Barring a full-on financial meltdown (an outcome that seems far from implausible at press time), GM will build between 1,500 and 2,000 ZR1 Corvettes for the '09 model year. While those numbers aren't sufficiently scanty to qualify the car as a genuine exotic in the vein of an Enzo or a Veyron, they nevertheless represent but a tiny fraction of the Vette's typical yearly production total. Factor in the Z's stupefying performance and six-figure price tag, and it's easy to see why access to examples for use in instrumented testing is severely limited.
Fortunately for us, we know Kevin Helmintoller. Longtime readers may remember Helmintoller as the unrepentant Corvette kook whose exploits behind the wheel of various high-performance Vettes have been documented here in the past. In September, the Tampa-area native lit out for the Corvette Assembly Plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky, to take delivery of his own ZR1, a very-early-production example done up in cop-bait Victory Red. Shortly after arriving back in Florida, he contacted us to ask if we were interested in setting up a battery of performance tests on the new car. We were.
The plan was simple in theory, if not in execution. Helmintoller would wring out the Z in three separate test environments--dyno, dragstrip, and road course--and we would document the results. Orchestrating the project required no small amount of creative scheduling, but when the tire smoke had dissipated, it was clear that Chevy's new King of the Hill was worthy of its regal appellation.
Straight-line acceleration testing is instructive, to be sure, but the ZR1's real metier is road-course dicing, and any proper evaluation of the car would be incomplete without the inclusion of a proper open-track session. To that end, Helmintoller enrolled himself and two of his Corvettes--the ZR1 and a mostly stock '06 Z06--in a high-performance driving event hosted by Chin Motorsports and held at Sebring International Raceway. The event promised the opportunity to unleash both cars on one of North America's oldest and best-known motorsports venues, and to draw some informed comparisons between the two.
We'll Helmintoller take it from here.
"Racing in any of the club events at Sebring involves multiple cars on the track at the same time, so any lap times have to be considered with that in mind. Passing occurs only when the driver being overtaken has approved the pass. All of the participants were quite courteous save for one Porsche Carrera driver, who forced me to paint his rear bumper for two laps before finally allowing me by. We also had a rain shower at lunchtimethat wet the track pretty well, and then intermittent showers though the afternoon. That also had an effect on lap times.
"After first being approved for my solo qualification in the ZR1, I switched to the Z06. Perhaps because of my two prior sessions at Sebring in that car, I felt quite comfortable in it. I ran at 10/10ths and was able to turn consistent 2:34 lap timesin traffic. The Z06 is quite tossable, and when it breaks away, it is quite easy to recover. Keep in mind this car has minor mods and makes 490 rwhp and 450 rwtq. It's also equipped with Nitto 285s in the front and 345s in the rear, along with Hawk ceramic brake pads. I felt comfortable pushing that car for all it was worth (and in fact pushed it past that point at least twice).
"With the ZR1, I was definitely more conservative--and, frankly, nervous--when unleashing the power in traffic. The car's output is phenomenal, and I learned that downshifting was really not necessary. Keeping it in Third gear--even in low-speed turns--saved time, thanks to the available torque. As for my `official' times, I was consistently 10 to 15 seconds slower with the ZR1 vs. the Z06. On the other hand, when exiting Turn 16 down the long straight, I was pushing 155 mph with the ZR1 but only 140 mph with the Z06. Down the main straight, the ZR1 hitnearly 140 mph before Turn 1,while the Z06 wascloser to 125 mph.