When I drive a supercar on track, I normally sign a release beforehand. Most of the forms stipulate that I assume liability for any medical problems I may incur due to an accident. But last fall at Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club, a private track complex an hour outside of Las Vegas in Pahrump, Nevada, I was confronted with a dilemma. There was a clause in the release that stated I was responsible for the first $10,000 of vehicle damage should I wreck one of the Corvettes I was testing.
Such a large vehicle liability is unusual — and unsettling. No matter, I was there for a story, and the show had to go on. Plus, I’ve had a jones for Corvettes, one of the few true American supercars, since I was a kid. I signed the form.
After a welcome dinner by Chevrolet, our group of media folks retired to luxury condominiums built on the track premises. Next day it was an early morning breakfast in the clubhouse, followed by classroom instructions on the basics of road racing. Our fleet of beautiful Corvettes (and the accompanying, patient instructors) were provided by the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School.
The inventory we were to test included the more modest Sting Ray and Grand Sport, each at 455 horsepower, plus the more powerful ZO6 (650 horsepower) and the new ZR1 (755 horsepower).
The Spring Mountain Club operates a large road course — at 6.1 miles, it’s one of the biggest in the US. We only used a part of it. To join the club requires an initial membership outlay of $60,000, then $6,000 per year for 16 days of track time per month.
Alex MacDonald, Chevrolet’s Vehicle Performance Manager, told the story about a recent filming of Jay Leno’s Garage to illustrate the power of the ZR1. At General Motors’ Milford Proving Grounds near Detroit, Michigan, Leno had taken a ZR1 to over 200 mph on a big, high-banked oval, for that particular episode. The track we were testing on, full of twists and turns, would not allow for anything like that, but we would get to test the car’s acceleration, braking and cornering abilities — things you might do on a public road.
For some hands-on driving instruction before heading on to the track itself, we drove the small Oval, Slalom and Barrel matrices in both the Sting Ray and Grand Sport. Each member of the group was timed. I ran somewhere in the middle of the pack.
Once on track, it was on to the quicker ZO6s and ZR1s. We started in the easy Touring mode, then went to Sport and finally to Track. Each mode required a little more input from the driver. The cars handled well in the tight corners and accelerated like a bat out of hell on the straights. I was amazed that a car as large as the ‘Vette was so agile.
We did the classic lead-follow program with four cars in line at a time, changing positions each lap so the instructors could judge our progress when we were directly behind them. Via radio, they gave us real-time feedback. Amazingly, they could pilot their cars and still see enough in their rearview mirrors to critique our driving. At one point, the instructor told me to keep both hands on the steering wheel at the nine-and-three position. How did he know that I had morphed to eight and two and that I had taken one hand off the wheel for a split-second?
Speaking of split seconds, for the day I was wearing a handsome Corvette Racing loaner watch, the V12-44-COR-03 Corvette Limited Edition automatic chronograph, which retails for $11,950. A number of the program participants inquired about the timepiece made by B.R.M. — some even strapped it to their wrists for photos. Many of the Chevrolet track personnel didn’t even know Corvette Racing watches existed. The fact that I had one made me stand out a bit from the crowd, especially when I happened to be rotated into a yellow ‘Vette that matched the yellow watch hands and trim.
The model I was wearing was a limited edition designed as a tribute to the Corvette C7.R’s success at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This limited edition, in a 44mm stainless steel with black PVD and yellow lacquer case with the Corvette flag on the dial, comes in two versions — 24 for car #63 and 24 pieces for car #64. B.R.M. is continuing its association with Corvette in 2019, introducing new models dedicated to the Grand Sport Corvette.
At the end of the day, each of us was given a “hot” lap with a professional instructor behind the wheel. Then we really got to see what the ZR1 is capable of. At the end of the longest straight, my instructor had the car up to 121 mph. I had never even broken 100 mph during my own laps! The instructor was also smooth enough to make a section of three separate right-hand corners seem as if they were one long turn. When I had tried the same trick earlier, the moves felt jerky and clumsy. Makes you realize what rank amateurs auto journalists are, even though we sometimes regard ourselves in higher esteem.
By the way, to say signing the release affected my driving performance is an understatement. I was as careful as I could have been with the cars. But maybe that was a good thing. None of us went off-track or incurred a fender-bender, which easily could have cost more than the price of the Corvette watch I was wearing.