Ride Along With Tony Kanaan As He Drives the Hell Out Of the 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1
Hold on to your butts. And your heads.
Tony Kanaan, as it turns out, knows how to drive rather well.
Not that this should come as a surprise to anyone. The genial Brazilian has racked up 16 race wins in the IndyCar Series during his lengthy career, including a win at the Indy 500 back in 2013 and an overall IndyCar championship title the following year. But there's nothing like finding out for yourself. So when Chevrolet brought your humble author out to Las Vegas to drive the new 2019 Camaro 2.0T 1LE in early April, the company—knowing just how much we automotive journalists hate to squeeze ourselves into a HANS device—made us a deal of sorts: While we were waiting around in our racing-spec back braces to hop into the new Camaro, how'd we like to take a few hot laps of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway's outside road course in the 755-horsepower Corvette ZR1 with either Kanaan or Le Mans-winning Corvette driver Tommy Milner?
While Kanaan's blood-red ZR1 lacked the sweet-ass Corvette Racing Jake logo mounted above the thumping smallblock found on Milner's ivory-colored car, it was in pretty much every other way exactly how you'd likely spec out your own King of the Corvettes if you were planning on using it to conquer tracks: hardtop, seven-speed manual, ZTK Track Performance Package. (Indeed, Kanaan said he's already ordered one identical in all but color; he went for Corvette Racing yellow.)
"How fast do you wanna go?" he asks as I plop down into the shotgun seat. "How fast can you go?" I reply. But he asks again as we pull out of pit lane, as though he needs two-factor authentication before he can unlock this supercar-killer's full potential. I tell him to go all the way.
So he does.
The first thing to shock about the Corvette ZR1 isn't the acceleration, believe it or not. A 2.85-second 0-60 mile-per-hour time is indeed nutty, but in a land filled with Porsche 911 Turbos and Lamborghini Huracans and Teslas with P100D appended to their names, acceleration of that level no longer feels as mind-bending as it once did. No, it's the grip that shocks you, the combined efforts of the chassis and the suspension and the aerodynamics and the tires that plants this Corvette like an adamantium-clawed tabby who just knows you're taking him to the vet.
Then Kanaan pounds on the brakes. Good God, the brakes. Those carbon-ceramic Brembos—15.5-inch calipers up front, 15.3-inchers out back, in a car that weighs maybe two tons with both of us aboard—haul us down so hard, my eyes bug out like a cartoon wolf spotting Jessica Rabbit. Kanaan tells me we pulled negative 2.5g at maximum stopping power. Space shuttle astronauts topped out at 3g during liftoff—and that was positive acceleration, which is a tad easier on the body.
Nobody will ever come close to reaching this car's limits on the street. The acceleration, maybe, when merging onto a highway or confronted with a loooooooong stretch of straight, empty road...but never the grip.
By the third lap, Kanaan has backed off the gas, giving the mighty radiators a chance to bleed off some of heat before heading back to the pit. But he's not entirely done having fun. With a long press of the big round button behind the shifter, the 43-year-old world-famous racing driver turns all the stability and traction control systems...and throws the mightiest Corvette ever to roll out of GM's gate into a drift like a teenager piloting an old Firebird. The car snaps sideways so fast, my helmet bangs off the B-pillar with enough force to leave my skull aching. He flicks it left and right, back and forth, the tail cracking about bullwhip-quick, his hands almost a blur as he catches the wheel and straightens the car out before it grinds onto the dirt.
I don't know how the C7-gen ZR1 will go down in history. I'm not sure if it'll be looked upon as the crowning achievement of the Corvette line, or if it'll be bumped from its place atop the mountain by some mid-engined supercar in a year's time. I have no idea if people of the future will look at as one of the last gas-powered dinosaurs roaming the Earth just before the metaphorical asteroid of public opinion renders internal-combustion vehicles extinct, or view it as just another stepping stone on the ever-escalating power wars that lead to the 900-horsepower Chevy Impala SS of 2032.
But I do know one thing about this super-'Vette: That yellow one will be in damn good hands with Tony Kanaan.