Car and Driver Says the Corvette C8 Z51 Is Faster Than the C7, and They Are Wrong
The dam on the Chevrolet Corvette C8 embargo broke in a big, big way yesterday, with Motor Trend shoving their story in their remaining readers’ inboxes around 5:30 am yesterday. Everybody else who had early access to the car (Road & Track, Car and Driver, The Digital Publication Formerly Known As Autoweek, etc.) quickly followed suit, and by the end of the day you had all the Corvette news you could handle splayed all over the internet like Hope Solo. Don’t search that at work.
There were some good takes on the C8, including this excellent lap of Thunderhill by FOB (Friend of Bark) Travis Okulski. But then there was a very, very bad one by Car and Driver, entitled Race Track Hot Throwdown Of All Throwdowns: The C8 Tells The C7 To Step Outside! Okay, it wasn’t actually called that, but it may as well as been. The idea was to compare the C8 Corvette Z51 againsta C7 Corvette Z51 on a racing surface and see which one was faster.
I’ll save you the click and let you know that C/D discovered that the C8 could lap Grattan Raceway in 1:26.1, while the best the C7 could muster was a 1:27.0. The C8 was faster! All hail the new mid-engined Playskool disaster!
Except, of course, they’re wrong. Here’s why.
First of all, let’s talk about these lap times. I’ve only been to Grattan once for a press launch, and I wasn’t allowed to time when I was there, but those numbers seemed kinda slow. I checked the results for some SCCA and NASA races at Grattan in 2018 and 2019, and saw that the 1:27 range is about what you would expect from a, ahem, Spec Miata. C/D never explicitly states who was behind the wheel for these timed laps, but I think we can surmise that these weren’t the hottest of hot laps. It’s not uncommon to see a Boss 302 Mustang in Touring trim make a complete circuit of Grattan in about 1:21.
Any time you introduce that much driver variable into a test — somebody who cannot best a Spec Miata around Grattan in a C7 Corvette Z51 by more than a second — I think that casts the validity of the test in doubt. I will give C/D credit for actually putting a timed lap on record, which a lot of mags are hesitant to do, but I can’t say that they’ve gotten anything close to the true potential of either of these cars on track.
However, let’s assume that His Holiness Juan Pablo (Montoya) himself was behind the wheel for these laps. The C7 in this test was wearing Michelin Pilot Super Sports, which are a fine tire if you happen to find yourself in an Avengers: Endgame type of time heist in the year 2012. The C8 was shod (when does one use the word “shod” other than discussing tires?) with Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S, which are about six years newer tech. I hate linking to Motor Trend, but here’s an example of how putting the Pilot Sport 4 S on a car previously equipped with Pilot Super Sports can affect lap times. MT found an improvement of 1.44 seconds per lap with the PS4S over a circuit of very similar length to Grattan, not to mention improved braking, acceleration, and lateral grip. I have the PS4S on my own Focus RS, and was able to take second place at the SCCA Time Trials Nationals in 2018 with them, competing against cars equipped with trackday-special tires like the Bridgestone RE-71R. In other words, the PS4S would easily be worth the delta in time between then C7 and the C8 in C/D’s test.
Therefore, one can rightfully make the assumption that a C7, equipped with modern tires, would absolutely be just as fast and potentially faster than the C8. Keep in mind, we are not talking about a suspension modification, or an engine tune — we are talking about replacing the OEM tires with another set of tires that happen to be the most popular tire for the C7 sold on tirerack.com.
As you can see, there is a whopping $11 difference between a set of Pilot Super Sports and Pilot Sport 4 S for the C7 Corvette Z51 — not exactly a barrier to entry. Anybody who bought a C7 Z51 more than 24 months ago is likely already in the market for new tires, and wouldn’t opt for the PSS over the PS4S in any scenario, unless they simply went to the dealer and said, “Gimme more of what I already had.” (I’m absolutely certain this happens, of course.)
The real test would be to put the car in the hands of a capable driver, like Okulski, and equip the cars with the same tires. When the C7 comes out ahead, just remember that Bark told you so.
[Images: Tire Rack]
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These observations would not have been immediately apparent to a casual gear head such as myself. I rather appreciate journalists who call it like they see it. Part of the reason I loved the old TTAC. Thanks Mark.
In C/D, IIRC, there was a mention from an engineer that the C6 ZO6 had to get an updated Michelin tire to be faster than the prior car...that the C6 had pretty much exhausted the possibilites of a Front engine-rear drive car. Literally it came down to getting better tires from the supplier.... Track times ? You need an empty track and a very consistent driver. While you need to compare somehow, track times or BK Ring times when you get down to seconds or tenths IMHO are more driver related or weather related