The Monday before SEMA we were at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch having a go with the latest offerings in Chevrolet aftermarket performance parts. The facilities at Spring Mountain feature multiple well-groomed race tracks, paddocks for property owners, and luxurious accommodations for those looking for a high-speed vacation.
While we weren’t on vacation and the track-side jet pack pond was not in operation we turned our attention to the fast cars housed in the hills of Pahrump, Nevada. Alongside the Chevrolet supplied test vehicles are a few dozen other cars that call Spring Mountain home. The platforms of the Ron Fellows Corvette Driving School, these vehicles are prepped for the Chevrolet factory driver to show students what is capable in a Corvette.
Chevrolet’s primary product announcement concerning the C7 Stingray was their T1 (Tour 1) SCCA homologated line of performance parts for competition in the new Corvette. These parts focus primarily on handling through suspension and chassis stiffening, and cooling capacity for oil, water, and transmission fluid.
Driving Impressions: Z51
We were tasked with a back to back comparison of a Z51 equipped Stingray and a T1 equipped model. We were lead through the bends by a lead car offering suggested speeds and gears. While this service help to keep unruly journalists reeled-in, it also stifled our ability to give a full assessment of the test vehicles. Both vehicles featured manual 7-speed transmissions, however the tight nature of the track did not allow for full use of the gearing.
Lapping the south track at Spring Mountain in a Z51 Stingray was a comfortable and mild experience. The car offered all the crispness one would expect from a sports car of that magnitude, but was in no way intimidating. The steering was direct and appropriately weighted, however I found the shifting to be excessively resistant. I appreciate positive engagement and short throws, however the linkage geometry may have sacrificed some ease of use to accomplish these characteristics.
The C7 Stingray is equipped with a rev-matching feature by which aggressive down-shifts are made less synco-crushing than a right foot system dependent on the driver. Leading up to a corner, configuring the vehicle for a change in direction, one is found dropping gears impatiently. The rev-match feature definitely helped make the transitions smoothly.
No unpredictable handling behaviors revealed themselves, however with a clear path I’m sure we could get things a little loose. Upon exiting the Z51 C7, we were deposited in the seat of a fully equipped T1 Stingray. The total sum cost of the additions made for about $20,000 in suspension, brakes, chassis stiffening, and cooling.
Driving Impressions: T1
Entering the track same as before, nothing shouted itself as race car-esque. After a lap of felling out the new additions, the improvement became apparent. Corner entry speeds were considerably increased, allowing for much greater momentum driving onto the straights. Braking was more punctual, as you stabbed for the middle pedal the six-piston Brembos offered immediate security.
The primary take-away from this experience was confidence. The T1 package inspires immediate confidence in the driver to push the car harder. I found it easy to consistently carry one gear higher through most corners, and hit apexes with less concern for upset over the curbs. Despite the firmed up track suspension, the rumble strip curbs did not induce teeth-chattering discomfort or concern.
After surrendering the media test vehicles we were offered a hot lap around the same circuit with Ron Fellows at the wheel, on Michelin racing slicks. As you would imagine, this was an eye-opening experience demonstrating the grip possible with this setup. Never did the vehicle feel on-edge even though speeds were considerably higher in all sections.
At the end of the day I came away with several conclusions. The C7 Stingray is not nearly as fast in a straight line as expected, but has much better manners in the corners than expected. The value of the T1 package is a matter of perspective. While $20,000 may seem crazy to the street driven Corvette owner, for someone looking to get into actual racing that is a small investment for an OEM backed supply of parts.
In addition to the SCCA T1 class, Chevrolet in conjunction with the RonFellows Racing School, announced the introduction of the Michelin Corvette Challenge at Spring Mountain. This new racing series is geared toward novice drivers, and offers the opportunity to receive seat time on the track while paying for the race car you will own at the end of the year. There are not many opportunities to finance a race car and for the entry level racer, this opportunity may be very attractive.