Working for a car rag has its perks, and one of them is getting to drive the “latest and greatest” out of the Motor City. This time it was a call from the gearheads at GM Powertrain and an invite to pilot the new Camaro ZL1. We tried to wheel one around the epic piece of asphalt known as Virginia International Raceway (VIR), but that was a bust due to torrential rain. All the trip did was whet (literally) our appetite to get some actual ZL1 seat time.
Back in March, when our track day was rained out, the ZL1 wasn’t even signed off for sales, which meant we couldn’t drive it on the streets, so this chance to experience the car in a real-world environment wasn’t about to get passed up. As a big tasty bonus, the guys at GM booked us some track time at Lucas Oil Raceway (home of the NHRA U.S. Nationals), for some quality 1,320 time. Now, given the handling prowess of the ZL1, some may not consider it a drag car, but the guys at GM went out of their way to make sure the new super Camaro is up to whatever sort of performance driving the owner may get a hankering for. According to Monte Doran of GM Communications, “The ZL1 team had both drag racers and road racers on the development team and they all fought to make the car good at their respective sports. As a result, it’s good at both, and equally adept at a track like Lucas Oil Raceway and Virginia International Raceway. To make sure the ZL1 was drag capable, they subjected the car to 1,000 ‘Woodward tests’, which is a hard launch, and full acceleration up to 100 mph. We did this 1,000 times and never had an issue with the rearend.” The official quarter-mile time from GM is 12.0, but we’ve heard they’ve clicked off a few high 11s, and some aftermarket tuners have taken them into the low 11-second range with a tune and some sticky tires. Not too shabby for a ride developed to rule a much more curvaceous type of course.
For the drive, GM had the challenge of giving us the right sort of road in order for us to really appreciate the ZL1. Not an easy task in Indiana. What we got was a nice mix of city; highway; and narrow, twisty road driving. I was tossed the keys to an Inferno Orange M6 ZL1 and given a pre-planned route map. The only admonishment was that I had to pay my own tickets. Fair enough. What I found was that the ZL1 is pretty civilized for a blown, 580hp car designed to hang with exotic fare around world-class road courses. In fact, the term that I kept hearing bantered about was how the ZL1 was such a “pussycat” on the highway. Well, at least until the throttle was mashed. The adaptive mufflers gave just the right amount of engine growl at just the right moment and had zero drone when cruising down the highway. The epic understeer we had experienced with our stock ’10 SS seemed to be only a frustrating memory, as the ZL1 felt very balanced and far more neutral. The newfound agility, along with the extra power from the LSA engine, helped make the ZL1 seem much lighter than a 4,000-pound car should be expected to feel. As Al Oppenheiser, Camaro Chief Engineer, told us, “We set out to make the Camaro ZL1 a performance car that is great at everything, including road racing, drag racing, and daily commuting. I cannot think of many cars that are capable of running 11-second quarter-mile runs, can set a seven-minute lap at the Nurburgring, and still be comfortable enough to drive to work every day.”
On the dragstrip, we were presented with a mix of manual- and automatic-equipped cars. Now, launching a manual-equipped car can be a bit of a challenge, but thanks to the Launch Control, it was a snap. The only Launch Control for the automatic was the gray matter between our ears, but once launched, the shifts were quick, firm, and well-timed. Of course, with 30 guys sharing only four ZL1s, the big problem was hot-lap induced heat soak. This was made even worse by the 94-degree temps and high humidity. Still, it was a great way to get a feel for how the ZL1 performed. Besides, complaining about the weather when given the chance to beat on a $55,000 car would be like bitching about a slightly overcooked steak on your dinner date with Kate Upton.