The last thing I expect when I arrive for three days of C7 hot laps on Spring Mountain’s 2.2-mile, 10-turn racetrack is rain. This is Nevada, after all, about 60 miles west of Vegas, and the temperature’s supposed to clear 100 degrees (F) the whole time I’m here. Nonetheless, as I adjust the seat and mirrors, rotate the Driver Mode Selector to Track and toggle the five-step Performance Traction Management to its most permissive setting, it’s raining lightly and the track is damp.
As anyone who regularly races, or watches road racing, knows, damp sucks. If it’s raining, you go slow; if it’s dry, you go fast. But if it’s damp, you have to try to go fast despite the risk of slithering straight off the track. The Stingray’s torque-laden V-8 and wide tires won’t make quick times any easier, either.
Turns out I’m wrong on most counts. After a warm-up lap, the Stingray sticks to the tarmac like glue—so long as I’m judicious with the throttle. As you’d expect, big torque applied abruptly to damp surfaces leads to spinning rear wheels, and a wide back end that wants to swing rapidly out of line. Overall, though, the car’s astonishingly friendly in these conditions.
Then the drizzle stops and the Nevada heat quickly dries the tarmac. This is more like it. I pick up the pace until I reach the top of my comfort zone, then press on. The Stingray roars like a lion out of the turns and onto the straights, but from behind the wheel it’s a kitten. Driving fast is so easy it’s almost relaxing, but make no mistake: the C7 really moves.
Coming into this test, having logged untold miles behind the wheels of different Stingray coupes and convertibles, I had no doubt the C7 would be an impressive track machine. How could it not be? Big engine, big brakes, stiff suspension, wide track, wide tires, relatively light weight…sounds perfect.
That said, automakers have long made promises that their cars, regardless of the spec sheet, couldn’t keep. And if my expectations for the Corvette weren’t high enough to start with, Chevrolet bills the Z51-equipped C7, the only kind you’ll find at the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School (see sidebar), as a true, track-ready car.
If all the Z51 package consisted of was the stiffer-bigger-firmer FE3 suspension hardware, it would make a big difference. But Chevy went a lot further, throwing in 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels (in place of the standard 18s and 19s), larger front brake rotors and some new aerodynamic components, the most noticeable of which is the full-width rear spoiler. Then the engineers got serious: cars ordered with Z51 also receive dry-sump engine oiling, a heavy-duty cooling system, revised gear ratios and an electronically controlled limited-slip differential. (Both car and option proved so popular that Chevy raised their prices mid-2014; C7s now cost $2,000 more, and Z51 climbed from $2,800 to $4,000. Don’t let that stop you from buying, though, as both are still bargains.)