The age-old debate of whether skill and experience is a match for all-out power rages on. Can a “Pro” behind the wheel of a modest, underpowered, front wheel drive car stand a chance against a “Joe” in a roaring, rear wheel drive C7 Corvette? We decided to have it out with this conundrum, and put to rest some office debate.
Lets examine the cars first, our power platform is Project C700. This 2015 Z51 package C7 Corvette produces a reported 460 horsepower from Chevrolet, but is destined to produce 700 as an end goal for the project. We opted to go for the eight-speed 8L90 automatic transmission for lightning-fast paddle shifting around the track — this means the driver can keep his hands firmly planted on the wheel while navigating the bends, and changing gears.
The Corvette’s heritage as Americas sports car endears it to a competition of this magnitude, it is the everyman’s sports car and has the bite to back up the bark. The rear wheel drive layout and fully independent suspension mean putting power down under demanding situations should be a walk in the park.
The humble David to this Goliath is the Ford Fiesta ST. This modest hatchback looks, on paper at least, to be no match for the plastic fantastic Corvette. Being the hotter ST version of the Fiesta, this little front wheel drive, turbocharged platform makes surprising power. The 1.6-liter Ti-VCT Ecoboost four-cylinder produces a reported 197 horsepower and 202 lb-ft or torque.
Given that all that power has to go through the front wheels while they dictate direction, some handling concerns are a natural consideration. Will it torque steer and understeer, or will it take advantage of it’s lower weight to level the playing field?
The Pro and Joe
Our drivers are hand picked to be suited to the task. Representing our pro driver is Conrad Grunewald, Formula D champion, and globally established road racing figure. Grunewald has raced everything from domestic muscle sliding stylishly sideways, to Italian supercars around Europe’s famed circuits — his resume is extensive making him an ideal pilot to lay down consistent and tactical laps in the Fiesta.
Grunewald brings with him not only years of experience in different forms of motorsport and platforms, but also countless laps around our test track. Familiarity, being a component of experience, is on his side.
In the white corner is our Joe, driver of the C7 Corvette, our very own James Lawrence. Lawrence is a seasoned drag racer but had virtually no road racing history to prepare him for this challenge. Equipped with the faster platform, would the Corvette be able to compensate for his lack of experience compared to Grunewald?
Our race would take place at Willow Springs on Streets of Willow (clockwise). Streets is a very tight and technical track, but definitely has a couple opportunities for a car to really stretch it’s legs. Carrying momentum through the corners, and making good breaking points will, of course be a necessity.
This challenge will not be a heads up race, rather the Fiesta will be given a head start and the Corvette will need to pass and maintain a lead to be victorious. Leaving the line in wheel-spinning fury, the Fiesta zipped through the first corner with the ‘Vette in hot pursuit. Clearly the faster car in a straight line, Lawrence was able to close the gap to the Fiesta quickly but passing was another matter.
By the end of the first lap we could see the Corvette was making much faster lap times than the Fiesta, to the tune of nearly seven second per lap. Because of the 100 yard head start the gap time still favored the Ford. After clinging to the bumper of the Fiesta for some racing line life-support, Lawrence was able to make a pass on the front straight at the start of their third lap.
The Joe’s lead was short-lived as experience payed off and Lawrence found himself braking early allowing Grunewald to blast by.
We can see Lawrence fighting for position and looking for an opening, but Grunewald leaves no gap. The remainder of the final lap, the Corvette can only draft the Fiesta to the line pulling back at the reigns of those V8 horses. Grunewald crosses the line with a 1.09 second lead, leaving the Corvette to second place.
Had this been a heads-up race there might have been a different outcome, but even with the lead briefly it only takes one technical error to lose the lead to the experienced driver. The Fiesta was out-gunned but not outdriven, and we have to conclude that there’s no excuse for experience.