Tackling Thompson Speedway in the New Corvette

By Mike Covello

    So what's it like to drive the new Corvette? I'm glad you asked. The reports I have been reading seem to be very accurate. The Chevrolet engineers have made some marvelous advances in seemingly contradictory directions. The C5 Vette is much more user friendly in almost any area you can think of. At the same time, the power, braking and handling have all moved up to the next level. Why don't you come along for the ride and I will clue you in.

    The intimate event started in Newton, MA where a few key journalists had gathered to hear the gospel according to Chevrolet. This generation of Corvette has more new parts in it than any previous Corvette, including the original 1953 model. It also has 1,500 fewer parts, or about a 34% reduction. This means that the car is simpler to build, and less items to rattle. A video presentation showed how round tubing is hydroformed into the beefy square framerails. This process of forming metal with high-pressure water makes a much stronger product than old-fashioned welding. It also allows the doorsills to be four inches lower; this makes the new Vette much easier to exit and enter.

    The floor is formed with a layer of balsa wood sandwiched with fiberglass and metal. Nothing else gives the same rigidity and vibration-absorbing characteristics. You probably know by now that the transmission has been moved to the back of the car. This creates all sorts of benefits. Weight distribution is improved to near-perfection, and the footwell areas are considerably wider. The LS1 engine features all aluminum construction and a deep-skirt block. The exhaust manifolds are dual-wall to enable the catalytic converter to heat up more quickly.
Security is built in to every Corvette. In addition to an electronic diode on the key that must match the one in the ignition switch, the alarm is state-of-the-art. The Corvette still uses a passive system: that means that whenever you walk away from the car with the key fob in your pocket the car will automatically lock, and set the alarm. The radio wave code that the fob sends to the alarm's receiver is constantly rolling. So even if a thief is waiting to nab your code with a scanner, he will be out of luck, because the code has already changed. Boy, these guys think of everything.

So, enough of this chitchat, let's go hop in the cars that have been sitting so patiently outside the hotel. I wish that I could report that we had a glorious, sunny spring day, but you know New England. Oh well, the Torch Red six-speed coupe looks great with the rainwater beading up on the hood. As I said before, I take back all of those comments I made about the new Vette looking like any other car. In person, there is no mistaking this vehicle for anything else. The first pleasant surprise is how easy it is to slide behind the fat-rimmed leather wheel. Not only are the doorsills lower, but the funky handbrake has been moved from the left side of the driver's seat to the right side of the console. Much better!

The dashboard shows no remnants of its digital past. Instead crisp white letters on a black background greets you. Shades of the sixties, the instrument lighting is done with black light! The gauges are set at various heights in the instrument panel to create a 3-D effect. The entire dashboard looks so much better. Everything is within comfortable reach, easy to read, and many surfaces are covered with soft-touch plastic that adds a sensuous note. The windows, door locks and mirror controls are arranged on the driver's door in a plane that makes it much easier to work these items without contorting your fingers.

As I fire up the throbbing V-8, my compliments to the engineers are once more to be noted. The sound emanating from the back of the car has just the right note to be unobtrusive at cruising speeds, but give you a satisfying experience when you push down hard on the loud pedal. Speaking of sounds, we found out that Queen's Radio Ga Ga was used as the sound system breaker. The sound guys kept experimenting until that got a system that would deliver the music loud enough to shake your pants, with no noticeable distortion.

This car feels great at speed. Suspensions are offered in standard, F45 (electronic selective damping) and Z51 (performance) flavors. I had no complaints about my mount's Z51 suspension in the ride department. The C5 standard traction control proved to be a very helpful item on our slippery drive down to Connecticut's Northeast corner. Before we knew it we were sliding though the entrance of Thompson's Speedway.

After a delicious lunch served in the clubhouse we finally got down to the main event. The oval course had been converted to an autocross setup with the addition of a few pylons. This gave us a chance to not only test the acceleration of the Vette, but also to do some heavy braking and make a few tight maneuvers. This Corvette is far and away the easiest Vette to drive fast. It is also one of the most fun to drive of all sportscars. The steering is very precise and the brakes just keep pulling you down from outrageous speeds with no fade.

All too soon, our time was up. It is good that we stopped when we did. Violent thunderstorms and tornado warnings followed the brief period of dry that we experienced at the track. I am looking forward to giving you a more in-depth report when I get a new Vette in June for a week's testing. I wonder if Chevy knows my birthday is next month?

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