We sat down with Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter on the occasion of the 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1’s official L.A. Auto Show introduction to learn a bit more about what makes this 755-hp, 715-lb-ft beast tick. Here are the six coolest things we learned:
One way the ZR1 manages to be so much more awesome than the Z06 is by flipping the bird to all those European regulators and conforming to North America’s regulations only. That 3-inch-taller supercharger and intercooler tower poking through the hood would crush the noggins of any hapless Euro jaywalker who wasn’t slashed to bits by the too sharp edges of all the aerodynamic add-ons. Even the Yankee Doodle Dandy–bound engine bearings are more durable because they’re allowed to have some lead content. (Europe restricts all lead use to only the starter battery.)
Not Z06+115—Grand Sport+305
Juechter cautions folks not to think of the new ZR1 as a Z06 with a 115-horse supercharger upgrade; rather, he says to imagine it as a supercharged Grand Sport with 305 more horses. “The Grand Sport was our best-handling car, so the chassis calibration is much more in line with that car’s philosophy.” To take that car’s handling to the next level, the ZR1 is adorned with every aerodynamic downforce-inducing trick in the book (because a tire’s potential grip is the product of its friction coefficient times the total force pressing it to the pavement).
Up the horsepower, and you probably ought to upgrade the brakes. To do this, the front carbon-ceramic brake rotors get a new Brembo HT2 process that amounts to doubling the heat-treatment process. This makes them more tolerant of high heat levels. Combine these twice-baked rotors with special high-heat brake pad materials and improved cooling airflow (courtesy of the new larger cooling openings in the front fascia), and you end up with an indefatigable track star brake package. (The rear brakes do less work and did not require the HT2 process.)
A Jumper, not a Shaker
Brake torque the Hemi in a Dodge product with the Shaker Hood option, and it’ll rock from side to side. The vastly more rigid and broader-based four-corner powertrain mounting system in the ZR1, which links the engine to the rear-mounted transaxle via a rigid torque tube, does no such thing. Launch it hard, and the engine tries to lift out of its hood opening as the powertrain tries its best to pop a wheelie. Although taller, heavier muscle cars with gobs more suspension travel can easily do wheelstands, the low-slung stiffly sprung Corvette keeps its feet on the ground.
AWD Doesn’t Fit
Let’s face it. The ultimate accelerative potential of any vehicle packing this much horsepower is traction, and doubling the traction with all-wheel drive is a great way to improve those 0–60 and quarter-mile figures. But the crankshaft throws are absolutely as close to the ground as possible, so there’s just no practical way to sneak a prop shaft past the engine the way the GT-R does. Tadge confirms that his team even considered the Zora Arkus Duntov’s CERV II concept of powering the front axle off the front of the engine. When powered by a 550-hp 427-cubic-inch ZL1 engine in 1970, the CERV II laid down an impressive 0–60 time of 2.8 seconds. But there’s just no space in front of the engine in the C7 chassis for even the compact transaxle concept used in Ferrari’s similarly configured FF/GTC4Lusso. At least Juechter reckons his RWD ZR1 will meet or exceed the CERV II’s 0–60 time.
Setting the curb-weight record straight, Juechter says that a base ZR1 weighs 59 pounds more than a base Z06. That’s an impressive testament to the weight saved by the extensive carbon-fiber bodywork because the larger supercharger, the four extra radiators, and all the fluid to fill them add considerable weight relative to a Z06.