GM conducted the program on the Milford Road Course, a 2.9-mile track that emulates parts of the Nurburgring and induces as many stomach churns as it does toothy grins.
MILFORD, MI – No automotive journalist likes riding shotgun. So when a handful of us arrived at theproving ground outside of Detroit for a first taste of the ’14 Chevy Camaro Z/28, there were a lot of long faces when we learned our first impressions of the sports car would come from the passenger’s seat.
You would have thought the automaker decided not to serve a free lunch.
But in GM’s defense, the Z/28 remains in the early stages of final development and there’s a chance the automaker could make a tweak or two before the car arrives at dealers early next year. No journalist likes to report something one day and find out something different the next.
Automakers don’t like putting themselves in that awkward position, either, especially on a car as enormously important to the Camaro line as the Z/28. It is the most iconic Camaro variant and the Z/28 is intended to be ultimate track killer for the nameplate, which came off a 7-year hiatus in 2009.
Funny thing, though. It turned out to be a real blast, because my pilot was performance driver Adam Dean, who turned an eye-popping lap of 7:37.40 at Germany’s famous Nurburgring Nordschleife road course in a Z/28 earlier this year.
If a loop on that maze weren’t difficult enough, Dean posted the world-class time in the rain. So if you’ve got to ride shotgun, being alongside one of the best in the business isn’t bad.
Here’s a look at Dean’s work that day ('14 Chevy Camaro Sets Nurburgring Mark), part of a 10-hour, 1,000-mile (1,610-km) test of the Z/28 at the Nurburgring to ensure the car can stand up to whatever punishment an amateur racer might put it through.
GM also conducted the program on the Milford Road Course, a 2.9-mile (4.6-km) track commissioned a few years ago by former product boss Bob Lutz. It emulates parts of the Nurburgring, as well as as Spring Mountain in Las Vegas and other tracks, and induces as many stomach churns as it does toothy grins.
It’s a great asset, because it allows GM to test vehicles without shipping cars and engineers around the world. That saves important development time and dollars.
Here’s a cockpit view of my lap with Dean ('14 Chevy Camaro Z/28 at Milford Road Course). There was a glitch with the telemetry, so speeds and G-forces aren’t always displayed as they should be.
Anyway, Dean takes it easy for about half a lap, just enough for me to get my sea legs before he opens the throttle to unleash the full 505 hp and 481 lb.-ft. (652 Nm) of torque under the hood. Notice how late the Z/28 brakes in the turns, with Dean hard on the carbon-fiber Brembos, and how quickly it exits using a big dose of its naturally aspirated LS7 V-8. That’s equal parts excellent driving and a superb vehicle setup.
It also helps that the Z/28 gets outfitted with some of the stickiest rubber available, four Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tires. They are designed for the most powerful sports cars in the world.
And if the Z/28’s track times aren’t evidence enough of the tires’ grip, consider this: engineers discovered during high-speed testing the tires were slipping more than 360 degrees around the wheel, requiring engineers to beef up the seals.
Not surprisingly, the Z/28 eats up the MRC, leaving key competitors sucking wind.
According to GM testing, the Z/28 laps the MRC in 1:53.71 to beat the ’12Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca by more than five seconds and the ’13 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 by more than six seconds.
The Z/28 takes advantage of its relatively sprightly 3,820 lbs. (1,664 kg) and big V-8 power but also a bespoke suspension damper technology from Multimatic. That’s the same damping system used by Formula 1 competitors and its only other retail application is in the $2 millionOne-77 supercar.
As Dean puts his foot into the Z/28 and we enter the first turn, a downhill, decreasing-radius hairpin, he brakes late to show how the car was able to slip ahead of the faster Mustangs right of the gate. At Pahrump 2, a long, technical turn with a banked exit, the Z/28 displays its tremendous grip under cornering forces approaching 1.5 g. It also tests the oiling system of the LS7 engine, as well as the car’s standard Recaro seats and their trademark bolsters.
In the high-speed esses, where the Z/28 further distanced itself from competitors, the car’s aerodynamic design shines by creating heaps of downforce and allowing it to travel at astonishingly high speeds.
As a passenger, it’s also where I nervously reach for a grab handle, an omission that’s probably the Z/28’s single shortcoming. Next time, GM promises, I’ll have the steering wheel to grip.