In 2001, all that changed. I coached a guy who club-raced the first-generation Z06 in the SCCA’s T1 class. A T1 car was essentially a showroom stocker with safety equipment and R-compound rubber. It wasn’t the power or brakes that I found impressive — it was the cornering speed and balance. The 2001 Z06 was far from perfect, but it gave me a healthy respect for GM’s capabilities.
Today’s ZR1 has a push-button starter that brings its massive V8 to life. Once running, it’s got a relatively quiet and gentle idle. You wouldn’t really guess that 6.2 liters, a supercharger, 638 hp, and 604 lb-ft of torque are hiding under the hood. The latter give the 3,324-pound ZR1 a better torque-to-weight ratio than Porsche’s almighty V10 Carrera GT.
After selecting first gear, I let out the clutch and I’m surprised by how easy and progressive the clutch release is. Passing pit out and heading up the steep approach to Turn 2, I stand on it in second and easily get wheelspin. I don’t know what I’m more impressed by — the wheelspin in second or the sound that the supercharged engine produces. Past 3500 rpm at full throttle, a roar envelops the cabin that gets louder and meaner all the way to the 6500-rpm redline.
Heading around the track on my out lap, the ZR1 has a quality that’s hard to put my finger on. It feels supple on track but not necessarily soft. There’s a lot of dive under braking, but it upsets neither the chassis nor its balance. The magic ingredient must be the ZR1’s Magnetic Selective Ride Control. The real-time system swaps the standard Corvette’s conventional dampers for units filled with a fluid that contains iron particles. Under the influence of a magnetic charge, the particles produce instantaneous valving changes. With a cycle speed of a thousand times per second, MSRC is claimed to be the fastest-reacting active damper.
Because I’m not as familiar with the ZR1 as with the GT2, my out lap is more reserved. That leads to questions about how it’s going to behave once I pick up the pace. Exiting Turn 11, I roll onto the throttle carefully, feeling for traction coming off of this second-gear corner. Getting the Vette on the limit with the throttle is easy to achieve and highly predicable. After about 60 mph, I feel confident that I can plant the accelerator to the floor. The ZR1 pulls hard, never dropping off through second, third, and fourth gears until I run out of track heading up through Turn 1 on my way to Turn 2.
The ZR1 comes on Michelins, too, in this case the Pilot Sport PS2 ZP (for zero pressure) — a run-flat tire designed specifically for this model. Reading the sidewalls, the wear rating for the Sport Cups on the GT2 is 80 where Michelin rates these PS2s at a relatively hard 220. Heading through Turn 2, I don’t have quite the grip of the GT2, but tire-related grip is far better than I thought it would be.