2018 Camaro ZL1 1LE First Drive: The Ultimate Track-Ready Camaro

The 2018 Camaro ZL1 1LE is the fastest production Camaro GM has ever made, with upgraded aero package, suspension and a 60-pound weight savings combined with the mighty and powerful 650-hp supercharged LT4 V8. It lapped the Nurburgring in a sizzling 7:16. You will be track-smitten... until - and if - the Z/28 comes out.

The 2018 Camaro ZL1 1LE was built for track days. Specifically, for one recent track day at the Nurburgring where Camaro ride and handling engineer Bill Wise took it around those 73 corners in seven minutes 16 seconds. As they say in the Rhineland Palatinate, “Hooo doggies!”

There have been production street cars aimed at Nurburgring lap records before. Nissan offered the NISMO N Attack Package GT-R a couple years ago that lapped the Nurburgring in 7:08.679. The 493-hp BMW M4 GTS with its meaty rear wing lapped The Green Hell in 7:28. The Corvette Grand Sport and Mustang GT350R are also aimed at on-track performance. And Chevrolet was rightfully proud when its ZL1 Camaro clocked a 7:29.60 at the Nurburgring late last year. But 7:29.60 wasn’t enough. So Chevrolet engineers came back with a new track-attack pack dubbed the ZL1 1LE that blistered the ‘Ring in 7:16.04.

The 2018 Camaro ZL1 1LE is a $7500 option kit for the Camaro that goes beyond the 1LE we drove last year, with everything a ringmeister racer could ask for. The aero package has a front splitter, dive planes and high-mounted rear wing good for 300 pounds of downforce at 150 mph. The chassis is hard-mounted to the front shock towers and rear cradle to gain stiffness and improve the car’s toe and camber curves. The suspension has adjustable ride height and adjustable camber in front and a three-position adjustable stabilizer bar in back. Multimatic’s brilliant new DSSV shocks offer precise control. Larger, lighter 19-inch alloy wheels are wrapped in unique new Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar 3R tires, 305/30ZR front and 325/30ZR rear. The whole thing is stopped by a Brembo brake package with 390mm front discs with six-piston Monobloc calipers in front and 365mm four-piston fixed calipers rear. Under the carbon fiber hood is Chevy’s mighty and powerful 650-hp 6.2-liter supercharged LT4 V8 mated to a Tremec 6060 six-speed manual.

There were no compromises in making the ZL1 1LE. It’s not just a bitchin’ Camaro, to quote The Dead Milkmen, it is the bitchinest Camaro ever.

“The track-focused 1LE package offers progressive levels of performance across the Camaro lineup, from the V6 1LE to the (V8-powered) SS 1LE,” said Camaro chief engineer Al Oppenheiser. “But with the new ZL1 1LE the progression takes a quantum leap – this is the ultimate track-day Camaro.”

The Execution

To show off its new creation, Chevy took a bunch of us to a brand-new race track way the heck up in Canada called Area 27. Area 27 is a two-hour drive from Kelowna, British Columbia, which is a 39-minute flight from Vancouver, which is a three-hour flight from L.A. You really have to want to go there. But once you see and drive the track you will want to marry a local girl (or guy), get Canadian citizenship, a Gilles Villeneuve tattoo and never leave. Undulating hillsides offer four stories of elevation change along Area 27’s 16 turns. Three of the curves are hidden behind blind rises. You rise, you fall, you drop down to apexes. It’s a lot easier to memorize than the Nurburgring and as soon as you feel comfortable on it – which is pretty quickly - you’ll be drifting through all 16 corners like you had a French-sounding surname and a huge mustache.

My first laps were not in the ZL1 1LE, but rather two models down from that -- a 1LE V6-powered Camaro. This reminded me what a great track car that particular Camaro is, despite its nearly two tons of throw weight. It's smooth around the billiard-table flat new asphalt of Area 27. The V6 makes more than enough power to have fun flinging the car through Area 27’s turns and there's no sense that body roll is interfering with handling. Also, interestingly enough, there was never any sense to me that this car needed more aerodynamic grip, either.

Next up I drove the Camaro SS 1LE. Its V8 power and manual trans are a joy to lap the Canadian wilderness. Same thing with the handling on this car. I wondered what more anyone could want in a Camaro.

Then I got into the ZL1 1LE. Apparently people can want more. But those people are serious racers who can actually benefit from and can feel aerodynamic grip and hard-bolted suspension bits. The ZL1 1LE is stiffer and the cornering limits are a lot higher than its 1LE siblings. Roll, which is barely noticeable in the first two cars, is further lessened in this one. Grip with the magnificent Goodyears is high but eases off gently at the limit -- you can slide the car around all you want without fear of snap oversteer or hopelessly plowing understeer. In fact, after a while I just took to throwing the whole car into corners like a basket of dirty laundry and letting the tires and the suspension sort things out. All you have to do is step on the gas and steer in the general direction you want to go. It’s easy, like a spec Miata that’s twice as big and five times more powerful. Maybe I could have benefitted from some grippier race tires, I thought. But who was I fooling? I still had the stability and traction control on, albeit in the highest setting. I didn’t want to be remembered as that guy who ran out of talent in Turn 9.

Then I got a ride-along with a real Camaro race driver named Lawson Aschenabch, who campaigns a Camaro GT4.R for Black Dog Racing in the Pirelli World Challenge GTS Class. I asked how similar the ZL1 1LE was to his GT4.R.

“It’s not gonna handle exactly like that because we have race tires and all this stuff in the car, but the actual real inputs and the feeling of the car is very similar,” he said.

The race car is a couple hundred pounds lighter, but still pretty big and heavy, at least by race car standards. Plus, it had two people in it at the time. Aschenabch noted the tire performance.

“They’re very forgiving,” he said, perhaps using a code word for somewhat slippier than race tires. (Tiremakers) are always trying to balance forgiveness versus grip level, right? In racing, there’s zero forgiveness but a lotta grip. This tire, it’s very forgiving but you can tell when it starts to break away and you can feel it coming back but it also has a high grip level. Between the handling and the tires on this car I’m blown away personally. It feels so similar to the race car.”

My ride with Aschenbach was, as you might guess, a real eyeball opener. For one thing, he braked much, much later than I was braking and instead of following the racing school line through every corner he sort of flew into the middle of corners then slid around a little and powered out. He was much more comfortable doing these things at much higher speeds than your humble narrator. Exploitation of the Goodyears was the key, it appeared, and the Goodyears were meant to keep schmoes like me out of the tall grass.

But I wonder how many Camaro buyers will be able to approach Aschenabch’s limit. Yes, the bodywork looks cool, especially that monster wing, but can real buyers appreciate the engineering that went into this new model? Four local Canadian enthusiasts ordered theirs on the spot, Oppenheiser said, the four having visited the track during the car’s press introduction to check things out.

“(The buyer is) the guy who’s gonna come here and track their car,” said Ringmeister Bill Wise. “The track enthusiast.”

“The private track, that’s what we think this car is geared for,” said Oppenheiser.

Even if your lap time is less than that of a Wise or an Aschenbach, you can still have a good time on those Goodyears. And if you want more grip, heck, experiment with some race rubber.

“We want people to be able to approach the limit without scaring themselves,” said Wise. “We want to put the focus on making the car enjoyable to drive in this kind of environment.”

2018 Camaro ZL1 1LE Black

The Verdict

The ZL1 1LE stickers at $71,295 when you include destination and gas guzzler tax (it returns 16 mpg combined). You can be outraged at that price or you can look at the price of the BMW M4 GTS with dealer markup, which was $252,000 according to a recent story we ran here in Autoweek. The MSRP of a Nissan GT-R Track Edition stickers at $127,990. Almost any car that can lap a race track as fast as this one will cost six figures. So from that perspective it’s a bargain. And remember, when you marry that Canadian and settle down in Kelowna, British Columbia, you get free health care. So factor that into your buying decision.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE: http://autoweek.com/article/car-reviews/first-drive-2018-camaro-zl1-1le-ultimate-track-ready-camaro?utm_source=DailyDrive20170627&utm_medium=enewsletter&utm_term=image-top&utm_content=body&utm_campaign=awdailydrive

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