We don’t see too many fifth-generation Camaros on track at NASA events, but maybe Chevrolet is working toward changing that. Two new-for-2015 offerings are geared toward the racetrack. One is the Camaro ZL1, a supercharged monster boasting 556 horsepower at 6,000 rpm. The other is the Camaro Z/28, which takes a different tack than the ZL1 in that it has a naturally aspirated 7.0-liter V8 that makes 505 horsepower. Both cars are fitted with brake and suspension packages built to handle track duty.
The difference lies in each car’s approach to power. The Z/28 uses the LS7 engine lifted from the C6 Z06. The Z/28 also makes a modest if not admirable effort at weight savings. For example, both front seats forgo electric adjusters in favor or manual mechanisms. Chevrolet also removed some interior sound-deadening material and trunk carpeting, used a smaller, lighter battery and thinner rear glass. The Z/28 also has no air conditioning except as part of the single option package. The result is a car that tips the scales at 3,820 without air conditioning.
“The Camaro Z/28 is an uncompromising performer that’s bred for the track – and every one of its unique components supports the goal of faster lap times,” said Mark Reuss, executive vice-president, global product development. “It takes the Z/28 back to its racing roots and adds to the strong lineup of Chevrolet performance cars.”
The ZL1, however, is a different animal. It’s available with more creature comforts, but it comes with, as you might imagine, added heft. Curb weight for the ZL1 is 4,120 pounds. That’s nearly the weight of two 1.6-liter Spec Miatas.
We had the chance to sample a ZL1 at the annual Motor Press Guild Track Days event at Willow Springs International Raceway, and came away impressed with the car. Naturally, its competitors are the Dodge Challenger Hellcat and the Ford Mustang in various high-power trim. In terms of power, the ZL1 falls short of the Hellcat, but on a track, the ZL1 is the better of the two. The Mustang that was on hand for journalists to sample broke before we had a chance to drive it.
“This is an amazing track car,” said NASA Director of Business Development Jeremy Croiset. “It’s got plenty of power, great balance, and with all the “nannies” off, it’s just an amazing car. Great brakes, good feel.”
Part of its prowess stems from how much effort Chevrolet engineers put into optimizing downforce on the car. For example, a standard Camaro SS creates 200 pounds of lift at 150 mph. The ZL1 produces 65 pounds of downforce at the same speed.
Chevrolet engineers accomplished this through a number of elements. The corners of the ZL1 front fascia were shaped to minimize lift. The hood also is vented at the center just behind the radiator, which aids cooling and draws air up through the engine bay, producing a measure of downforce. There’s also a front splitter and deflectors that push air flow around the front wheels more efficiently.
By adding two belly pans, one beneath the engine cradle and one just in front of the transmission, engineers minimized turbulence under the car. Further, engineers shaped the rocker panels to help reduce lift. At the rear, a spoiler taller and wider than the SS adds more downforce for improved rear grip.
In addition to grip, Chevrolet engineers added features to the ZL1 so that it could be used on track. First, the ZL1 uses a liquid-to-liquid engine oil cooler identical to the system on the Corvette ZR1. Second, the fuel system features additional fuel pickups on the primary side. The secondary fuel pickup is moved outboard for “continuous fuel access during high-g cornering under low-fuel conditions.”
With a base price of $55,505, the ZL1 represents a relative bargain in terms of horsepower per dollar. It’s comfy and plush enough to be driven daily and competent enough to be used on a track. — Brett Becker
|580 @ 6,000 rpm|
|556 @ 4,200 rpm|
|double-ball-joint, multi-link strut; direct-acting stabilizer bar; progressive-rate coil springs; with Magnetic Ride Control|
|4.5-link independent; progressive-rate coil springs over shocks; stabilizer bar; with Magnetic Ride Control bar|
|Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual|
Rear axle ratio:
|3.73:1 limited slip|