Living the Dream: Real-World ZR1 Owners Speak

The Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 is the fastest, most powerful production car General Motors has ever made. It’s also the most affordable supercar in the world, coming in at just over $100,000. Compared to the Ferraris and Bugattis of the world, this is pocket change for a car packing 638 horsepower and 604 ft-lbs of torque. The low price and iconic status of the Corvette means that regular people like you and us can potentially purchase one of these awesome cars.

That got us to wondering about the kind of person who would purchase a Corvette ZR1. Auto journalists invest nothing into their test cars, but what about the guy who laid a lot of money on the table for this vicious car? What do they think?

We decided to reach out to a few people with skin in the game, and Corvette Online talked to three Corvette ZR1 owners from different walks of life about what their real-world experience is like, owning and driving GM’s fastest-ever production car.

Jason picked up his ZR1 at the Bowling Green Assembly Plant and wasted no time breaking it in

Jason Van Patten: 2010 ZR1

The first person to respond to our outreach was Jason Van Patten, a 38-year old network engineer for a large cable company from Northern Virginia. Jason currently owns just one Corvette, a 2010 ZR1. It isn’t Jason’s first Corvette though; he’s owned  a ’96, a ’99, and a 2007 Z06, so he is no stranger to the Corvette lifestyle. Of the Z06, Jason says “I loved it to death on the race track, but after a while, it got tiresome on the road.  The suspension was fairly taught, and even with brand new tires, the twitchiness of it started to wear on me.”

So Jason traded in the Z06 for a Cadillac CTS-V (the man obviously has good taste) even though a friend warned him that he’d miss the Corvette. “Mike was right,” Jason said. “Back to the Corvette.” Compared to the Z06, the Corvette ZR1 has the adjustable seats, “more immediate grunt” than the Z06, and on the track it’s “SO much better.” Jason explains that the Z06 wasn’t lacking in torque, but that the ZR1’s torque curve was “like a table top, nice and flat. So while it can’t rev to 7k like the LS7 can, the ZR1’s mill more than makes up for it immediately.”

Jason says that Summit Point Raceway is like his “second home” and that while he doesn’t do any officially sanctioned or timed racing, he does spend a lot of time at High Performance Driver Education events which he shares with 25-30 other drivers on any particular day. He runs R Compound tires on his ZR1 at the track, but Jason drives his ZR1 on a daily basis, weather permitting, as the suspension is not nearly as rough or tight as the Z06 for a much smoother ride when he isn’t romping on it at the track. The only other vehicle in his stable is a 2500 HD pickup truck because, as Jason says, “two [vehicles] are enough.”

Jason left his engine alone...for some people, 638 horsepower IS enough.

Since Jason doesn’t divide his time between too many vehicles, he has gotten a real feel for the ZR1, and for him, the car is close to perfect. So what is Jason’s favorite part of the Corvette ZR1?

“The sound. Seriously.  I love the power and the instantaneous torque, but GM did such a phenomenal job with the muffler system.  At 3000 RPM, the baffles open up, and it’s a thunderclap that would make Zeus himself take note. It can and does turn a grown, responsible man into a giggling idiot.”

Falling Short of Perfection

It’s not all roses and sunshine though. Critics have panned the Corvette ZR1 for its interior, which Jason says is “fine” given what the engineers had to work with at the time. He takes more issue with the navigation system. “The nav unit in all Corvettes is, shall we say, sub-standard given what’s available today. The Bluetooth integration is lacking and you can’t integrate your phone with the nav system, and there is no GOOD integration for things like iPods/iPhones. It’s crude (and I replaced it.)”

While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Jason doesn’t much care for the unpainted carbon fiber, and mechanically, the only thing he takes issue with in the ZR1 is the short 6th gear, which was done to allow the Corvette ZR1 to reach a top speed of 205 MPH. Unfortunately, it takes a big bite out of the fuel economy too, and Jason reports getting around 20 MPG on the highway. That isn’t too shabby for a 638 horsepower supercar, but Jason was used to getting 25-30 miles to the gallon out of his other Corvettes while driving on the highway, so it was a bit of a “shocker.”

Jason thinks there is one more thing a potential ZR1 buyer should know. “It’s a much more powerful, much better handling, and potentially much more comfortable Corvette, but it’s [still] a Corvette and it’s true to Corvette’s “affordable” heritage for a reason.  You’re not going to find an Audi-quality interior in it, but you’re not going to find a $120k Audi that can perform anywhere near the ZR1. Further, while it’s “just a Corvette”, car guys know what it is and recognize it instantly and it WILL garner a lot of attention.”

Jason certainly knows his Corvette ZR1, but his track experience is rather limited compared to some other ZR1 owners. After all, the Corvette has a top speed of 205 MPH, and you can’t reach those kinds of speeds on a twisty track like Summit Point. You need to attend special events like the Texas Mile, where cars get a chance to stretch their legs and drivers can go as fast as they dare push their vehicles.

Travis's ZR1 is indeed one tough track monster, taking part in brutal Texas Mile top speed events

Travis Pearson: Addicted to Speed

Travis Pearson, a 43-year old corporate lawyer from Wichita, Kansas, has done just that, taking his Corvette ZR1 to two Texas Mile top speed events. “This is my second Corvette,” says Travis. “My ZR1 is bone stock, although I just received a set of beautiful HRE P40 wheels that I’m going to put on in the next few days (once this snow clears up.)”

Travis is actually a bit of a top speed junkie, having bought a 2006 Corvette Z06 which he left stock for a year before having it modified into a Katech Stage 1 car. This added a new camshaft and exhaust system, boosting power to close to close to 600 ponies. He has made 45 runs down the Texas Mile in his Katech Z06. “As modified, running 600 horsepower, the ’06 Katech Z06 will run in the mid to high 170’s,” he explains. “When it was in its stock 505 horsepower configuration, [the Z06] ran high 160s.” For comparision’s sake, Travis’s last run in the October Texas Mile netted him a 180.3 MPH top speed at the end of the standing mile.

Travis and his family are quite the collection of Corvette enthusiasts

That’s not even close to what the ZR1 can do though, says Travis. “Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to drive the ZR1 to its top speed. There isn’t enough room at the Texas Mile event to get there. The ZR1 tops out over 200 MPH . The Texas Mile is a standing mile (i.e. you begin from a standing start) and it has only a half-mile for the shutdown. That half-mile goes by pretty darned quick at the speeds we’re running, so while your official speed slip will read what you were running at the mile mark, you can stay in the throttle for a little bit longer, but not very much, as you quickly need to begin transitioning into a controlled and disciplined braking and shutdown procedure.”

There’s more to top speed driving than just the end result though; according to Travis, the ZR1 is better suited for such high-speed shenanigans. “The ZR1 is a bit more stable at 180 mph than the Z06 is. The front splitter and side skirts reduce front end lift and “skittishness” that just begins to feel noticeable in the Z06 around 165MPH . The ZR1 by contrast, kept its nose better planted at high speed, and was noticeably smoother. The ZR1 simply felt a bit better planted, and it remained that way all the way into the mid-180’s (which is as fast as I’ve had it.)”

Behind the Wheel at the Texas Mile

The way Travis describes it, the Corvette ZR1 sounds like it’s naturally at home at the top speed track. “I’ve told people that running the Texas Mile is about as much fun a person can have with their clothes on. It really hits you as you’re sitting in the grid area, with all the cars lined up to run. When the car before you has “cleared”, the track official signals you to launch. Holding around 2000 RPM, you make a quick, smooth lift off the clutch and feather down smartly into the throttle and ZR1 lunges forward. You feather deeper into the throttle, feeling the rear tires reach, then momentarily exceed their limit of traction and you feather the throttle holding the traction envelope as close as you can that magical verge of wheelspin. If you launch with Launch Control activated you’re holding the throttle pinned to floor. And you hear it. That sound. The sound of the supercharged ZR1 with throttle blades slammed open and supercharger spooling up. What a glorious sound.”

ZR1 and Z06: When you can't choose one, choose both!

“In a stock ZR1 you are approaching redline in 5th gear as you cross the mile mark. You stay in the throttle just a bit, just so you can put an exclamation mark on the run. But only for just a bit. You only have a half-mile to shut down and you’re running over 180 MPH. You lift off the throttle and let the engine brake the car for a moment or two and the chassis respond, and then you begin to gently feather into the brakes. That half-mile is beginning to disappear quickly up ahead. Haul her down to about 60MPH , downshift into 4th and then take the curve to pit road where you’ll make a stop and collect your speed slip. At that moment you can’t wait to get your butt back up to the grid and get back in line. The adrenaline is coursing through your body. What a rush. Head her back to grid, and let’s do this again.”

Travis does a great job of explaining that moment when you’re pushing yourself and your car to the very verge, knowing that just a few degrees to either side could mean the end of you and your machine. Travis says that he would buy another ZR1 in a heartbeat, which got us to thinking; what about the guy who already owns two Corvette ZR1’s? While the ZR1 is more “affordable” than other supercars, it still costs enough that comparatively few examples will be built and sold. That means the ZR1 will one day become collectible, and keeping them in tip-top shape as opposed to pounding the piss out of them is a top priority for some people.

Kyle Lemish has owned 15 Corvettes, but this yellow ZR1 is his favorite.

Kyle Lemish: ZR1 Daily Driver

Kyle Lemish from Harrisonburg, Virginia, is not one of those people, though: Despite the fact that he is now on his second ZR1, he’s not the kind of guy to keep a nice car in a bubble. Rather, Kyle uses his Corvette ZR1 as a daily driver and track car, participating in a wide variety of performance events from autocross to drag racing, and even the HPDE events at Summit Point. For Lemish, a used car dealership owner, the ZR1 “is hands down my favorite car ever! and I have had every sportscar that you can buy, new or used under $200,000 including a Gallardo, a Ferrari F430, a Ford GT, Vipers, and Porsches.”

So if Kyle drives his ZR1 every day (weather permitting) then why has he bought two? “My first ZR1 was red, and I’m a yellow car guy! I probably would have kept the red one, but Bambi decided to commit suicide against my driver side fender and front bumper one evening on my way home from work. Being a car dealer I can’t stand driving a car with paint work and I wanted yellow anyway, so spring of 2010 I sold the red one, bought an ’08 Porsche TT cabriolet for the summer, then traded it to another dealer for my current ’09 yellow ZR1. My car is bone stock.”

Like Jason, Kyle is no stranger to Corvettes, having purchased is first one back in 1992 while still in college. He also used a Corvette Z06 as a daily driver, but the ZR1’s street manners are much better. “As far as on the track, it’s hard to put into words how capable this car is! And as far as the drag strip, mid-10’s with a 100k warranty is going to be very hard to ever beat!” Kyle says that he is sure this won’t be his last ZR1, and that if they ever stop producing them, he “will never sell it.” He drives it every chance he gets, enjoying the civil ride up until the inevitable moment where he stomps the pedal, planting twin strips of smoky rubber. “The ZR1 is as docile as a normal Corvette, and I would know as I’ve owned 15 Corvettes since the mid-90’s,” says Kyle. “And these cars keep getting better and better.”

What can we say other than Kyle has awesome taste in automobiles?

The View from the Driver’s Seat

So how does Kyle feel about the interior? “I tell you what, I am so tired of the automotive media badmouthing the interior of the Corvette. I’ve owned a Lamborghini Gallardo, and sure, those seats might be good for keeping you planted in the track, but it isn’t at all comfortable. I’ve spent four and a half hours driving my ZR1 straight through, and I wouldn’t hesitate to spend another four hours in those seats. It’s the most user-friendly supercar in the world as far as I’m concerned.”

That’s one hell of a ringing endorsement from a man who has owned as many exotics as Kyle, and it seems to be a running theme with Corvette ZR1 owners; they aren’t hoarding these cars away in some climate controlled garage far off the grid. Instead, they are out driving them, on the roads and the track, as often as they can.

And why not? The Corvette ZR1 has the manners needed for daily driving, but turns into an absolute beast on whatever kind of track you want to take it to with a simple push of the gas pedal. None of these fellows are first-time Corvette owners either, a testament to the loyalty these vehicles provoke from their owners. With summer in full swing, we’re sure Jason, Travis, and Kyle will be taking their ZR1s to the track on a regular basis. Sure, there are faster cars with fancier interiors, but if these three are to be believed, none of them offer the sheer visceral excitement and daily drivability on and off the track that the ZR1 does.

Sounds to us like GM really got the ZR1 right. The only question left to ask then, is when do we get to go for a ride, guys?

About the author

Chris Demorro

Christopher DeMorro is a freelance writer and journalist from Connecticut with two passions in life; writing and anything with an engine. This has led him to pursue a full time career as a freelancer with a focus on motor vehicles of all kinds.
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