One week later: first track outing

IMG_1125_4933e96c531a6-lightboxBut despite the service manual saying it was not required, I have an instinctive reluctance to thrash a freshly run-in motor without first changing the oil. Being a European import, my Vette comes with the standard GM 3year/36,000 mile warranty, but as this service wasn’t even scheduled anyway, I sought a local independent specialist to carry it out.

Asking around the Corvette Club UK (membership of which is mandatory for my insurance policy with Aon) it turns out that no one is more respected in the independent Corvette workshop community than Ian Goss, who had (in the employment of the American Car Company) worked on my L98 Vette 15 years ago!

Now running his own workshop in residential Surbiton, Surrey [], Ian also happened to be the nearest American car specialist to me, so after remaking our acquaintance, I booked my car in to be given an oil change and check over.

Ian was as friendly and courteous as I remembered and the dry sump system was drained and refilled with fresh Mobil 1, a new GM filter fitted and various bolts checked over for tightness. A clean bill of health and the car was ready in a couple of hours.

Having never previously extended the 7litre LS7 engine beyond 4,500rpm and knowing that peak power wasn’t produced until a heady 6,300rpm, I was fair tingling with anticipation at being able to unleash the full 505bhp fury.

The drive back on the busy A3 didn’t provide many 7000rpm redline opportunities, especially as 1st is good for 60mph and 2nd an indicated 96! But the roar turned into a European-sounding scream as the big V8 closed on the redline with relentless power and I began to feel myself falling for my new steed in a big way…

Then, only a week after picking my car up from Germany, I was attending my first track outing in the American hot rod. Actually it was a track evening, hosted by Autocar magazine at the Bedford Autodrome.

Being run on the second largest layout, the South circuit, this provided the ideal venue in which to learn the Z06’s on the limit handling characteristics.

I was pleasantly surprised to be accosted by the driver of a familiar-looking silver Cayman S who introduced himself as Dan Duke, one of our most prolific auto-journalist. (You can read about his experiences on that day in his own journal.)

After having my own personal track briefing (I tend not to arrive in time for the group ones!), I headed out for my first taste of Le Mans-winning Americana.

My first impression was one of where did all the power go? Race circuits have a tendency to swallow up the most prodigious power outputs and even the Z06’s mighty small block suddenly felt tame. Until the first corner that is, when even the latest 325 section rear rubber proved it cannot cope simultaneously with 475lb.ft of torque and 1g of lateral acceleration…

I had disengaged the traction control and put the car in <cue Kryten from Red Dwarf> “Competitive Driving Mode” and the Active Handling applied various individual brakes and reduced the power mid corner enough so that the intended trajectory could still be negotiated, albeit in a slightly jerkier, grabbier nature than desired.

In most cars I normally loathe such electronic intervention, but I must admit, in my first time out on track in the Z06, I welcomed the safety net the well judged system provided.

The excellent standard fit HUD unit has 2 track modes and 1 street mode and in the track modes it shows speed, revs and lateral g-force plus a configurable bar graph that I selected to display oil temperature. However, I have to admit that despite being projected onto the windscreen, my attention was usually too drawn to the track and rapidly overtaken traffic to absorb all the data.

Bedford Autodrome has a virtually unique absence of Armco, tyre walls and gravel traps as no racing takes place there, so the vast runoff at most corners encourages limit exploration and I took full advantage of it. After my initial outing in “CDM”, I tried my luck with all TC/Active Handling turned off. Now this was really exciting!

The Vette has a naturally benign, neutral balance with very high limits (highest I have had time to observe has been 1.17g), but if you feel like deliberately provoking it, there is more than enough torque available at nearly all speeds in any gear. When such vast rear tyres do let go at such high speeds, the resulting slide takes quite a bit of catching and it is all too easy to end up fishtailing amateurishly way after the exit of a corner.

On his excited request, I took one of PalmerSport’s instructors around with me and he was stunned by the power and agility of the Yank tank.

The last corner turning onto the pit straight is an open 3rd gear job and I had the most fun I’ve had in almost any car getting the wide, low Corvette to drift around it. However shortly after ditching the instructor, I came in too hot, got it too sideways and had a triple digit off onto the inside across the grass; thankfully coming to a grass-splattered halt only a few feet away from the pit lane wall. But of course if you’ve read Dan’s Cayman report, you will already know that. Git.

I took that corner with a bit more respect after that, but the Z06 basically acquitted itself as being way beyond my expectations and was, as Dan observed, comfortably the quickest car there.

So, an American car that was not only monstrously quick in a straight line, but could brake and handle with the best of them. Who’d have thunk it?




David Yu

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