VM: With no governing body to guide your actions at Nürburgring, what are your self-imposed procedures?
Juechter: When we first went with the Z06, we parked on the start-finish line and started from a dead rest. That’s the time that’s been published to date. Later, we found out pretty much everybody else does flying starts, so now that’s the way we do it. We’ve always taken the most conservative way, because we don’t want to be called on the carpet by any other manufacturers or media outlets [claiming] that what we’re saying is not truthful.
VM: Do you have private use of Nürburgring when you record lap times?
Juechter: No. The entire time we’re at Nürburgring, lots of other manufacturers run cars during what’s called “industry pool.” It’s pretty much a free-for-all. There are people on the track in the way, doing their own testing, so you can’t run fast, continuous laps. The ZR1 fast-lap video we produced was the quicker of only two continuous laps we were able to run during that entire time.
Mero: In 2008, we were able to rent the track for 45 minutes before industry pool opened. Because of local noise ordinances, they’ve done away with [private rental]. This year we had a German liaison who was able to negotiate with the Nürburgring and get us one lap at the end of the industry-pool session on three consecutive days [Tuesday through Thursday] of the second week we were there. It was one lap and one lap only. They call it the “last lap of the day,” and that’s pretty much how we did it this time, as opposed to renting the track and getting three or four cuts at it.
Juechter: Normally on a track you’re able to do repeated laps and get into a groove. At the ’Ring, you go out and take a running start, you’ve got one lap, and you’re done for the day. We were able to do that twice on the ’12 ZR1 and once on the ’12 Z06.
Mero: In 2008 I ran multiple laps. This year I went out and warmed up the ZR1’s tires at the end of the straightaway, and then Nürburgring’s course control called me by radio. I did one lap, and it was over.
VM: What’s the difference between a continuous and a synthesized lap time, and which one of these does GM publish as the Corvette’s official numbers?
Juechter: A continuous lap is just what it sounds like—we run from start to finish without stopping. Other manufacturers publish lap times composed of segments from a variety of different laps. That’s a synthesized lap time. We do a continuous lap. As I mentioned earlier, we record and publish the video of it to prove it.
VM: Is there another reason you released the video to the media?
Caldwell: Yes. The video is Chevrolet’s way of saying, “This is it, and here’s what happened.” There’s a transparency about it—a way to give people a peek inside the secret world of what testing a Corvette is about. We’re pleased to let people see a little bit of insight into what is normally an internal thing.
VM: You mentioned data acquisition. Do you use it solely for chassis tuning and other engineering purposes?
Mero: No. There’s so much traffic during the industry-pool hours that we take a couple hundred channels worth of data, and the only way we can gauge where we’re at relative to the 2008 lap on each segment of the course is to look at the comparative data.
One of the things I want to stress is that we just don’t roll into the ’Ring once every two or three years and set these kind of lap times without a guy like [Corvette Engineering Specialist, Ride and Handling Simulation] Jeff Mosher spending 12 to 14 hours a day looking for every half or tenth of a second in each turn, to cut our learning curve down for that car on that track. Subjectively, if we’re going to sneak up on the ultimate ability of the car, we’re going to be there for several months. Remember, each day we only see each of the Nürburgring’s 150-plus turns about 12 times. That’s because of traffic. With those conditions, it’s hard to optimize the car in each turn unless Jeff is processing and reducing data. Then we can sit down every night with him and talk about the Corvette’s reaction to the track, and find the car’s capability rather quickly.
VM: Did you set a perfect lap time? Regardless, is your lap time unbeatable?
Caldwell: “No,” to both questions. Tomorrow somebody could run a lap that’s faster, and that would be great. There’s no defense in this business, only offense. People ask, “What’s the official record?” There isn’t one. This is all unofficial in the land of legend.
VM: Is a fast lap the only reason you go to the ’Ring?
Mero: No. We went over there for business reasons, to tune the Corvettes on the Michelin Pilot Sport Cups for the European market. You don’t sell Corvettes in the winter [in Europe]; you sell them in the summer. The three laps that we ran for time at Nürburgring were free, compliments of the track, whereas in the past we’ve paid for that time. We were there for engineering reasons first, and fast laps second.
VM: What public misperceptions about Corvettes at Nürburgring 2011 do want to set straight?
Mero: The biggest one that personally offends me has nothing to do with my driving. It has to do with the fact that General Motors was in bankruptcy, and now that it’s made a profit, we’re just running over to Europe showboating and running fast laps. That couldn’t be further from the truth. As I already mentioned, we went over there to engineer a car for Europe, and while we were there the ’Ring was gracious enough to let us run the last lap of the day on three consecutive days, and that’s how we recorded the fast lap.
Juechter: I want to answer some comments I’ve seen on the Internet about the steering wheel in the video—that it is not our production ’12 steering wheel. It’s true that we used a pre-production car for this activity. We had to. We shipped the Corvettes over by boat, and there’s a very long lead time to get them over there. Some of the cosmetic stuff that’s new for ’12 wasn’t on these vehicles because they’re pre-production.
VM: Finally, what benefit do American Corvette owners get from your testing and running fast laps at the ’Ring?
Caldwell: One of the reasons we do this—and we think Corvette owners agree with us when it comes to the ZR1 and Z06, especially—is, it’s on us to remind people that we have these two very high-performing Corvettes, and [to show] new and different ways to prove they are among the highest-performing cars in the world.
Mero: Also, when the next Corvette models are going to be engineered, we feed the data we tabulate at the ’Ring back in. That’s what happened in 2008.
Juechter: Now anybody can buy a ZR1 or Z06 with the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires that were validated at the toughest track in the world. It’s a demonstration of the tire’s performance capability.
To watch Corvette’s Nürburgring fast lap online, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ykb6iswc0k.