Did you ever think the day would come when a 7:12 lap time around the Nurburgring in a factory-stock car would be cause for disappointment, not joy? Welcome to 2018, where the Internet forums are currently convulsing over the idea that the new Corvette ZR1 was spotted doing "way over seven minutes” at the Ring. That lap time comes courtesy of spotters at Turn 13 who then reported it to .
This is already being unfavorably compared with the 7:13.9 set by German magazine Sport Auto in a stick-shift Z06 last August. What’s the point, folks seem to be asking, of paying $30,000 more for a car that is just two seconds faster around Germany’s most famous toll road? Let’s not even talk about the 7:19 set by GM seven and a half years ago in a C6 ZR1—a car you can now buy on the used market for the price of a new Mustang GT. How can this new lap time be anything but a disappointment, particularly given the fact that the new GT3RS Weissach package seems to have run 6:57 on the same course?
Happily for Corvette fans, the situation isn’t quite as cut and dried as it looks. Two months ago, during our exclusive track test of the ZR1 that’s on newsstands now, I had a chance to talk to the Corvette team at length about ‘Ring times, how GM sets them, and what is likely ahead for the ZR1 at the Nordschleife.
To begin with, GM Performance honcho Alex MacDonald points out that his team has no permanent presence at the Ring. Aston Martin, BMW, and even Hyundai maintain permanent testing facilities within a stone’s throw of the track, complete with everything they need to perform setup and development work on-site. Whether it’s tires, spare engines, or a four-post chassis testing rig, these companies have it close at hand.
The Corvette team, by contrast, does development work in the United States. When they come to the Ring, it’s usually for no more than a week, including travel time. They are limited both in what they can bring and how much of it they can bring. They’re also budget-constrained; the cost of getting a car and a full team of engineers to Germany for a week is even higher than you would think. While MacDonald was careful to clarify to me that the years of garage-band budgets—as detailed in —are over, that doesn’t mean that they can easily spare the time required to test at the Ring. The Corvette team has released four different kinds of ‘Vette since 2014, largely because they don’t waste time.
There have, apparently, been years where the entire team went to Germany only to have it rain the whole time they were there. There have been other years where their list of testing tasks was long enough to prevent making a no-holds-barred run at a lap record. In my conversations with the team, I was told that setting a Ring time was not a priority for the ZR1 this year. "If we can do it," MacDonalds told me, "that’s great. If not..." and he shrugged.
The fact of the matter is that GM doesn’t need the Ring to develop the Corvette. The automaker has its own facilities, purpose-built for internal certification and testing. They also know that only a fractional percentage of their customer base ever turns a lap over there. Instead of tuning the car to knock out a perfect lap time at the Ring, they work instead on making it fast around American tracks like VIR and Laguna Seca. If you’ve had the chance to drive both the Nordschleife and, say, Road Atlanta, you know that there are tremendous differences between the two, in everything from the asphalt surface to the curb profile. Given the chance, I’d rather have a car that shines on our home courses.
My time behind the wheel of the ZR1 convinced me that it will be effortlessly faster than the Porsche GT3RS and Lamborghini Huracan Performante at pretty much any American track you choose. But what about that 7:12 time? What does that mean?
The easy answer: Nothing. It takes quite a bit of time to find those last few seconds at the Ring, and it’s uncomfortably dangerous to do so. If the ZR1 team has time and extra resources to take a serious shot at a lap time, I’d expect the car to drop below seven minutes. If they don’t, then someone else is likely to do it. There’s an easy nine seconds’ worth of capability improvements between the C7 Z06 and the C7 ZR1 in the engine bay alone. Furthermore, unlike the Viper ACR, the ZR1 doesn’t generate enough downforce to cripple it on the multi-kilometer straights that make the ‘Ring as much a dyno test as it is anything else. On the front straight in particular, the ZR1 should absolutely fly. It’s in a different league from the GT3RS, or even the AMG GTR, when it comes to high-speed acceleration.
None of the above, of course, will comfort the members of the Corvette community who consider Ring times to be the track-rat equivalent of the World Series or the Super Bowl. All I can say to them, and to anybody else who takes these completely ungoverned, utterly unsanctioned, and frequently questionable “record laps” seriously, would be this: Lighten up, Francis. The ZR1 is still going to be one of the fastest production cars in history no matter what happens at the Ring. And if you’re fortunate enough to be an owner of a GT3RS Weissach or AMG GTR, you might want to keep an eye out for the new ZR1 the next time you’re at an American track day. Chances are it will be right there in your mirrors.