Payne: Corvette ZR1-ups Ford GT at American Nürburgring

Henry Payne

It’s cold in Detroit, but the Big Three muscle car wars are heating up down south.


At 755 horsepower the ZR1 is the most powerful Corvette ever.

Chevrolet said Wednesday that the new, 2019 Corvette ZR1 — at 755 horsepower, the most powerful ‘Vette ever produced — shattered the Virginia International Speedway record just days after Ford’s GT supercar became the first car to record a sub-2 minute, 40 second lap around “America’s Nürburgring.”

King ZR1 posted a jaw-dropping 2.37.3 time — over a second under the 2.38.6 lap record announced by Ford just last week.

Ford’s GT time, in turn, had bested the Dodge Viper ACR’s 2.40.0 time — one of 13 American race track lap records the Snake set in 2015 before the car was retired from production last year.

“The Corvette ZR1’s lap record at VIR, arguably America’s most challenging road course, is a testament to its supercar status,” said GM product boss Mark Reuss, a talented driver in his own right who has done multiple development laps in the ZR1 at race tracks around the world. “On the racetrack, the ZR1 can compete with any supercar — at any price.”


The 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 – VIR lap record holder on Grand Course West.

VIR race track has become the focus of automaker bragging rights in the United States. At 4.1 miles, the long, demanding Grand West Course configuration has become a stateside benchmark for performance not unlike the famous, 14-mile long Nürburgring in Germany, where automakers also put their performance thoroughbreds to the test.

VIR plays host to NASCAR testing, and is a stop (along with Detroit’s Belle Isle) of the IMSA Weathertech Sports Car Championship each year.

The track has also increased its profile with Car and Driver’s annual Lightning Lap competition between the year’s fastest new production cars. The magazine’s test is done entirely by staff writers — in particular hot shoe writer K.C. Colwell — creating a consistent benchmark between cars. The 647-horsepower GT this year eclipsed the long-standing Lightning Lap record — set by a $900k Porsche 918 hybrid — with a time of 2.43 seconds flat.


The ZR1’s record was set by Chevy’s in-house test driver and engineer Jim Mero

But as at Germany’s Nürburgring, manufacturers do their own VIR testing, complete with their top test drivers. The Ford GT lap was set with pro racer Billy Johnson behind the wheel. The ZR1’s record was set by Chevy’s in-house test driver and engineer Jim Mero, who had set a previous Corvette track record in the 650-horsepower Z06 at 2.41.3 seconds in 2015. Chevy also announced this week that Mero lowered the Z06’s VIR best with a 2:39.77 lap.

The record-setting ZR1 coupe (the car is also available as a convertible) — seen at the January Detroit Auto Show for the first time — improves on the beastly Z06 with more supercharged horsepower and a “ZTK Performance Package” that includes a huge rear wing increasing downforce to nearly 1,000 pounds to suck the car to the ground at high speed.


The Corvette ZR1 posted a record 2.37.3 time at Virginia International Speedway.

The record-setting monster was also weaponized with an eight-speed automatic transmission and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 summer tires. Thus equipped, the ZR1 starts at $122,990. The ZR1 goes on sale this spring. The Ford GT starts at $450,000 with all 750 orders spoken for (a total of 1000 production models is expected).

Don’t feel bad for Ford. The GT race team beat its Corvette rival at last weekend’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona endurance bout with a dominating 1-2 finish.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-1 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.