A Tale of Two Icons: Corvette Grand Sport and Indy Motor Speedway
“Drive the new Corvette Grand Sport flat-out at Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” they said. “It will be fun,” they said.
One can’t talk about the evolution of the American sports car without diving heavily into the Corvette Grand Sport. The storied ‘Vette was born to do one job, and do it well — to dominate the race track.
Speaking of race tracks, there are multitudes, in multiple shapes, in numerous countries, and with many reputations. That being said, there’s only one cathedral of speed, and that’s the mighty, violent Indianapolis Motor Speedway — home of the legendary Indy 500.
Chevrolet recently invited me to worship at the cathedral. Indeed, the experience ended up being spiritual, and something which I only could’ve dreamt about. I got to drive the new 2017 Corvette Grand Sport on the 2.5-mile Indy 500 oval.
Which one? Both the car and the venue are legends in their own respective rights, although the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built in 1909, so I guess it has a slight “legendary” advantage over the Corvette.
With a seating capacity of a quarter-million people, and overall spectator capacity pushing a cool half-million, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the largest sports venue in the world. The 2.5-mile racing oval was originally made up of dirt, then bricks (therefore the Brickyard), and it eventually became asphalt. Of course, a small “yard of bricks” remains at the finish line for legacy purposes.
I arrived on track at roughly 8 a.m., and signs of the previous night’s storm were visible throughout. Puddles along the infield were predominant, and grassy areas were borderline mud pits. I grew afraid my driving experience would be hampered by a damp track surface, but Chevy quickly reorganized the schedule and pushed the high-speed driving part of the curriculum until the end of the day. Thankfully, it worked out perfectly.
The Other Legend
OK, now let’s talk about the mighty ‘Vette. Chevy set out to leave the competition in the dust when it created the first five Grand Sport racers back in 1963. That “beat everyone” ambitiousness from the ’60s continues with the 2017 model.
The first generation’s 6.2-liter (377-ci) small block V8 was good for 550 horsepower, which back in those days was downright ludicrous for anything other than a drag racer. In 1996 Chevy re-launched the Grand Sport, this time by creating 1,000 limited-edition units, and sporting an LT4 V8 engine capable of 335 ponies. Lastly, the new Stingray-based Grand Sport features a massive 6.2-liter LT1 V8 under the hood, which whips up a robust 460 horsepower, and can reach 60 mph in 3.6 seconds.
In order to put the power down, the new generation Grand Sport employs either a 7-speed manual transmission, or an optional 8-speed automatic. Our test car featured the latter. Its lightning-quick shifts and active rev-matching capabilities made me feel like Tommy Milner. In addition, 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels wrapped in sticky Michelin Super Sport summer-only tires provided excellent grip despite the low temperatures. Large Corvette-labeled Brembo brakes were on standby in case crap hit the fan.
The Driving Experience
As you could imagine, these stats were drilled into my subconscious by several Chevy spokespeople and driving coaches ahead of my high-speed drive. Now, I’m not new to powerful sports cars by any means, but I’m somewhat new to tackling 9.2-degree-banked turns at well over 100 mph. The racing surface may be 150 feet wide, but overstep by half an inch and you’ll be greeted by a meticulously painted white wall. According to Chevy, that was a no-no.
After strapping on my helmet and Hans device, it was time to walk to the pit area and board my chariot. A dozen similarly equipped Grand Sport Corvettes were lined up and ready to battle.
I’m not new to powerful sports cars by any means, but I’m somewhat new to tackling 9.2-degree-banked turns at well over 100 mph.
Each vehicle was equipped with a two-way radio that a coach and track marshal utilized for guidance. After a few minutes of idling the V8 beast on pit lane, adrenaline converted suspense into excitement, and I was more than ready to hit the throttle. The call finally came on the radio, and the words, “Let’s take it easy until we leave pit lane,” were muttered by the coach. I switched the driving mode dial to “track”, and off I went.
Remember the 150-foot-wide racing surface? Yeah, well, it feels more like 40 feet wide when traveling at a high speed. The Grand Sport’s throaty exhaust note gave me an idea of how fast I was traveling, as I was too focused on the racing line to even acknowledge the heads-up display. That being said, I did glance at the speedo just once, and it showed 120 mph as I rocketed out of turn one.
Would I have loved to enjoy a twistier course that challenged the Grand Sport’s brakes and transmission? Yes. Would I change a thing about my experience at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway? No. Heck no!
This is the stuff dreams are made of. A legendary 460-horsepower American sports car at an even more legendary American race track. All I can say is, thank you, Chevy. Oh, and go buy a Corvette Grand Sport.
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