I used to be Dragoneye...
Drives: 2014 Camaro 1LE
Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: Buffalo, NY
My Time with the ZL1 at VIR
ZL1 IS THE TOTAL PACKAGE
February 28th, 2012
Chevrolet puts on a ZL1 celebration at VIR, and the car completely blows me away.
Rev to the environmentally-customized limiter - drop the clutch - but don’t let it go too hard, because a cool but purposeful engagement lets the Launch Control system do its best work. This is what I was told by Tony Roma, Performance Variant Manager for the Camaro. Sure enough…in a small puff of tire-smoke, the Inferno Orange ZL1 tore away from the starting line with a roar that echoed through the hills and valleys of the raceway.
Chevrolet invited some media types to come out to Virginia International Raceway this weekend to experience the ZL1 for what it truly is – because it’s the only real way to understand how good this car is. Of course I accepted the invitation, thrilled to have the opportunity to do something like this! Not to mention the fact that I have one on order without so much as sitting in one before…
The weekend started with a series of pleasant surprises. On the plane, as the pilot banked over Detroit, I got a perfect early-morning view of the Renaissance Center: home of General Motors. What a sight! Then, at the gate for my connection flight I met Chris Frezza, one of the founders of CamaroZ28.com, and the CZ28.com podcast series (I highly suggest you check one of these podcasts out, by the way). He was on his way to the very same Drive I was! Shortly after, I looked up to see Al Oppenhieser, Tony Roma, & Tom Peters all milling around close by. They recognized us and came over to say hello; as it turns out, we all ended up on the same flight out to Raleigh Durham Airport!!
I have to stop and say here: these guys are as down-to-earth as it gets. They’re all very cool people and they share the very same enthusiasm for the Camaro that you and I do. It is such a privilege to know them and be able to talk Camaro with the guys who are responsible for it in the first place.
But onwards…After we landed, we were greeted by a gentleman with a big ZL1 picture on his iPad (Do you think it was for us?). He had us shuttled over to a hotel for a quick lunch and then out to a parking lot full of Camaro SS, Malibu Eco, and Sonic turbos. Does it surprise you to learn Chris and I picked the Carbon Flash Metallic 45th anniversary edition SS Camaro?
I’ll shorten this section up to a series of wrong turns, stalls, and “scenic routes” courtesy of yours truly for the first half of the 60mi trip to VIR. Mr. Frezza is an incredibly patient man…
Arriving at Virginia International Raceway
As we rolled onto the final main road before pulling into VIR, we’re greeted with the sight of a beautiful Victory Red ZL1 driving opposite us. We’re heeeerrrree!! We pulled up to the on-site hotel (wonderful accommodations, by the way – kudos to VIR), and about three ZL1s parked around the front lot. We had arrived early, and were chomping at the bit to get a few pictures of the car while they were alone. But I was surprised when we were casually offered the keys to an Inferno Orange ZL1 manual, optioned with the interior suede package – and all they told us was “Try and have it back within an hour, be safe and have fun!”. Really?!?
And so this became my very first impression of the ZL1: What. A. Car. You’re greeted with a very angry, yet excited bark of the exhaust when you turn the key…and the dual-mode system tempers that into a idle growl that’ll give you goose-bumps. You can FEEL it as much as you can hear the low burble of the LSA. This is largely thanks to two things: the valves in the mufflers are open at idle, and the exhaust is completely devoid of any resonators. As Tom Peters joked – you could drop a marble in the back end and it’ll roll all the way to the engine…well, except for the cats.
I shifted to first, and slowly let of the clutch…I’m not sure what I was expecting from this twin-disk unit – but being noticeable and significantly easier to engage than the SS was not it. I was impressed. The twin-disk clutch helps to wind it up faster, and the awesome torque of the engine means there’s much less drama for first-timers not used to the engagement point.
Shifting is a breeze, too. The new short-throw is absolutely wonderful to use. Mr. Roma explained that the ZL1 engineers removed a layer of isolation from the shifter, making the linkage feel extremely precise and “connected” to the car. It’s a light year of an improvement over the standard shifter in the SS we drove up there…which I thought was pretty good itself! As we rolled away - with a flick of the wrist, I was into second…it was silky smooth.
We didn’t find an open area of pavement…and we didn’t drive in circles to get an idea of grip…and we weren’t astounded that the car exceeded 1.0g and simply wouldn’t let go of the pavement (ZL1-specific HUD readout is really cool, by the way)…we’d have no idea that there was more grip left if Stabilitrac wasn’t keeping us in the tight circle that we weren’t driving……..
We did, however, play with the exhaust, snap some pictures, and impress some locals that heard us playing around with words like “Five Hundred and Eighty”, and “Supercharger”. After a healthy dose of LSA symphony No. 8, they left with perma-grins all their own.
Part 2 to follow in just a bit....