One Shop, Two NASA Championship-Winning Corvettes: GSpeed Does The Math

November 13, 2018 / by Bradley Iger

GSpeed and Horsepower Research team up to build two race-winning Corvettes. In this Wiseco racer feature, we dive into the winning combination cars. 

Whether you’re competing in Spec Miata or Top Fuel, race weekends have a tendency to get a bit hectic without warning. For shops that specialize in race prep like GSpeedin Cresston, Texas, it’s not just the time at the track that can turn frenzied, but the days leading up to an event as well.

This year’s NASA national championships, held September at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, gave GSpeed and the racers they assist some extra drama to contend with, as their team battled with issues that saw two of their entrants go from potentially being disqualified to the top spot on the podium in their respective classes. For Troy Messer, who ended up taking the win in the TTU class with his C6 Corvette, the event almost ended before it even began.

Messer got his start in motorsport in the early '80s drag racing in IHRA with a 1970 Camaro. He moved on to enduro motocross, then spent a decade as a crew chief for a stock car team before transitioning to karts and eventually production-based road racing.

“Earlier this year, Anthony at Horsepower Research built us some really crazy, 468 cubic-inch LS-based road racing motors as what we dubbed ‘mules,’” says Louis Gigliotti of GSpeed. “The idea basically was to break these engines so our customers wouldn’t break theirs. One of these motors had been sitting on the shelf for about six months because we hadn’t found a good opportunity to put it in a car and run it around the track for an extended period of time. Fast forward to about September 10th and Troy has his car together for CoTA. He drops by to have us put it on the dyno to tune it and do his certification pulls [to meet the class power-to-weight rules].

The C6 that Messer campaigns in NASA time trials started as a bare frame purchased directly from GM. He had initially planned to build the car for the Pirelli World Challenge series, but the urge to upgrade the car more and more pushed him to venture beyond PWC.
As luck would have it, the reluctor on the drum of our new Dynojet had chewed itself up and we needed to get a spare. We decided to basically break the engine in and get started, and by the time the part was in, we’d have him on the road the following day.”

But Louis says it was immediately clear something was up with the new mill. “It just wasn’t behaving right,” he explains. “We found coolant in the oil and it started to self-fill the dry sump tank. We do one pull and the crankcase pressure is like, 7 psi, and it’s puking oil and water everywhere. It wasn’t happy. We troubleshoot it for a few hours and tell Troy the news and he’s beside himself – this event was a big deal and we really felt for him. So what we ended up doing was pulling that Horsepower Research motor off the shelf and loaning it to Troy for the event to get him out of a bind.”
Through the efforts of GSpeed and Horsepower Research, Messer was able to not only compete in the NASA championships, but actually win the TTU title, which is normally awarded to teams campaigning purpose-built race cars like the Norma M200P.

Messer, a lifelong motorsport competitor and NASA racer since 2009, had built his C6 literally from scratch. “I had contacts with a few Corvette engineers,” he tells us. “And through those contacts, I was able to get GM to sell us a bare frame, which they don’t normally do. So we started off from the ground up. The initial idea was to do a “cheap” Pirelli World Challenge car, but I kept wanting to go faster – first it was Penske shocks, then it was a sequential gearbox, then it was the Motec ECU, then it was a bigger motor, etc. Every year we just kept putting more and more into it.”

The Horsepower Research-built, LS-based 468ci power plant in Messer’s C6 makes roughly 675 rear-wheel horsepower fully uncorked.

Troy had planned to run in the TT1 class at the NASA championships, but the issues with his other motor had GSpeed burning the midnight oil just to get the hurt engine swapped out for their 468ci LS-based monster, and it didn’t provide them much time for additional testing. “We went from GSpeed’s dyno straight to the track and ran that thing,” he says. “It was raining when we got there, and by Saturday evening the track was completely dry – we went out there and we had the rest of the field covered by two seconds. But it turned out we were illegal.”

Multi-regional NASA champ Paul Costas drives the C5 for the GSpeed team. Gigliotti says that they selected him for wheelman duties not only because of his experience, but because he could also wrench on the car between sessions, if needed, during times when the GSpeed team gets busy with customer cars.

After setting his fast time, NASA officials did their own dyno pull with Messer’s car, and it had gained 40 horsepower since the testing at GSpeed – most likely from engine break-in. “We basically had two options – try to figure out how to detune 40 horsepower out of it, or move up to TTU.”

As a fully unlimited class, anything goes in TTU. While the field would normally be populated with purpose-built race cars that would be more at home lapping at the 24 Hours of Le Mans than at a NASA time trial event, Messer theorizes that the conditions kept those folks from competing. “The weather was so sketchy all weekend, I think those teams just dropped out of time trials. So we looked at the competition in TTU and thought we could at least get on the podium.”

You won’t find a speck of road-going C6 Corvette interior trim in Messer’s race car. A Motec ECU manages the electronics.

Messer got his lap time down to 2:17, but he wasn’t sure it was going to be enough to keep his closest competition at bay. “He was right behind me, and I knew with his turbo setup that he could turn the boost if he needed to.” The next lap Messer gave it everything he had, posting a 2:16. He wasn’t sure it would be enough.

“His car broke,” Messer says. “I talked to him after the race and he said he didn’t think he had anything more left in it anyway, but I think he was just being a gentleman.” Messer’s 2:16 would be the fastest lap in TT overall.

After having their Saturday session times disqualified for dynoing roughly a dozen horsepower over their allotted power-to-weight ratio, the GSpeed team had just one chance to set a fast lap on Sunday. They made it count.

While that was undoubtedly thrilling for GSpeed as well, Messer’s car wasn’t the only Corvette they had a stake in that weekend. “We run in a couple of different series, and we also had Horsepower Research build us an LS2-based, stock cubic inch Trans Am TA3 engine,” Gigliotti tells us. “We put that engine in a customer-owned 2002 Corvette Z06, kind of a cool little project we’ve been working on. The owner likes building the car, and watching it do well is fun for him, so it’s kind of a unique relationship. In that scenario I’m the team manager and Paul Costas is our driver. Paul is a multi-regional NASA champion, and we chose him to drive the car not only because he’s got a lot of experience, but also because he can take care of the car between rounds if necessary. If we get busy with a customer’s car on a race weekend, that’s going to take priority.”

Louis says the C5 started out as a theft recovery salvage vehicle and eventually morphed into GSpeed team’s test bed for racing development.

The weekend didn’t go off without a hitch for the TT3 car either, though. “The rain was coming and going, and we made the wrong call on several different sessions as far as tire choice,” Gigliotti recalls. “On Saturday we finally got a dry session and we were first in our class. But we got the car dynoed after the session and we were 12 horsepower over at peak, 4 horsepower on average, so they threw us out. It sucked because that wasn’t a situation where we could bump up a class, so we had to take the disqualification and try again on Sunday morning.”

The GSpeed C5 TT3 championship car and Messer’s TTU-winning C6.

Frustrated, the team tried to figure out what to do to ensure the car would not suffer the same fate the following day. “We re-submitted our ‘illegal’ dyno sheet from Saturday, and bumped our base weight up from 2850 to 2930 pounds to give the car the right power-to-weight ratio for the class. At this point we had one session left on Sunday morning to post a time, so we played it really safe with the numbers. We ended up being a second quicker than on Saturday."

Gigliotti says being able to rely on companies like Wiseco to provide the parts quickly was crucial. “The only way that we were able to put this car together with this engine was because Wiseco stocked what we needed. We built that motor in like a week and half. Being at the track to test and develop was a huge factor in the success we had – we don’t ever go anywhere untested. So when it does come down to the wire, and we have one session to post a fast time, we know what to expect.”

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Written by Bradley Iger

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