We’re fascinated by the top speed of supercars. It wasn’t that long ago that 200mph on a road car was incomprehensible. Now it’s pretty much the norm for supercars. But how many of us have actually gone 200 miles per hour? About ten years ago I met a guy who ran a school for people who wanted to go 200 miles per hour. He would give you some training and then take you out on the salt flats, and if the car didn’t hit a timed 200mph you got your money back. He had Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches and other assorted vehicles, and when it came right down to it a lot of these cars would go 196, 197, 198. Not quite 200. His secret weapon, to make sure he got paid, was to go back to the garage and pull out the Mercedes McLaren SLR. That was the one car he had that always did a real-world 200mph-plus.
For supercars, going 200mph is like being a seven-foot- tall basketball player. In America they always say a team has a particular number of seven-footers. In reality, like the cars that go 196, 197 or 198, many of those guys are six-foot-eight or six-foot-nine. Apparently there are only 2800 people in the entire world who are seven feet tall, in a population of 7.4 billion.
So when Chevrolet said the new Corvette had a top speed of 200mph-plus, I thought, why not try and prove it?
The Corvette we chose was the new #Chevrolet-Corvette-ZR1
. I have the last version of the ZR1 with 640bhp, which was a mind-numbing figure back in 2009. This new Corvette is rated at over 750. Although I enjoy driving my ZR1, the concept of top speed seems silly because there is no place on the street where you can even come close to those numbers. But hey, that’s what sells magazines.
What really surprised me was how receptive to the idea Chevrolet was. It wasn’t long ago that most American manufacturers would shy away from the idea of putting their vehicles up against Europe’s and Japan’s finest, but not any more. The new Ford GT, the Camaros, the Mustangs, the Corvettes, these are all world-class cars. And something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime was a Cadillac running at Le Mans.
We went to the GM Milford proving ground in Milford, Michigan. This was the car industry’s first dedicated facility when it opened in 1924. The banked circular track is 4.5 miles long. Over 4800 people work in the 107 buildings inside the proving ground, security is at the Pentagon level and everything works with military precision. I hooked up with Tadge Juechter, the Corvette’s chief engineer. He’s a Stanford graduate who’s been with General Motors for 37 years. He’s been to my garage a number of times, so I was thrilled to be able, finally, to look at some of his stuff.
I knew the new mid-engined Corvette was here somewhere. I saw a couple of car covers go on pretty quickly as we went from room to room, but Tadge was slyly coy on the subject. When we got to the proving ground, a totally stock 2018 Corvette ZR1 was waiting for us. It had all its emissions gear, it had production Corvette tyres and it was running on pump gas.
I got in the driver’s seat, Tadge beside me in the passenger seat. After a few warm-up laps to get heat into the tyres I asked Tadge what it was like to drive a Corvette at 200mph. He said: ‘I have no idea! I’ve never gone 200mph in a Corvette.’ So the first time you’re doing this is with a retired chat show host who’s never been on this track in his life?
It’s amazing how far aerodynamics have come in the last decade. A decade ago I drove the Porsche Carrera GT around Talladega Raceway and my highest speed was 190mph. On the corners I felt the car moving around and it was nerve-wracking. After about 50 laps I got the thumbsup from the crew, so I lifted off the throttle on the straight. Big mistake. The back end snapped round and I spun about five times. Luckily I remembered the old adage that you always run into what you’re looking at.
So when I saw the wall I turned my head and managed to contain my spin in the middle of the straight. No damage to myself or the car, but the tyres were toast. That’s what was on my mind as we passed 200 in the Corvette. The dial kept fluctuating between 204 and 205. Because the track is banked, they said it was the equivalent of about 208. The amazing part was how easy it was to do. After a few minutes 200 felt like 100. On the cool-down lap, 150 felt like 60.
When I was a kid, there were very few people in the 200mph club. Now it’s open to anyone who wants to give it a try. So what’s the next frontier?
‘I ASKED THE CHIEF ENGINEER WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO DRIVE A CORVETTE AT 200MPH. HE SAID: “I HAVE NO IDEA”’