Words: Calvin Chan
Photography & Video: Calvin Chan
Published: August 29, 2017
650 horsepower can be quite hard to fathom, especially when you’re barrelling down the back straight at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park Grand Prix Circuit, right foot firmly planted into the gas pedal with a numbing itch to lift and mash the brake. The trees are blurred, my peripheral vision has faded, and all my focus is targeted on the bright yellow Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE in front of me driven by a lead instructor.
That Camaro only has 450 horsepower, and I’m quickly catching up in my ferocious Chevrolet Corvette Z06. As I narrow the delta down to a safe distance, I see the Camaro’s brake lights come on, so I hit the brake and the carbon ceramics fling me forward so fast that I swear that my internal organs have rearranged.
For another twenty minutes in this lead-follow configuration, I follow the Camaro down to the tee, carving the apexes under instruction and pushing harder and faster on each consecutive lap. The Z06 roars under light acceleration, barks on downshift, and frankly becomes terrifying at wide open throttle. There’s no other gut wrenching feeling when your right foot is buried to the floor mat and you finally conjure up the audacity to take your eyes off the road and peek at the gauges. I saw I was going 145, but only until a few seconds later did I realize the “American” speedometer was in mph and not km/h. Talk about a mid-track epiphany.
I’m back here at CTMP with the Ron Fellows Driving Experience to test the best of what Chevrolet has to offer: the Camaro SS 1LE and the Corvette Z06. You may fondly remember that we were just back here a few weeks ago for the same program, tracking Cadillac’s cream of the crop, the ATS-V and CTS-V. The latter and the Z06 even use the same engine. Call it déjà vu.
We spent equal time on the track with both beasts. My first stint was in the Camaro SS 1LE. Under the hood was a potent naturally aspirated 6.2L V8 pushing a healthy 450 hp and 450 lb-ft to the two rear wheels via a six-speed manual. With the track-oriented 1LE package, the Camaro gets a retuned Magnetic Ride Control suspension, stickier Goodyear Eagle F1 supercar tires, bigger brakes, a dual-mode exhaust, a larger front splitter and rear spoiler, blacked out exterior bits, and standard Recaro seats. Check out our track video on Exhaust Notes down below!
It took me a few laps to become accustomed to the Camaro’s personality: it’s long hood, limited outward visibility (classic of muscle cars), and active rev matching. The latter is a feature now available on many sports cars, including the Camaro and Corvette. When the active rev matching feature is on, simply clutch in, downshift, and the system will automatically blip the throttle for you to the correct rpm for a seamless gear change. It’s an incredibly useful partner to have when dancing on the track, and it cuts shift times down by a significant factor.
Except, I totally forgot the Camaro had this feature until my last lap. I was too busy warming up to the track and getting used to the prodigious power. Then I grasped the wheel a little harder, and then wondered why my Camaro had paddle shifters when this was a manual-equipped car. Turns out that those paddles were to switch the active rev matching on and off, and it was off the whole darn time. Well, at least it gave me good practice heel and toeing.
My first impressions of the Camaro SS 1LE was how planted it was on the track. The chassis was incredibly stiff, rigid, and you could feel the balance and lack of weight transfer under hard turns, minimizing the feeling of body roll. And there’s nothing that revs up to the limiter like a naturally aspirated V8, a sonically abrasive bellow that never gets tiring on the ears. Braking power was phenomenal, the steering was communicative, and the clutch was forgiving. Let’s just say when we finished our laps, we didn’t want to get out.
Our second and last stint was in the Corvette Z06 loaded with the same engine as the CTS-V: a 6.2-litre supercharged V8 tuned up for an even stephen 650-hp and 650 lb-ft. Like I mentioned before, these are quantified numbers that are incredibly difficult to articulate into words. It’s like trying to describe to someone how it feels skydiving - you just have to do it.
But hopping straight from the Camaro into the Corvette took some mental and physical recalibration. You can’t fling the Corvette into corners in the same way you do the smaller and more taut Camaro, and you can’t just mash the gas pedal and hope all 650 horses manage to get translated into forward acceleration via transmission and rubber.
With an even longer front hood, a lower seating position, and a gear shifter receded back towards the driver more than the Camaro, driving the Corvette took a few laps to get used to. The Corvette has a 7-speed manual transmission meaning if you’re not careful, you can shift into 7th gear instead of the 5th gear which you were aiming for.
The Corvette Z06 is definitely a bigger challenge yet a more rewarding vehicle to track on this circuit. But we had hope. Our Z06 was loaded up with the Z07 Performance Package, which equipped it with carbon ceramic brakes, a retuned suspension, a larger front splitter and rear spoiler, and Michelin Sport Cup 2 tires. Our tires were swapped with less sticky and more street oriented Michelin Super Sport tires, however.
But what a sound. You barely hear the supercharger whine, as it’s drowned out by a torrential downpour of muscle car growls. This is a proper V8 soundtrack through and through, and the barks from downshift rev matching sounds even more brutal. Watch our Exhaust Notes video below, which captured the noise and brisk acceleration around the Grand Prix Circuit.
Lap after lap, my senses were overstimulated with feral noise, eye-ripping G-forces, and visual excitement from the beautiful view of having a Camaro in front and a Corvette following me right behind. It was a lucky day, a rewarding day, and an educational day. I learned so much about the track, the cars, and my own driving skills just from following a lead instructor around the track and receiving tips via a two-way radio. I learned how to control the vehicle, how to follow the racing line, and how to make the most out of these two nuclear weapons.
My GM bucket list is slowly being checked off. Cadillacs on track. Check. Chevrolets on track. Check. Perhaps Buicks next?