As luck would have it (more to do with my lifelong addiction to racing) this past weekend was the Daytona 500. Driving the pace car was Jeff Gordon, fresh off his win (I thought he was retired) at the 24 Hours of Daytona. The car he was driving was a 2018 Camaro ZL1 1LE.
At one point he said, while pacing the field, cool as a cucumber, “y’know, this thing can top out right around 200 miles an’ hour.”
Now, I am not that much of a NASCAR fan. But this was the Daytona 500, so why not? However, I am enough of a fan of the stockers to know that at Daytona (and at Talladega etc.) a stock car tops out in the mid-190s, brushing up against 200. Yes, yes, I know. This is a restrictor plate track, and yes, I know they could go considerably faster if you pulled the plates and just let ’em run. Go ask Brian France why that’s the state of things, I’m not going to get into it here.
Anyway, Gordon’s statement of, “y’know, this thing can top out right around 200 miles an’ hour,” was clearly meant to be interpreted as “y’know, if I don’t pull into the pits, I bet I could hold these guys off for a lap or two!”
No, that’s not just my wishful thinking. The huge grin on Jeff Gordon’s face when he said it tells you it was fact.
Now, the General will tell you the new ZL1 1LE is all about being a curve swallowing, straight-munching track machine – and make no mistake, it is – but c’mon, how much fun would this thing be on Woodward Avenue on a warm spring night? That smug yuppie jerk that’s been pacing you for the past three or four lights? This would wipe that conceited grin off his face like a chalkboard eraser.
Basically, the Bowtie Boys show us this is going to be one quick mofo.
For starters, the new ZL1 1LE was 3 seconds faster than the standard ZL1 Coupe around General Motors’ Milford Road Course. At 2.9-miles, that’s more than a second per mile quicker than the next quickest Camaro Chevy offers. That is a big gap.
How, might you ask, does Chevy make a Camaro this fast? Well, my busted-knuckle, greasy-nailed gearheads, they did it by working four main elements like Ali on a heavy bag: Aerodynamics, adjustable suspension, wheels and tires, and weight loss.
Aerodynamics & Suspension
Aero-wise there’s a bunch of new bits and pieces sprinkled onto the car. There’s a carbon fiber rear wing (and yes, it actually produces downforce and was finessed in a wind tunnel) and up front there are specific air deflectors and dive planes on the nose. Bottom line: grip is up, and cornering speeds are way up.
The adjustable suspension showcases racing-derived, lightweight dampers (front and rear) a with Multimatic DSSV (Dynamic Suspension Spool Valve) system. Yes, that’s a bunch of corp-speak, but what it gives the 1LE is excellent wheel and vehicle control. These front dampers can adjust the front-end ride height while the camber plates are also adjustable. The rear stabilizer bar? You get three adjustments there, and all of the suspension components are designed for quick changes at the track for “optimal performance and a quick return to street settings when the track day ends.”
Or, you know, you can just leave it on the track set up because that’s how you roll.
The 1LE rides on new, lightweight forged aluminum wheels that are an inch wider but, curiously, are an inch smaller in diameter, front and rear, than the standard ZL1 wheels. Your guess is as good as mine, but I’m betting on better sidewall control and an obviously larger contact patch. The wheels are swathed in new Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar 3R tires. Chevy says this is good enough to deliver a max lateral grip of 1.10g, which is really impressive. The new Goodyear skins were created solely for the Camaro ZL1 1LE. The 3R tires warm up faster, so as to stop you from embarrassing your self on the first corner of the first lap.
The new wheel-and-tire package weighs about 1.5 pounds less per corner.
Speaking of lighter weight, the lighter wheels and dampers, along with reduced thickness in the rear glass, and a fixed-back rear seat drop 60 pounds off the curb weight of a standard ZL1 Coupe. Look, lighter weight is always a laudable goal in performance oriented cars, but 60 pounds ain’t all that much, and Camaros, although relatively lighter, will never be mistaken for something Colin Chapman would make.
Engine & Braking
Besides, given the engine this thing has under the hood, weight issues aren’t really issues. In the case of the Camaro ZL1 1LE, said plant is a 650 horsepower, supercharged LT4 engine hooked up to a six-speed manual transmission with Active Rev Match.
Hence the big grin on Jeff Gordon’s face.
Stopping is down to Brembo brakes, with red calipers with the 1LE logo, because why not add a little bit of flash?
Other standard features comprise of dual-zone automatic climate control, Bose premium audio system, heated/ventilated front seats, and a heated steering wheel, because even though this is a track-focused car, this is not a track-only car. Only complete hair-shirt screwballs would insist on a factory car stripped of carpet and sound deadening and back seats and stipulate side windows made of Lexan.
But there’s no need to get into my personal kinks, this is all about the 1LE. The 2018 Camaro ZL1 1LE goes on sale later this year and pricing will be announced closer to that time.
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He means well, even if he has a bias towards lighter, agile cars rather than big engine muscle cars or family sedans.