A dream come true…an invitation to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to watch some seriously fast cars race around. Who wouldn’t want to go? I REALLY wanted to go, so I went. With my dad (who also REALLY wanted to go!). So we went. If only you could be so lucky…One of the many items on my automotive bucket list is to meet Randy Pobst. I met him, and I can cross another item off my list (it never ends…)…
Just over a month ago, Motor Trend‘s Senior Features Editor, Jonny Lieberman, invited me and my dad out to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. For what? To watch a 2013 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 face off against the 2013 SRT Viper GTS. To be there by about 10:00 AM, we had to wake up at 4:00 AM. It was worth it, though. When we arrived, Motor Trend‘s hired racer, Randy Pobst, was warming up the Vette. What a nice way to start off the morning, don’t you think? The ZR1 was a bit on the cold side too, so it wasn’t super loud. Yet. Randy was taking it slow – “warming up” in Randy’ eyes is a steady 130 mph, as the track was still cold. Words don’t do justice to how nice both these cars look and sound! We sat around and talked for most of the morning with the lovely sound of the ZR1 blasting around the track at ridiculously high speeds. Both cars were black cherry with black racing stripes on a black interior. Well, the Corvette had a grey and black interior that certainly wouldn’t be very comfortable for a six-hour blast back down to Los Angeles. While these cars are fast, nice cars to drive, they really aren’t meant for drives up and down the state. Jonny, and Scott (Motor Trend‘s Road Test Editor) had to drive both cars up to Laguna Seca, and down to Los Angeles. Jonny had driven the ZR1 to Laguna Seca, and he said that it got very hot in the interior. Why? Think 6.2 liters of V8, supercharged to the tune of 638 horsepower! The engine is so big that it made anything below his knees start to get hot and sweaty. Yuck. Scott was lucky enough to drive the Viper up. He said that it was very loud (at one point, he was listening to the radio, and he had to turn the volume all the way up to just barely hear it. Plus, it’s bluetooth system wouldn’t sync to his brand-new iPhone!), AND it was uncomfortable. Anything below his knees got very hot, and his left leg got really hot from being so close to the exhaust pipe! He couldn’t wait to take the Corvette back down! The photo crew was taking about a billion pictures of the Viper and the Polestar Volvo S60 (see future blog post). The technical crew was in a corner of the garage (their choice, I’m pretty sure…) analyzing data of the ZR1 as it was lapping the track. Idling in the shade of an outbuilding was an ambulance (standard procedure for all Motor Trend articles, a little bird told me). Throughout the day, various people from the track came to gawk at the cars. As Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca borders a regional park with a bike path, many bicyclists were riding up to the top of the hill to get a bird’s-eye view of the ZR1 flying around the track. Awesome! At about noon, pizza was delivered and devoured by the starving camera crew (photographers CAN move fast!). Jonny’s boss, Ron Kiino (the Executive Editor) called the pizza parlor for more pizza. Unfortunately, all the Motor Trend staff were busy, so my dad HAD TO (yeah, right) go get the pizza. Ron graciously let him take his 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLi to go fetch the pizza. My dad drove out of the 30-acre parking lot like, well, a guy in a Volkswagen Jetta GLi. To get to Laguna Seca, one has to go driving on a pretty curvy road. My dad had some fun with the GLi (brakes WERE used, Ron!) on the road, but thoughtfully declined to do so when returning with quite a few boxes of pizza. The pizza was good, but it was even better to eat it while listening to Randy drive the Viper around Laguna Seca as fast as he dared. Randy may be an amazing driver, but he was scared to get a 1:35 lap around Laguna Seca in the Viper. Why? At one point, he was going along one of the two straights at Laguna Seca, which leads to a sharp turn and dip at around 150 mph. He didn’t have time to downshift or brake, so he went flying over the dip and hurtled into the turn. He wasn’t sure what was going to happen. What happened was he nearly spun, but was able to wrangle the car into a drift. Impressive. What was more impressive is that he grabbed it by the scruff of the neck, and gave it a lesson on how to drive around a racetrack. Really well done. Randy also had to be reminded multiple time not to touch the doorsill of the Viper (he likes getting in and out of a car that way), as the tailpipe exits right by the door. It makes the interior REALLY hot, and it gets very noisy inside the cabin.
Next up on the agenda was basking in the sun and talking to various people like the managing director of Polestar, Hans Bääth, and the fleet technical manager of the Prietive Group, Ryan Minor. Hans, Ryan, my dad and I had a wonderful time talking about the Polestar S60. What did we talk about? The history of Polestar and Volvos, and just about everything related to Polestar and the S60. Awesome. Then, the Polestar had a chance to go out onto the track. While 508 horsepower is weak compared to the 640 horsepower put out by the mighty Viper, it’s still more than enough to move the Polestar 60 around Laguna Seca for a 1:41.26 lap. If you see a regular S60 driving along, you know that it won’t go nearly that fast around Laguna Seca. But, if you see a blue S60 with big exhaust pipes and big wheels with fat tires, you can rest assured that whatever you’re driving is about to be smoked. Anyways, Randy came off of the same hill that he almost spun in the Viper, landed at 120 mph, and lost all power to the rear wheels (the car is AWD). He then, er, limped in at 100. He wasn’t happy. Nobody was. It was amazing to listen to Randy tell the Polestar techs how the front left wheel was spinning 10% faster than the front right wheel. Somehow, he was able to calculate this while simultaneously knowing that the AWD system had failed, all while going 120 mph. If I could do all of those calculations, I would never get a speeding ticket or get into an accident…The Polestar techs jacked up the car, one went under and checked out the AWD system while the other was checking out the engine. They don’t know what happened, but they took it for a few laps, and it was fine. Randy jumped back in and banged out a 1:40 flat. Two times in a row. It had a nice sound. You know how turbos make the engine sound like a boat engine? This engine sounded like it was ready to blast around the Nurburgring – at full speed. As soon as Randy got out, he said it was a challenge to drive around Laguna Seca near the car’s limits. It kept understeering when he needed it to oversteer, and it leaned a lot in the corners. He said that it’s the type of car that you can comfortably drive at 8/10 of the car’s limit, but take it up to 9/10, and you’ll wish you didn’t. For those of you who don’t know what 8/10’s of the limit of a car is, it’s 8/10’s of the technical limits of the car. There really aren’t many other ways to describe it. The feeling is nice, especially when the car is comfortable like this one is. Otherwise, it can be boring, or scary. Hans, if you just read that, when can I become a test driver for Polestar?
The next beast of a car up on the agenda was the Volkswagen Golf R. With a powerful 256 horsepower, 2.0 liter turbocharged engine wedged under the small hood, it made a lot of nice sounds. It was slower than the others, but that could be a variety of reasons. Power is definitely one of them, handling is another, and speed is yet another. But, it was pretty darn fast for something it’s size. If you think about it, many of it’s competitors couldn’t go that fast at Laguna Seca without drifting and understeering all over the place (I’m talking to you, Subaru STI, Ford Focus ST).
I just have one thing to say to the whole Motor Trend crew: THANK YOU SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO MUCH! It was an amazing experience! And to all my faithful readers, feel free to tell me which car you think should win, and why. If you have any experiences with a Corvette ZR1, Polestar Volvo S60, Volkswagen Golf R, or a SRT Viper GTS Launch Edition, you can tell us in the comment section. It’s okay, I want to know your experiences! Thanks again, Motor Trend! It was an awe-inspiring experience!