There aren't many better ways for a gear head to spend a steamy, hot Michigan summer afternoon than doing hot laps with a great race driver at the wheel of a Corvette ZR1. Fortunately with the NASCAR Sprint Cup series heading to Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, MI this weekend, Chevrolet decided to invite Juan-Pablo Montoya over to its Milford Proving Ground to try out some of its wares.
Montoya on the left with GM engineer Ken Morris
After doing some warmup laps of the ride and handling loop at Milford in the Camaro SS and Cruze, Montoya and a group of about half a dozen media moved over to the Milford Road Course (MRC) to take on the mighty ZR1. MRC is more commonly referred to outside of General Motors as the Lutz-ring in honor of former vice-chairman Bob Lutz who championed its construction.
When Lutz joined GM in 2001, he was surprised to find that Milford didn't have a road course for testing high performance cars. With his approval the Milford engineers created a three mile, 17 turn road course with a variety of turns emulating some of the best race tracks in the world. One feature of the MRC that is significantly different from many modern courses is the elevation change. Most newer tracks are built on relatively flat ground which makes for broader sight-lines for the fans but takes away a lot of the challenge for the cars and drivers. Check out more about the MRC including a video lap in the Corvette Grand Sport here.
After Montoya took a couple of reconnaissance laps of the MRC with GM engineer Ken Morris, it was time for us to don a helmet and take the shot-gun position in the bright red ZR1. For those unfamiliar with the king of the hill Corvette, it's powered by an amazingly flexible and torquey supercharged 6.2-liter V8 that produces 638 horsepower and 604 pound-feet of torque. Most importantly the torque is available almost everywhere.
If you've never driven a car with an engine like this, it truly is a revelation because you can squeeze the throttle at almost any speed and get instant thrust or kick the tail out. We first drove the ZR1 at MRC just about two years ago and were absolutely stunned by the performance it offers and evidently so was Montoya this week.
In addition to what is probably one of the best engines in the world, the Corvette engineers did an excellent job on the chassis. The most impressive aspect is its forgiving nature. Like Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches, the ZR1 has phenomenally high limits of adhesion. The difference is what happens when you reach and exceed those limits. Instead of snapping around and flying off into the weeds, it simply starts to slide progressively.
Of course at these speeds, you still need to be paying attention but it's not hard to pull the car back in without getting into trouble. Montoya agreed as he climbed out of the Corvette with an ear-to-ear grin. "This thing is insane. You want to have fun and play around? It doesn't get any better than this."
For a driver like Montoya that is used to driving high-powered cars for a living to be this impressed with a road machine is saying a lot. He later referred back a Ferrari 360 he once owned, calling it "an understeering pig!" Discussing the Corvette "with a lot of European cars they are very precise and they don't really move, but you don't get the excitement of the driving. Yes you're going really fast but this car brings that out a lot more. It's exciting to drive and will get your heart pumping really fast. I do this for a living and I was stressed." Stressed in a good way though.
This writer has driven the ZR1 and other cars at high speeds on a variety of tracks over the years, but riding alongside Montoya in the ZR1 truly was a thrill ride better than anything you'll experience at Cedar Point. He had the ZR1 on its limits, drifting through every corner and fully compressing the suspension through the carousel. Watching a driver of Montoya's caliber working the steering wheel and steering with the throttle was a joy to behold and really put my own ample but clearly much more limited driving skill in perspective. Nonetheless it was a worthwhile way to spend an afternoon.