The Big Guns

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Turning into Turn 3 seems to upset the ZR1 slightly, almost as though MSRC is confused for half a second. At the exit, I go for a squirt of throttle and am immediately rewarded with generous forward momentum. The supercharged engine provides the throttle response of a GT3 RS with the torque of the GT2 — a great combination on track.

Turning into Turn 4 — a downhill, off-camber 90º second-gear right-hander — I carry a bit more speed than anticipated. Rather than overshoot the apex, I roll off the brake and turn in. The ZR1 turns in without hesitation. The amount of speed you can carry at turn-in is truly impressive. Ironically, it’s similar in technique to driving a GT3 RSR on Michelin slicks.

Exiting the Carrousel in third gear at about 90 mph, I roll on the power and get power-on oversteer! It’s easy to correct but, as with the GT2, the ZR1 requires you to bring all of your driving skill to the table when you’re at the limit. Heading into Turn 7 well into fourth gear, the V8’s noise is intoxicating. It’s the American answer to the GT3 RS’s song, a sound you can’t wait to share with friends and one that puts a smile on your face.

The speed it offers will, too. It’s a good thing the ZR1 has carbon-ceramic Ferrari FXX brakes up front and Enzo brakes at the rear, because I’m heading into Turn 7 at a very high rate of speed. The huge rotors and calipers slow the ZR1 down with authority. When the ABS cycles, it feels as though it does so much more slowly than the Porsche system. The system’s distinctive lock-release characteristic reminds you that you overshot the corner and are on the verge of being in trouble. The Porsche’s ABS system, by comparison, is much less intrusive.

The Corvette’s balance through Infi­neon’s esses inspires a lot of confidence. Turn-in is immediate, the transitions easy to predict and control. If you get a bit of understeer, it’s easy to make the ZR1 neutral with the throttle — at any speed and in any gear. In fact, the ZR1 is the only car in which I’ve achieved power-on oversteer at Infineon’s Turn 9, a fast left-hand fourth-gear bend. It could be the lack of rear downforce, but I don’t think that its absence is a contributor. More likely, it’s the street tires and 604 lb-ft at 3800 rpm. In all cornering situations, judicious throttle application is required to drive the ZR1 in a neutral state.

Getting used to this Corvette on track takes surprisingly little time. I continue to push the car harder and, when I overstep its limits, it communicates clearly and gently. My laps around Infineon net a 1:49.2, 1:49.2, and a 1:48.8. The times are remarkably close to the GT2’s, this despite the fact that GM has gone about going fast in a completely different manner. An overlay of the data illustrates just how differently these cars achieve their lap times (see sidebar, p. 61).

Sitting on the pit wall, watching the heat wiggle the air over the hood of the ZR1 and above the decklid of the GT2, I’m struck by how incredible these cars are. Based on prior experience, I knew that the GT2 was going to be good at Infineon. And it was. However, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the ZR1. Based on previous experience, I knew it would be fast and I knew the critics were saying good things about it. What I didn’t know was how the ZR1 would behave when pushed hard on the track.

As a Porsche fan first and a racing driver second, I have to admit that I’m taken with the ZR1. It’s been said that the ZR1 is the best car GM has ever built. I can’t comment on that, but I can say that it’s by far the best GM vehicle I’ve ever driven — on and off the track.

The battle for the best lap time around Infineon goes to the ZR1, but the war will rage on. After all, these are cars that were designed to be driven on the street, and a lap time around a race track only tests their extreme performance envelopes. As I drive the ZR1 home after the test, I detect a small exhaust leak. It may have won this track contest, but it looks like it has a little ways to go before it can claim the title as the most complete high-performance car of them all.

Also from Issue 180

  • The Forgotten 911 SC-L 3.1
  • 997 Sport PASM vs. regular PASM
  • Preview: 2011 Boxster Spyder
  • Troutman-Barnes four-door 911S
  • Patrick Long 2010 GT3 Cup Tire Test
  • Modified 997 GT2
  • Market Update: 1989–98 911
  • Interview: Dirk Werner
  • Project Cayman: Lightweight Seats
  • How Not to Own a 944, Epilogue
  • Tech Forum: TPMS Part 1
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