It’s not often someone hands you the keys to a $100,000+ car and tells you to disable the traction and stability control systems before taking it for a no-holds-barred rip around a racetrack. Automakers tend to be a little (or in some cases a lot) more protective of their high dollar sports cars.
1. The 638-horsepower ZR1 is the most powerful and fastest vehicle GM has ever produced.
2. With a MSRP of $106,880, the ZR1 is also the most expensive Corvette model ever.
3. For 2010, all manual transmission Corvettes including the ZR1 come equipped with GM’s new Launch Control system.
But here I am, in a Corvette ZR1, about to be set loose on Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch’s 2.2-mile road course. And as if this rare treat wasn’t enough, after I was done exploring the potential of the ZR1 from behind the wheel, I was strapped into the passenger seat to witness first-hand what this fastest and most powerful Corvette of all-time can do in the hands of 3-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Ron Fellows.
A SENSE OF DRAMA
When you get behind the wheel of a ZR1, there’s a real sense of drama to it. Your heart is already pumping a little harder just knowing the awe-inspiring performance numbers it produces – 638 horsepower at 6500 rpm, 603 ft-lbs of torque at 3800 rpm, and a manufacturer claimed 0-60 time of 3.4-seconds to go along with a top speed of 205 mph. Add to that the rumble of the 6.2-liter LS9 V8 once you press the ‘Start’ button and you can’t help but feel like you’re about to experience something special.
And that something special is mind-bending acceleration combined with the most arousing sounds to ever emanate from the exhaust tips of a Corvette. It’s difficult to describe the kind of violent forward thrust the ZR1 provides in any gear and at any engine speed. Power is simply omnipresent, ready and willing to unleash hell with a blip of the throttle.
I say blip rather than stomp of the throttle, because with the traction and stability control systems disabled to stomp on the throttle in anything but a straight line would be suicidal. Not that the ZR1 lacks grip or cornering prowess, but 600 ft-lbs of torque has a way of overpowering even the extremely capable Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires it comes equipped with.
As a result, some real finesse is required when adding gas coming out of a hairpin like the one that leads onto Spring Mountain’s 1,830-ft main straightaway. But once you’ve straightened out, the sensation of speed as you row through the gears is surreal. It literally feels like Thor has reached down from the heavens and pressed the Fast-Forward button. Distance is covered too fast and scenery blurs too quickly for my visual and sensory perception to process. I need a faster brain to drive this car anywhere near its limit.
A FASTER BRAIN
Luckily for me, a faster brain was available. Ron Fellows isn’t just a Corvette Racing legend (3 class victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, 2 class championships in the ALMS and an overall and class win at the 24 Hours of Daytona, all in the C6.R Corvette), he’s also a professional athlete who runs marathons and literally trains his brain to improve what he calls “mind speed.” Working closely with Dr. Jacques Dellaire from Human Performance International, Fellows has trained his brain using Dr. Dellaire’s program to not only improve his ability to focus and concentrate but also to enhance his mind speed processing.
With his fast-twitch brain and his thousands of racing hours behind the wheel of a Corvette, perhaps I shouldn’t have been as surprised by the ease with which Fellows piloted the ZR1 around Spring Mountain at impossibly high speeds. As a bit of a racer myself, what impressed me most about the ride-along was Fellows’ corner preparation. The coordination, speed and precision of his hand and feet movements during braking and downshifting were truly remarkable, as was the smoothness with which he transitioned from deceleration to corner initiation to acceleration. The skills I observed were clearly those of a finely tuned world-class racing driver. What felt like a wild beast when I was in the driver’s seat now appeared to be completely tamed thanks to the skilled touch of the Corvette Whisperer.
A WILD RIDE OR A WILD DRIVER?
This got me to thinking, is the ZR1 really the wild beast many reviewers have described it as, or is it simply a case of too much car for the driver? With a video-confirmed Nürburgring lap time of 7-minutes and 26.4-seconds, the ZR1 is faster around this definitive test track than supercars like the Ferrari F430 Scuderia (7-minutes 39-seconds) the Lamborghini Murciélago LP640 (7-minutes 40-seconds), and the Porsche Carrera GT (7-minutes 28.7-seconds). That’s some high-dollar equipment eating Corvette dust, so it seems undeniably clear that the ZR1 is a world-class sports car in the hands of a world-class driver.
But for whatever reason, there is a perception among some journalists and the general public that the ZR1 should be easy to extract all that speed from. I very much doubt they’d have the same preconceived notion when jumping behind the wheel of a Ferrari or Lamborghini, because we’ve been conditioned to think of these hyper sports cars as being wild stallions.
And truth be told, the ZR1 is a very easy car to drive at street-legal speeds. The clutch isn’t overly heavy and is surprisingly easy to engage, throttle response is well tuned for cruising around town, and the massive Brembo brakes (6-piston front and 4-piston rear calipers with carbon ceramic cross-drilled rotors) are no more difficult to modulate than the base model Corvette. The ride quality, seating position and visibility are also far more livable for daily driving than the aforementioned hyper cars from Italy or Germany.
And perhaps it’s this ease of use on the street that catches some people out when turning up the wick at the racetrack. The ZR1’s remarkably docile street manners quickly transform to that of a fire-breathing dragon, capable of either tearing your face off or breaking the track record, depending entirely on how you treat it. Respect its ability to cheat time and space in a way you’re not accustomed to experiencing and you’ll be rewarded with speed that literally reverses the affects of aging (ok, I may be overstating things here, but it’ll at least make you feel 10-years younger). Get a little cocky and push too hard and unless you’ve left the stability control active you’ll find yourself facing the wrong way in a big hurry.
THE VERDICT: A WORLD-CLASS SUPERCAR
The ZR1 suffers no fools, and that’s exactly the way a world-class supercar should be. The problem with the ZR1 is that too many people have been fooled into thinking it’s just a supercharged Corvette, not a race-breed hypercar on the level of a Ferrari 599 GTB or Lamborghini Murciélago LP640. But if you look at the statistics, the ZR1 is very much in the same class as these Italian exotics in every category except price, where they more than triple the ZR1.
Sure, you don’t get the supercar badge or some of the exotic materials or mid-engine placement that you get with the many a Prancing Horse or Raging Bull, but for $106,000 the ZR1 provides more horsepower, far more torque, and just as thrilling a driving experience. Oh, and you also get $200,000 or so left over for other things in life, like a Club Membership at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch and a college education for your kids. Seems like a fair trade to me.