2006 was an exciting time! Pluto was still a planet, the Wii was just released, there was no Twitter, most people hadn’t ever heard of a Kardashian, and Car and Driver (which was still mostly thought of as a magazine) gathered the hottest new cars of the year at Virginia International Raceway for the first time. This annual occurrence was dubbed “Lightning Lap,” and your author (a high school Junior at the time) was hooked from the moment he opened the mailbox.
Some Quick Background Info for Those of You Who are New to the Enthusiast Fold: Lightning Lap is an annual mega-test that C&D holds on Virginia International Raceway’s 4.1-mile Grand Course, which they call “the ultimate test of modern machinery,” the perfect test of all the things that a performance car should be. Vehicles that participate in LL are split into classes, based on their MSRP. The first tier, LL1, covers all sticker prices below and including $34,999, LL2 picks up at $35,000 and goes up to $64,999. Next is LL3 which spans from $65,000 all the way to $124,999, and is the field where the majority of the best domestic performance cars do battle. LL4 ($125,000 to $249,999), and LL5 (quarter-million dollars and higher) make up the stratosphere and mesosphere of the test that is rounded out by an LLU class that is strictly for concept, kit, and race cars, trucks, SUVs, and electric vehicles.
Back on Track: In the fourteen years since the 2007 Z06 became the first car to stop the clock in under three-minutes at Lightning Lap 2, few OEMs have found the level of success that General Motors has enjoyed, especially with the Corvette. A quick glance at C&D’s all-time results reveals GM products on top of three out of the four price-based classes in which they compete and on the podium (sometimes in multiple places) in all four. What follows are the dozen quickest Corvettes (and friends) to ever lap VIR in the hands of C&D editors, followed by a look ahead at the future of go-fast machines from the RenCen. Now, without any further ado, let’s get tropical!
1. 2019 Corvette ZR1 – 2:39.5
The swan-song front-engine Corvette, the 2019 ZR1, is the fastest General Motors product that Car and Driver has ever piloted around VIR, the fastest LL4 class car in Lightning Lap history, and at 2:39.5, it sits in fourth place out of 281 all-time competitors. In 2018, The King of the C7 Hill was one of three competitors to better the $450,000 2017 Ford GT’s all-time record. Out of that record-setting trio, the 755 HP Corvette ended up ahead of the otherworldly McLaren 720S by .2 of a second but behind the 911 GT2 RS Weissach Edition and its then record-holding 2:37.8 lap time. On the same rubber, we maintain that the C7 ZR1’s silver medal would have turned to gold, but, as it stands, this all-time giant-slayer still earned its early retirement.
2. 2015 Corvette Z06 (Z07) – 2:44.6
The first supercharged variant of seventh-generation Corvette, the 2015 Z06, still manages to hold on to the silver medal in GM’s stable of Lightning Lap times and the title of fastest LL3 car ever, even after five years of relentless advancement across the board. Like its big-wing sibling, the Big Nasty etched its working-class name in the two-slot of the leaderboard when it was new. At the time, only the million-dollar Porsche 918 Spyder had ever Lightning Lap’d faster. Just think what the upgraded 2019 model could have done with its cooling enhancements and updated mag-ride calibration!
The top-dog Camaro just missed out on toppling its two-seat LT4-buddy with a 2:45 flat around VIR (for the 10-speed auto, the manual was .7 behind). To illustrate just how impressive the two $75,000ish ZLE variants are, take a look at the cars around them on the list. Sandwiched between the slush-box and the stick are the Ferrari 488 GTB and Ford GT. Immediately following six-speed is the McLaren 650S Spider and a run of other LL5 and LL4 cars that include two Porsche GT cars! These things definitely represent the front, business, portion of their mulleted reputation!
4. 2017 Corvette Grand Sport (Z07) – 2:47.1
Chevrolet has been absolutely dominant in the LL3 class throughout the years. Prior to this year, The Bowtie brand held the four fastest times ever run in the highly-competitive $65,000-$124,000 price range, and five out of the top six, only leaving room for the fourth-generation Viper ACR at fifth. The C7 Grand Sport equipped with the Z07 Ultimate Performance Package may only be the third fastest of this bunch, but it does claim the title of fastest vehicle ever sent around VIR with fewer than 500 HP at its disposal.
5. 2020 Corvette Stingray Z51 – 2:49.0
face body of America’s Sports Car performed admirably on America’s toughest track. Lapping within .4 seconds of the once-untouchable 2008 Viper ACR and ahead of the GT-R Nismo and 458 Italia while fitted with regular summer tires is a heroic feat! The Z51 package is just a set of Pilot Sport Cup 2s away from claiming this list’s naturally aspirated title, for now, at least.
6. 2017 Camaro ZL1 – 2:50.1
The “run-of-the-mill” sixth-generation Camaro ZL1, equipped with the same 10-speed automatic transmission as the faster 1LE, set a seriously fast time in less-than-ideal conditions. Still, landing smack-dab in the middle of a group of four super (and/or track-special) cars (Ferrari 458 Italia, Viper TA, NSX, 991.1 GT3) makes this one impressive 2+2, especially when you consider its comparatively reasonable asking price!
7. C6 Corvette ZR1 – 2:50.7 – 2:51.8
In 2009, the C6 ZR1 obliterated the field at Lightning Lap 4, with the third fastest lap ever recorded. While it has somehow fallen all the way to 40th on the leaderboard, it is one of just five representatives from the ’00s that still registers in the top 50.
Fresh off a trip to Germany, where the lighter, sticker PDE package helped it shave six seconds off its Nürburgring time, the Blue Devil showed up to the 6th running of Lightning Lap and took home the gold, for a second time. Not only was it more than two seconds faster than the second-place Nissan GT-R that year, but it also bested its previous run by 1.1 seconds.
8. 2015 Camaro Z/28 – 2:50.9
One of, if not THE most impressive thing about this whole list is that a 505 HP, 3,858 lb. pony car slots on the high side of in-between the previously mentioned pair of 638 horse sports cars. Not only that, but it stopped the clock during the same second as its supercharged, automatic transmission successor, ended up within a tenth of the Ferrari F12, and matched the record-holding, million-dollar Porsche 918 Spyder for g’s in turn one at VIR. If you are looking for a car that is entirely comfortable fighting outside of its class, “Steve” is your huckleberry.
9. 2011 Corvette Z06 (Z07) – 2:53.5
Just like the C7 Grand Sport mentioned above, the new-for-’11 Z07 package proves that sometimes a lower curb weight can make it easy to forget more than a hundred horsepower. The Z07 lapped just 1.7 seconds behind the ZR1, and all of that time can be attributed to the high-speed sector 1, the 7.0L monster matched or outright beat its more expensive sibling everywhere else on VIR, at the same time shaming the best laps of the finest road course slayers Italy had to offer at the time; the Ferrari 430 Scuderia and Lamborghini Murcielago LP670-4 SV.
10. 2014 Corvette Stingray Z51 – 2:53.8
As impressive as the LS7-powered beast at #9 is, the Stingray nearly rose to its gauntlet, and it did it without the extensive use of carbon fiber, ceramic brakes, or about 40% of the asking price! If it weren’t for the next car on the list, with mid-40s asking prices for nice examples, an early C7 Z51 would be the easiest way to embarrass your rich friends at a track day in a humble Chevrolet.
11. 2017 Camaro SS 1LE – 2:54.8
For a full $10k less than the C7 Stingray (at current market value), you can get within one second of its lap time and beat unobtanium like the Lexus LFA to the checkered flag. The SS 1LE is GM engineering for the masses at its finest!
12. 2016 Cadillac CTS-V: 2:56.0
The Wreathless Crest just missed out on cracking GM’s top ten Lightning Lap times, but when the now-retired LT4 Caddy was new, it was the fastest sedan in the history of the event, and it remains the quickest RWD four-door ever, definitely worthy of recognition!
Honorable Mention: 2013 Camaro ZL1 – 2:57.5 The first of the new breed of Super Camaros did its job of defeating the much more powerful, contemporary Shelby GT500 (by more than three full seconds!), but what the 580 HP fifth-gen really does now is highlight how far the humble pony car has come in the past seven years.
The General has a handful of internal combustion masterpieces to bestow on the world before the company fully shifts its focus to autonomous, connected, plug-in transportation pods aimed at eliminating emissions, crashes, and congestion from our roads. Here are the two that we are hoping to see in full attack mode at VIR in the next year or so:
Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing: When Lightning Lap makes its triumphant return next fall, look for the CT5-V Blackwing to challenge the AMG GT63 for sedan supremacy. The $200k ‘Benz’ current record for four-doors sits at 2:49.3 while the car that the Blackwing is replacing ran a 2:56 flat. Can 28 additional horses, ceramic brakes, and a new, grippier tire compound help shave the necessary 7 seconds? We can’t wait to find out!
2022 Corvette Z06: The fifth car on our list is only the beginning for the mid-engine Corvette. The first hi-po model is expected to feature a 9k redline from an ultra-fast-spinning V8 with dual-overhead cams and a flat-plane crankshaft. The first super-C8 should also fix the Stingray’s track-tire issue and, maybe even offer active aerodynamics. Official output is still a mystery, but we are expecting somewhere between a nice, round 600 and the C7Z’s 650 HP from the naturally-aspirated mill. Even down on power, this is the one that could threaten the upper echelon of the entire Lightning Lap leaderboard!
Car and Driver
[VIDEO] 2021 Corvette Stingray Z51 Runs 2:49.0 at Car and Driver’s 2021 Lightning Lap
2019 Corvette ZR1 Dominates at Car and Driver’s Lightning Lap 2018
[VIDEO] 2017 Corvette Z06 with New Magnetic Shock Calibrations Runs 2:39.77 at VIR