I’d just finished a bunch of hot laps at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park’s Grand Prix circuit in one of the most enjoyable track cars I’ve had the pleasure of driving, the Camaro ZL1 1LE. As I brought the car to a stop, I noticed a gentleman casually leaning against pit wall. He stood alone, wore a Chevrolet golf shirt, and was watching a number of other Camaros rip around under the expert tutelage of instructors from the Ron Fellows Driving Experience.
I unclipped my HANS device, pulled off my sweaty helmet, and approached the gentleman. His name tag read “Travis”.
Travis is, as it turns out, the President and Managing Director at General Motors Canada. After a few minutes casually chatting with him, I got the distinct impression that folks in his employ call him “Travis”’, not “Mr. Hester”. During our ten minute conversation, his passion for what he does was clearly reflected in how he talked about his product – and in his eyes – as he watched the results of his teams’ automotive toils flying past on Mosport’s front straight.
We chatted about the car which I’d grudgingly just parked, a Camaro ZL1 1LE with 650 horsepower on tap. The car’s 6.2-litre, supercharged V8 engine had been hurling power at a ten-speed auto-box for the good part of an hour. That spectacular drivetrain took this traditional three-pedal guy just a couple of laps to get the feel for shifting with my hands. I had then begun linking turns and flowing around the track. Very quickly.
Travis and I spoke somewhat esoterically about the car and my experience with it. We didn’t really touch on the myriad technical and engineering features that contribute to the Camaro’s beastly performance on track. (If you’re a technical sort looking for an in-depth review of the bits and pieces that help this car perform, then check this out.)
Rather, Travis and I spoke about how the track-oriented Camaro felt to drive, how it inspired confidence, and how much I was looking forward to when I could climb back in for some more track time.
The Camaro had all the accoutrements that folks would expect from a modern sled. It talks to my iPhone and provides safety features to align it well with pretty much anything on the road. The dash was intuitively laid out, the seats remarkably comfortable, and finding a driving position to suit me took only seconds. Overall, the interior was relatively plush, quiet, and lacked the plasticky feel of Camaros past.
Creature comforts aside, the ZL1 LE turned out to be a car that flattered my driving. I was left only with the task of keeping my head up and looking forward into my next turns, hitting my braking zones, nailing at apexes, and eagerly awaiting the climb up the back straight to let the engine unspool. Opening up the big V8 on the uphill back straight sounded like a bunch of heavy paint cans being thrown onto a concrete floor. Wonderful. I dropped the windows to better enjoy it.
Focusing on where I wanted to put the car on track was a blast and the Camaro took me exactly where I wanted to go with exceptional precision. It patiently waited for my next moves and executed them immediately. As a result, I was able to hit corners on the back of the track with which I’ve previously struggled.
Firmly braking the Camaro easily brought the weight to the nose of the ZL1 1LE and allowed me to toss it into corners with confidence I haven’t found in other cars. The Camaro cornered flat throughout and, given the ZL1 1LE’s mandate as the top Camaro for track rats, it’s no surprise.
Steering was intuitive and while by no means vague or overly damp, it ate up bumps while I put it thorough some of the uneven surfaces in my efforts to retain the racing line. It provided just enough feedback to let me know when the wheel needed a little unwinding to find any elusive grip.
The Camaro’s traction control engaged only once during my nearly two hours on the track – and it did so as a result of an ill-timed, over-eager right foot, leaving me with the fleeting thought that under other circumstances, I could hang out the back end of the ZL1 1LE like the best of pro drifters, just to massage my ego.
At one point during my shenanigans with the car, I glanced in my rear-view mirror and noted another Camaro in Riverside Blue gaining on me with ease. I pulled over, let the driver pass, and watched as I was competently overtaken. No bother, some drivers are just faster and better than others. As I refocused on my tasks at hand, it occurred to me that although my skills were adequately getting the job done on track, I couldn’t push the car to its furthest limits. As a track going car, this beast would be exceptionally well suited to someone who spends as much time on a track as I would like to.
As I concluded my conversation with Travis, I asked him if he ever took to the wheel of his company’s cars himself on the track. He nodded enthusiastically. I asked him whether he’d been on the track recently. He had. He smiled and told me that he’d just climbed out of the blue Camaro. Travis had left me for dead on the track. I was sure he’d been smiling then too.
Way to go Chevy. What a great car.
Images courtesy of the author and Lucas Scarfone.