A New Kind of
A New Kind of
I went to Corvette's exclusive performance driving school
About an hour outside of Las Vegas, through Red Rock Canyon and tucked off a dusty, two-lane desert road, you'll find the sturdy iron gates of Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club. What's inside is a veritable car lover's paradise—a mirage that seems to have sprung up in the middle of the Mojave. But this is no illusion. It's an actual oasis of winding race tracks and home to one of the best-kept secrets among Corvette owners.
When Chevrolet invited me to come put the new Corvette through its paces, I'll admit that I was a tad apprehensive. Sure, I like adventure as much as the next guy, but I'm no daredevil. As a rule, I try not to do anything dangerous enough to have my expensive sunglasses fall off my face. However, I'm also naturally curious, so when a rare opportunity like this one presents itself, I'm compelled to try it out—if only to be able to write the story.
As you may or may not know, all new buyers of Corvettes are eligible to attend an exclusive owner's school at the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School. This intense, two-day course provides in-depth knowledge about the car, its capabilities and it also allows you to experience what it's like racing on a track, no-holds-barred and tackling a myriad of automotive exercises.
Full disclosure: I've never driven on a track. And the last time I drove a Corvette, I was 20 years old and the car was my boss's prized vintage '70s-era Stingray. When he finally handed over the key, his only advice was to “drive slow and don't do anything stupid.”
But here, I was told the exact opposite. Go nuts. Put the pedal to the metal—literally—to take advantage of this powerful sports car. Then slam on the brakes and skid across wet pavement. “We're going to show you just what these cars are capable of,” our instructor told us as we settled in for our first day of Driving School. After plenty of guidance on the car, its instruments and the dos and don'ts of racing, we were ready to get behind the wheel.
By now, I knew that driving the eighth-generation Corvette Stingray was a pleasure. I was handed the keys of a sleek all-black 'Vette when I landed in Las Vegas so that I could drive out to Spring Mountain. Sinking into the cockpit (more on that later), I felt a rush of adrenaline as a single thought came to mind: Damn, I feel like Batman in this thing. And I drove like him too. That's the thing about drive modes this smooth and well-tuned; it wasn't until I saw the 88 floating from the futuristic heads-up display on the windshield that I noticed I was zooming down this desert way over the posted speed limit.
Speed just comes naturally to a machine like this. It's sleek yet angular, built to go fast and to help the driver do just that. The car's controls wrap around you—the main screen is angled towards the driver's seat, as is the long bank of buttons for climate control and other features. It's a sharp look, but also tells any passenger to sit back and enjoy the ride, these controls aren't for you. That's not to say this isn't luxurious either; the interior cabin is a mix of Nappa leather, suede and carbon fiber accents—everything you touch is soft, smooth and easy to use.
I'm told the technical specs of the car are pretty impressive as well. And if you want the details about horsepower and torque, I suggest MotorTrend. But I can confirm that through the rear windshield, that V8 engine nestled behind the seats, looks pretty damn cool. And the sound it makes when the car roars to life produces goosebumps the first few times you hear it.
That power really comes to life once you're invited to drive like no one's watching. Seriously, it takes a little while to get comfortable revving the engine, spinning the tires and screeching around corners before you stop checking your mirrors for lurking police officers. Fear not, the instructors reassured us, you can't hurt the car. Testing out the “launch mode,” I firmly press both gas and brake until I get the signal, then release the brake to feel instant acceleration—0 to 60 MPH in 3.2 seconds. The surge felt as if I was shot out of cannon.
And that was just a straight line. How about nixing the traction control on hosed down asphalt? There's a unique kind of euphoria that comes with skidding and spinning across wet pavement in a sexy sports car—it's James Bond without all the bullets. But what really surprised me was that the car (even with an inexperienced driver like myself at the wheel) handled incredibly well. It was steady yet smooth, not jarring. And for the record, I never knocked down one orange cone, thank you very much.
But just when you're feeling like you've got this Stingray conquered, you head out onto the race track. Miles of smooth concrete that's been bent and twisted into sharp corners, snake-like curves and glorious straightaways just begging you to gun it. This is where the C8 'Vette really shines. Even for automotive neophytes like myself, there's a primal urge to harness the power of this car and drive it as fast as you can.
And it helps you do just that. It almost makes it easy. I say almost, because our training instantly came in handy. And it definitely took some core strength to brace myself while accelerating out of a turn. You hear the tires squeal and maybe notice the faintest slip in the rear of the car, but you feel in complete control. The Stingray's mid-engine design not only helps with weight distribution but the shorter hood adds visibility and makes it possible to precisely position the car exactly where you want it to drive.
For me, that was chasing the lead car on the track, driven by a professional race car driver. He showed me the ropes and provided a path to follow so I'd know just when to shift to get the biggest boost in power or where to clip the apex of a turn when carving up a corner in order to shave a few seconds on my lap times.
Then something happens to you while you're flying around the track in this car. You wouldn't know it from the outside, where the sound is loud, and the hot desert air smells of fuel and rubber. Inside the cabin, all is quiet and the ride is smooth—considering you're approaching 120 MPH. You experience a zen sense of calm; you're in synch with this magnificent American machine. You're able to feel all the movements, anticipate the shifts by the hum of the engine and look past the corner you're about to take—the car has a way of making all these tasks feel like second nature. All my anxiety melted away and I was just driving. And it was fun as hell.
I'm leaving driving school with a newfound appreciation for the new Corvette, its audacious history and how hard the company works to maintain that legacy. I'm also leaving with a menacing set of automative skills that, while less valuable off the track, have no doubt made me a better, faster and more precise driver. So please, get out of my way.