VETTE magazine was recently invited to Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth to get acquainted with the 638hp '09 Corvette ZR1. Our on-site hosts were Texas Driving Experience Instructor Don Barnes and Corvette Vehicle Dynamics Engineer Jim Mero, who was on hand to wring out the test cars beyond what our limited driving skills would allow.
Mero, you'll recall, is the man responsible for throwing down a stunning 7:26.4 lap on the Nrburgring in a preproduction ZR1, a feat documented earlier this year in a widely circulated Web video. Just prior to heading onto the course, the veteran test driver offered the following appraisal of the car's performance capabilities: "This thing is the fastest vehicle you've ever been in. Are you ready for what it's got?" Having crossed paths with some of the most radically modified C6s in the country, we thought we knew what to expect.
We were mistaken.
In just seven seconds, we accelerated from 0 to 100 on the track's tight infield road course, then carved its multiple twists and turns at speeds in excess of 140 mph. After three non-stop hot laps, we paused for a few moments to catch our breath and process our radically altered notions of what factory Corvette performance can entail.
Those tasks accomplished, we then sat down with Tadge Juechter, vehicle chief engineer (Corvette and Cadillac XLR), to get the behind-the-scenes story on the fastest production Corvette in history.
VETTE Magazine: What were your first thoughts when you were given the ZR1 project?
Tadge Juechter: My first thought was, Wow! They want to do this?
VM: Were you given specific instructions on what to accomplish, or did you define the goals within the engineering department and then sell them to the corporation?
TJ: Our goals were totally our own [Team Corvette's]-namely, build the best Corvette possible for a $100,000 price point. [The car would have] more acceleration, braking, and cornering, but also more comfort, and [it would] retain the utility of a daily driver.
VM: How many engineering team members were responsible for the ZR1?
TJ: The engineering team started with just a handful working in secret but grew to a few dozen as the car moved toward production as an approved program.
VM: Is the ZR1 an America-only success story, or did GM teams from across the globe participate in its development?
TJ: The ZR1 was engineered primarily in North America, but we partnered with some of the best companies in the world, [including] Michelin from France and Brembo, [which is] based in Italy.
VM: Was the LS-series engine the only one you considered for the ZR1? Did you look at alternate displacements? What about a big-block-motor? Was a front-engine layout the only option you considered?
TJ: We talked about the big-block but felt it would be too heavy, and we wouldn't meet our goals for mass and weight distribution. As an advanced version of the Z06, the engine had to remain in the front of the car. All-wheel drive would have torn up the structure and made the car much heavier. We looked at a couple possible displacements, settling on 6.2L as [embodying] the right balance of power and durability.
VM: As was the case with some of the vintage 427s, was consideration given to making the ZR1 an off-road-only vehicle?
TJ: No, the ZR1 was always conceived to be a road car that happened to be extraordin-arily fast and capable on the track. Sales vol-ume of off-road-only variants would be too low to make an acceptable business case.