwork, a few aerodynamic upgrades, and a supportive seat have turned it into a serious car that’s been banned from participating in certain classes.
Sorting Out the Factory Footwork
Within a few weeks of that first outing, he went to Buttonwillow with the Corvette and a set of Goodyear 3R tires. Immediately, he achieved his aim of a 1:50 lap around the 13CW configuration, and he felt comfortable enough in the car to diagnose a few flaws—one of which was its compromised rebound control. “The stock suspension left me with a floaty feeling over curbs,” Kevin noted. Not wanting to remove the leaf springs, he set out to optimize the stock suspension.
The C7 doesn’t have quite the aftermarket support as the earlier generations, so it’s impossible to find aftermarket leaf springs at the moment. Some have suggested he swap his leaf springs for coilovers, but this is a street car, and he’s afraid that would compromise the car’s versatility.
It’s only taken three simple modifications to get the handling to his liking. First, he updated the Magride software; then came a DSC Sport controller, which allows him to dial in the bump and rebound settings; the final touch was a set of AFE sway bars to help simulate a higher spring rate. The potential of these three additions was realized with a pointy alignment from Rockstar Garage, which doesn’t sap Kevin’s energy. Despite its willingness to rotate, it’s got a kind of composure that soaks up the curbs so well that Kevin barely feels them. As it sits, it’s supple enough for canyons and freeway driving, but it’s still stiff enough for the track.
More than just the shocks, most of the factory footwork has been retained. Even the stock brake rotors are still there. The Counterspace Garage brake pads have proven themselves strong enough for full-commitment sessions, which is something considering how much power the lightly tuned LT1 motor makes and how heavy the car is.
Not Much Needed
Burke hasn’t had to do much to make serious power reliably. Along with Torco products lubricating the engine, gearbox, and differential, he added a set of American Racing headers. That’s it. Well, it did come with a Stage 2 package from Katech, which includes the following:
- Katech CNC ported throttle body
- MSD Atomic AirForce LT1 intake manifold
- Katech Street camshaft
- VVT limiter
- Katech CNC ported cylinder heads
- Katech AFM-delete billet valley cover
- High-speed lifters
- High-lift valve springs
- Valve spring locators
- Intake valve seals
- Exhaust valve seals
- Titanium valve spring retainers
- C5-R timing chain
With a tune from RD Performance and a tank of E85, the LT1 makes 527 horsepower at the rear wheels. With the cam shifting the powerband to the right and seven speeds to split the 400 lb-ft of torque, the motor is both tractable and powerful enough to challenge the adhesion of the driven wheels in fourth-gear corners.
Slippery at Speed
As Burke had grown more comfortable wringing the car’s neck—and it does require an almost brutal touch—he strapped on a few semi-subtle aero pieces. These include an RS Future LM rear wing with carbon uprights, a custom fabricated chassis mount by Riley Stair, and APR’s front air dam and carbon splitter. This splitter has similar dimensions to the factory unit. Still, with 20-percent more surface area and an additional two inches of width, it’s notably stronger while remaining narrow enough for street parking.
“It’s hard to stand out in the time-attack world with a stock car, so some aero doesn’t hurt if you’re looking for attention. Plus, I struggled with the rearend at the corner exit—even in fast corners like Riverside. When the car starts to rotate at 110 miles an hour, it saps your confidence,” Burke explained.
The aero package doesn’t develop much more downforce than the factory aero does, plus it minimizes drag. For this reason, Burke usually runs the wing at zero degrees. The result is a manageable amount of high-speed understeer and a great sense of security when flooring the throttle in fourth through long, fast corners like Riverside.
Even when trimmed out, the rear wing still overpowers the splitter at fast tracks. Burke can counter this by stiffening the rear sway bar, or if the speeds are incredibly high, he might start to run the wing with a few positive degrees. This means that he notches the wing up a couple of degrees whenever he goes to Big Willow. This highly efficient downforce gives him the confidence and turn-in needed to attack fast corners and remain on the intended line.
Snug and Personalized
Driver confidence in the quick sections requires a stabilizing seat, and Burke spared no time or expense there. His custom Status Hotlap seat was molded to his shape and tailored to add something stylish to the cabin of what is very much a street car. “This is a one-off piece with my name and number embroidered on the halo’s ears. It’s also wrapped in suede to match the factory trim, and even the accent silver stitching is seen on the dash and elsewhere is present on the seat,” he added.
That really is the last addition to a surprisingly simple, stable, and confidence-inspiring package which he’s achieved quite a lot with over the previous year. The 1:51 at Chuckwalla CW, the 1:25 at Big Willow, and the 1:47.8 at Buttonwillow CW13—over two seconds faster than he originally planned to go there—are evidence of this platform’s potential.
Unfortunately for Burke, when the stock-ish car manages to beat the big-dollar custom builds, that irritates a few folks. Burke learned this after attending Global Time Attack at Buttonwillow. “I slapped on a set of 295-section A052s and ran a 1:49 at Buttonwillow. After that, I wasn’t allowed back into Street Class; they’d bumped me into the Limited Class,” Burke laughed. For him, it’s not a huge concern. Speed is the personal challenge, and when he wants to run against others, a few new opportunities have recently presented themselves.
Burke had driven his Corvette tens of thousands of miles across Southern California, irritated some event organizers, snagged a few wins in the Burgeoning Super GT Cup, and continues to build a sizable online following with his tail-out antics. Most impressively, he’s done all of this without regular nights spent wrenching. When you start with an already potent platform and make the minimum necessary changes, racing doesn’t need to be an emotional rollercoaster filled with busted knuckles and bags under the eyes. Perhaps that’s why Kevin, unlike so many of his fellow racers, arrives at most of his events looking well-rested. Maybe that’s his secret.