During the pandemic, automotive events have started very late, leaving us performance-minded individuals looking for events.

Any events. And the travel range for those events has been expanded.

Recently, Akron Sports Car Club managed to have an event. It was within the extended range, so I decided to take my new 2019 Corvette Grand Sport Z07 up and run the first event of the 2020 season. This event was long overdue for me, as we have already cancelled three events locally in Cincinnati, OH.

After I decided to make the trek, I also found out that good friend Al Noe from Summit Racing was also going to attend with his brand new C8 Z51 Corvette that he bought from our dealership just as the pandemic made it onto the scene. Since Al is looking to ‘work together’ with myself and other partners to develop his car, Al asked if I would like to drive his car as well at this event.

How can you turn down an offer like that?

The event was a “test-n-tune,” so I was allowed to drive both cars on the same day, at the same event. It was an opportunity to drive Chevrolet’s newest flagship Corvette, and the best of the previous model Corvette for autocross on the same day. This would also create my first opportunity to drive the new C8 Corvette in rage, which I was very eager to sample.

Both cars are completely stock other than the fact that both cars have been slightly lowered, scaled, and corner balanced, as well as aligned by me to be very performance oriented (not in full kill mode as both cars are not yet dedicated competition vehicles).

This was also only the second time I have driven my 2019 Grand Sport Z07 at an autocross, so both generations are still new to me at autocross venues. This opportunity allowed me to also compare and contrast the the last front engine/wheel drive and manual Corvette against the ‘new kid on the block’, the 2020 Corvette Z51.

So here we go:

I ran my car in the first session, and Al drove the C8 at the same time. Although I typically drive more obnoxious and visceral vehicles, the C7 GS Z07 is a very impressive autocross machine. The three things that are impressive are the balance, the mechanical grip, and the brakes. Those carbon ceramic Brembos are no joke! It is a very easy car to drive at the limits and the driver is rewarded by being able to use very high aggression levels — something my usual big power other autocross cars won’t allow.

Being moderately and adequately powered is the key to this. The factory Z07 package Michelin Pilot Sport Cup2 tires provide amazing amounts of dry-traction. The car presents itself well to the corner being very neutral on the corner entry and laser-hooked up. Mid corner, the car will rotate and change directions abruptly. Corner exit, if you are on the power early as pointed at the apex, the car will dance with a slight amount of over steer on the exit which I feel is desirable. The C7 Grand Sport Z07 is very fast, driven correctly.

The C8 Corvette is also very fast, but very different.

The similarities are that they are both Corvettes, both powered by normally aspirated, overhead-valve V8s and they both represent some of the best that America has to offer. They both also have too many electronics that take some time to understand between the traction control, active handling, shock calibration and e-diff settings.

That is the end of the similarities.

I have been apprehensive and skeptical of the two biggest new systems, the DCT (dual clutch transmission) and the electronically assisted power brakes.

During the second heat, Al allowed me to drive his new baby. The car drove amazing. I started running the car in PTM (Performance Traction Management) Sport 2 mode, but throughout the next couple of runs put myself into PTM Race with all the nannies off.

The car still screamed Corvette, but was a different experience.

The forward bite in the car, with its 40/60 percent weight distribution, was incredible, and the engineers coupled that with very aggressive gearing to capitalize on the rear weight bias. The car exploded off of the start. The new dual clutch transmission shifts like lightning and the electrically assisted brakes seemed transparent when applied, meaning the difference between vacuum assist was not noticeable. The balance of the C8 is different than previous models, at least on this day with its initial set up. The steering is very quick and precise so the car turns into the corner extremely well.

Once the weight transfers to the outside corner, the car maintains very good mechanical grip. Mid-corner, corner exit the car is definitely tight (understeer) and the front tires are protesting. I believe we can adjust some things and probably remove most of this trait which I find undesirable for autocross. Transitionally, the car worked very well and left nothing to be desired. I also thought that the ‘D’ shaped steering wheel would be an issue at autocross, but it too seemed transparent as the steering is very fast and ‘shuffle steering’ was not really necessary.

I ran both cars for five runs a session, two separate times for a total of 10 runs. I was very comfortable pushing both cars to the limit and slightly beyond. The only near off track-track excursion came in the second session with the C8, when I found the effects of ‘polar moment of inertia’ with the high rear weight bias entering a wrong side entry slalom from approximately 75 miles-per-hour. I threaded the needle and jumped on the brakes to enter the slalom when all of the sudden the rear of the vehicle wanted to ‘exit stage left’. I immediately decided to abort that slalom entry. Al has not had his car off track yet or left the racing surface, so I decided that I did not want to be the first with his brand new car.

Great fun was certainly had that day with Al, the Akron Sports Car Club, and both of our very new Corvettes!

Which one was faster? 

Well, on that particular day the 2019 Grand Sport Z07 was faster than the C8 Z51 car by 1.6 seconds on basically a 54-second course. Both cars are very easy to drive at the limit and both cars have strengths and weaknesses. Both cars are fast!

The Grand Sport Z07 may have the tire advantage stock vs. stock; however, trying to quantify the difference on two different cars is not possible. Both of the Michelin branded tires were awesome, but if it rained I can tell you the C7 tires would have been scary.

I look forward to the next opportunity for Al and I to test and further understand and develop the new C8 Corvette.

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Author: Danny Popp