Track Day Bros: A Hard Look at the Three Fastest Cars for Less than $1 Million
Jay Lamm, founder and chief perp of the 24 Hours of LeMons, has described racing thusly: “Going around and around in a circle is one of the stupidest things you can do.” With that in mind, we present to you $434,365 USD worth of dumb. These three cars, the Chevrolet Corvette Z06, Dodge Viper ACR, and Porsche GT3 RS, not only represent the current tip of the their respective companies’ performance spears but are also the three fastest sorta/kinda normally priced supercars we’ve ever tested. Around Laguna Seca at any rate. These three cars are special. Incredibly, undeniably, unyieldingly special. But as is always the case in any comparison test, one is better than the others. Get your “for the third time in as many months, I’m canceling my subscription” Haterade flowing because this comparo is under way.
If going around a racetrack very fast is an art, meet Renoir, Matisse, and Picasso.
The little German with less power and less torque was the drag-strip king.
Sangfroid, translated literally from French, means cold-blooded, but for us in America, it means cool, calm, and collected. While you can call Dodge‘s sharpest snake a great many things, the Viper hasn’t earned a reputation as a car that possesses sangfroid. Nor is it subtle. No, the Viper ACR is the equivalent of a bright pink fire truck, sirens blaring, setting Times Square on fire. You simply cannot miss it or ignore it. Look at the splitter, those canards, the deep-dish diffuser, that uproarious wing! Race car for the street. You can tell just by looking. The bright yellow Z06 is almost stealth by comparison. Sure, the black wheels and trim pieces help make the car pop much more than yellow Corvettes past. But the ACR is so extremely extroverted that the Z06 may as well be a Chevy Spark. The purple Porsche, on the other hand, seems much more in step with what the SRT boys are up to. All you have to do is compare wings. If subtlety’s an art, these three are accountants. But if you think going very fast around a racetrack is, meet Renoir, Matisse, and Picasso.
Let’s take a look at how these three brutes—good for a combined 1,795 horsepower—stack up subjectively. The Corvette is the least race-car car here, not just in terms of looks but also in terms of everyday livability. It’s the one you’ll want for a long road trip. “Stepping between the ACR and Z06 is a lesson in the importance of ergonomics,” Jason Cammisa says. “The Chevy feels as though it was actually engineered around the human body, and as such it’s an absolute pleasure to drive. The ‘Vette works with you to be smooth, comfortable, and fast, whereas the Viper’s interior does everything to make you not trust the car, yourself, or anyone around you.”
That’s right, folks. The Viper is without question still a Viper. The steering wheel’s in the wrong place, the throttle is where the brake pedal should be, the brakes are where the clutch normally sits, the AC doesn’t exactly work, the big 8.4-liter V-10 sounds like it belongs in a tractor—everything you’ve come to know and love/hate. As for the Porsche, it’s everything you love about the 991 911, including the air-conditioning, the leather, and the Alcantara. The carbon-fiber race buckets, however, are extremely stiff and low. Ingress and egress is not for the tall or the inflexible. Cammisa also says that whereas the Viper could use an extra 100 horsepower and the ‘Vette perhaps 100 less, the GT3 RS is “smack in the Goldilocks just-right zone,” both in terms of power and in terms of feeling like a race car. The Viper, as Cammisa says, “is a far better torture chamber than car.” The ACR is much more like a race car than a street machine. On the other end of the spectrum, you’d never know the Z06 is a track assassin when just puttering around town. The GT3 RS has the proper mix of usable daily driver and asphalt assault weapon.
However, it’s just not as good to drive as the regular flavor GT3 is. “The GT3’s magical handling has somehow been deleted with the addition of the RS badge,” Cammisa says. “Whereas the GT3 was perfectly neutral, the RS flings itself into corners ass first and then understeers through the rest of the turn.” The GT3 RS felt like an old-school 911, specifically the Widowmaker, i.e., the 996 GT2. Near the limit, the GT3 RS was an oversteering handful. A talented (amateur) driver friend of mine explained that on the same track he was faster in the GT3 than in the GT3 RS. I think that’s going to be the case unless you’re a professional. Even then, the RS is tricky. “It says a lot about the GT3 RS that it’s the first and only car Randy’s ever spun while hot lapping MRLS,” Scott Evans says. “Not once but three times.”
More on the 911 GT3 RS: Whale Tales: Comparing Laguna Laps in the 911 Turbo S and GT3 RS
As for the Viper, it didn’t spin. In fact, its athleticism amazed all of us. “It is, in a word, astonishing,” Cammisa says. “The ACR drives like a Spec Miata powered by lightning.” Evans goes further, noting the Viper’s cold-blooded edge over its predecessors. “I’ve never before, nor would I ever have, driven a Viper like I drove this ACR,” he says. “I could hot lap this car all day without scaring myself, and I’d never tire of it.” In my mind, I’m still trying to figure out how much of the ACR’s vast improvement over all other Vipers is due to trick Kumho tires, how much is from the new dampers, and how much from all the aero—supposedly 1,500 pounds (680 kg) is generated by the big wing at 150 mph (241 km/h). I don’t think I’m a good enough driver to notice the aero, but I sure as Shinola noticed the tires. Unreal. The ACR would not, seemingly could not, put a wheel wrong. To me, the ACR is about as well-behaved a road car as I’ve ever driven.
None of us could say the same about the Z06. “Street driving was severely colored by my track impressions,” Evans says. “Even with all the safeties on, I was trepidatious when going hard on the throttle. I couldn’t help but worry that the rear end would come around on me. I never thought I’d say this, but the Corvette people need to buy this Viper and figure out how they got the rear end nailed down.” Cammisa, characteristically, was a tad harsher. “The Z06’s livability evaporates on track, where it reveals itself to be a bit of a handling disgrace,” he says. “The Z06 turns in just fine and then transitions to explosive mid-corner oversteer. This mother isn’t happy until you’re at full opposite lock, puckered to the point of Preparation H Code Red.” Not only do I agree with Cammisa, but I also experienced that last part. At the exact time that I was lapping the Z06, it began drizzling. The water on the track exacerbated the Corvette’s bad behavior. I’ll never forget going down the corkscrew passenger door first! That means backward. My neck swiveled more than 100 degrees over my right shoulder as my hands started spinning the wheel like I was opening a submarine hatch. Then, without warning, the 650-hp beast snapped 180 degrees, miraculously pointing in the proper direction. I kept her on the track, but my knuckles are still white.
In terms of instrumented testing, well, the results are not what you’re expecting. See, American cars are supposed to be quick in a straight line, and Europeans are supposed to be the ones that can go around corners. Or at least that’s what that British television show trained everyone to think. In reality, the little German with quite a bit less power (500 hp for the GT3 RS, 645 and 650 hp, respectively, for the Viper and Z06) and wads less torque (338 lb-ft versus 600 for the Dodge, 650 for the Chevy) was the king of the drag strip. The Porsche hit 60 mph in 3.0 blazing seconds before igniting the quarter mile in 11.1 seconds at 125.0 mph (201 km/h).
|Top 10 Around Laguna Seca||Powertrain||Power/Torque (hp/lb-ft)||Price as tested||MRLS lap time|
|2015 Porsche 918 Spyder||4.6L V-8/electric hybrid, AWD||887/944||$956,675||1:29.89|
|2016 Dodge Viper ACR (track setup)||8.4L V-10, RWD||645/600||$131,990||1:30.46|
|2014 McLaren P1||3.8L twin-turbo V-8/electric hybrid, RWD||904/664||$1,150,000||1:30.71|
|2015 Porsche 918 Spyder||4.6L V-8/electric hybrid, AWD||887/944||$956,675||1:30.97|
|2016 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 (Z07 pkg)||6.2L supercharged V-8, RWD||650/650||$98,360||1:33.05|
|2016 Porsche 911 GT3 RS||4.0L flat-6, RWD||493/338||$195,035||1:33.29|
|2014 SRT Viper TA||8.4L V-10, RWD||640/600||$116,000||1:33.62|
|2013 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1||6.2L supercharged V-8, RWD||638/604||$125,920||1:33.70|
|2013 SRT Viper GTS||8.4L V-10, RWD||640/600||$141,990||1:34.23|
|2012 Chevrolet Corvette Z06||7.0L V-8, RWD||505/470||$105,000||1:34.43|
The Z06 hits 60 mph in 3.3 seconds before laying wood to the quarter in 11.4 seconds at 124.4 mph (200 km/h). The ACR—because of all its funky aero—is slower than other fifth-gen Vipers we’ve tested, hitting 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and running the quarter in 11.5 seconds at 127.3 mph (205 km/h). (The Viper TA hits 60 mph in 3.3 seconds and runs the quarter in 11.3 seconds at 129.3 mph (208 km/h).) Now check this out: The lightweight Porsche and its giant carbon-ceramic brakes can halt from 60 mph in 96 feet. That seems very good (and it is), but then you learn that the Z06 stops from the same speed in a remarkable 91 feet. Within a foot of the best we’ve ever tested, the automatic C7 Z06. Did I say best ever tested? Kidding! The ACR just shattered our braking record, stopping from 60 mph in a neck-snapping 87 feet. Why? The big carbon Brembos help, but so do the ultra-sticky Kumhos, as well as all that fancy aero.
The figure-eight results are as follows: 22.9 seconds for the Porsche, 22.6 for the Viper, and 22.3 for the Corvette. For all these tests the Viper was in Street mode. (Dodge also gave us another ACR set up in Track mode—different compression and rebound settings for the dampers, a larger front splitter, a larger rear diffuser, and a different angle on the wing. That one, a blue Viper not pictured, ran a 22.3-second figure eight.)
The Z06 recorded maximum lateral grip of 1.17 g, the ACR pulled 1.14, and the GT3 RS managed 1.09.
Takeaways? The Porsche is ferociously quick, and the just-about-as-fleet Yanks are surprisingly evenly matched. Do any of these measurements have any bearing whatsoever on the racetrack? As it turns out, not really.
You should commit a few numbers to mind before we go any further. The first is 1:29.89. That’s the amount of time it took Randy Pobst to lap a Porsche 918 Spyder at Laguna Seca during Motor Trend testing. The next number is 1:28.65. That’s the track record Pobst set with the Viper ACR when Dodge hired him to validate its car on MRLS. The next number is 1:33.62. That’s how fast Pobst lapped the Viper TA at MRLS during Motor Trend testing.
Obviously, we’d like to see the Z06 and the GT3 RS both beat the TA’s time and Randy shatter his own record with the ACR.
Before you get your hopes up, know that conditions were not ideal. It was colder than we would have liked, the track was “green,” and the rain that showed up midday didn’t help. Still, these three cars are among the 10 quickest vehicles we’ve ever lapped around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Truth be told, they’re in the top six. Remember the number to beat? The Viper TA’s time of 1:33.62? The Porsche GT3 RS smashed it, running the track’s 2.21 miles (3.56 km) in 1:33.29. That’s an amazing accomplishment for a car with “only” 500 hp. The vehicle with the next-lowest horsepower in the top 10 is the C6 Z06 with 505 hp (but much more torque), which ran a 1:34.43. Bravo to Porsche; that’s a hell of an accomplishment. Pobst wasn’t 100 percent happy with how the GT3 RS was set up, however. He complained of too much understeer during maintenance throttle in the longer sweepers. He did praise the “super precise” steering and the shock damping, though. “Such control without harshness,” he said. The Porsche was only third fastest.
The Z06, the same Corvette Racing Yellow guy that couldn’t make boost at the 2015 Best Driver’s Car competition, managed to pop off a 1:33.05. That’s fast. Damn fast. And nearly six-tenths of a second faster than the Viper TA. Hat tip to Chevy. The sad part is that it could have gone faster. Here’s Pobst as he exited the Z06: “Whew! Well, that’s a wild ride, let me tell you.” And here’s some back and forth between us. Pobst: “The front is so hooked up that it turns well. It comes right down to the apex, and the rear can’t keep up. There’s entry oversteer, and I ran it in PTM 5.” Lieberman: “You ran it in PTM 5?” Pobst: “PTM 5 because I want a safety net. Because it’s not easy to catch the back of the car.” Chevy needs to offer up a ZR1 or track-star special version of this car. Massive wing, more aggressive tires, more aero. Basically, Corvette needs an ACR.
Speaking of the ACR, Pobst danced the silver car, its electronics set to Track mode, around the track in 1:30.46, beating the Z06, the GT3 RS, and even the $1.15 million USD McLaren P1, which ran a 1:30.71. True, he was nowhere near his 918 Spyder time, but as Pobst said, “God bless America, all 8.4 liters of it!” Pobst was positively beaming as he stepped out of the Viper. “It’s such a great feeling to be able to take such a powerful car on track and it’s hooked up!” he said. “And it’s it’s it handles better than the Porsche and the Corvette.” The gathered peanut gallery exclaimed, “Wow!” To which Randy answered, “In every way! And it’s usable. You don’t have to be a pro to go fast in this car.” I think you see where this is going.
Winner: the Dodge Viper ACR. The Porsche GT3 RS gets second place on the strength of doing more with less horsepower. The Chevrolet Corvette Z06 is impressively quick and is without doubt the friendliest and most livable car of these three on a daily basis. However, should you approach its limits, you will soon discover yours. Third place.
The Porsche and the Chevy have something in common. There are other versions of both the 911 and Corvette that we prefer—GT3 and Stingray, specifically. The ACR, on the other hand, is without question, doubt, or hesitation the best Viper ever made.
Third Place:Chevrolet Corvette Z06
Now that it makes the power, the Z06 has to work on putting the power down. Until that time, it’s simply not controllable enough.
SecondPlace:Porsche 911 GT3 RS
A supremely capable track weapon. However, it’s not as good as the regular GT3, and its features will not pay dividends in the hands of
First Place:Dodge Viper ACR
Ergonomically flawed but flawless on the racetrack. A true legend that’s capable of humbling million-dollar hypercars. Get ’em while they’re still in production—the Viper goes away in 2017.
Why Didn’t I Go Faster?
I was struck by the wide gap in lap times between the Viper ACR lap record I set at Mazda Raceway with Dodge and the time I set for Motor Trend.The cars felt similar.It’s not a power issue.Top speeds on the straights and acceleration curves were similar.Grip was down.I braked earlier and had a lower minimum speed in nearly every corner. I attribute the difference to the track condition.Our MT test followed a motorcycle weekend, and those skinny bike tires don’t leave a nice layer of rubber the way race cars will.The track felt really green, as we say in racing.Perhaps it helps explain why the ‘Vette Z06 felt so unruly.The Viper had that great stable balance, same as at the lap record run, and data showed good power, just less grip.I blame the track. Randy Pobst
Although the Viper ACR was the clear-cut victor, dominating in acceleration, top speed, and usually cornering grip, the Corvette still showed flashes of GPS-measured brilliance, and often the Porsche sparkled with subjective ones. The Viper nabbed every intermediate peak speed, but the Z06 had the best cornering grip in Turns 2, 5, 8, and 10 and even stopped better in 4, 6, 9, and 10. (The GT3 RS’ lone instance in the sun was stopping into Turn 5.) Through those corners, Pobst noted that the Corvette’s “fundamental tendency is trailing throttle oversteer on corner entry, and in the lower gears, power oversteer, as well.” Meanwhile, the GT3 RS “exhibits trailing-throttle oversteer all the way to the apex, rotating in very, very quickly. Then when you go to throttle, it understeers. It’s like two different cars.” About the Viper, Pobst said: “It hooked up all the way around, with a tendency to understeer through the middle of the corner. It’s actually difficult to spin the back tires under power.” Nuances? “The Porsche has an extremely light feel entering a corner with extremely well-damped shocks, the best overall brake pedal feel, and a fantastic shifter (it’s a little harsh on the 2-3 upshift); the Corvette and Viper’s manuals seem old-school by comparison.” Finally, he added, “The Z06’s steering is super quick with brakes that are soft-feeling but powerful. The Viper is more of an ‘on-rails’ type of car, easy to drive fast.” Kim Reynolds
|2016 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 (Z07)||2016 Dodge Viper ACR||2016 Porsche 911 GT3 RS|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD||Front-engine, RWD||Rear-engine, RWD|
|ENGINE||Supercharged 90-deg V-8, alum block/heads||90-deg V-10, alum block/heads||Flat-6, alum block/heads|
|VALVETRAIN||OHV, 2 valves/cyl||OHV, 2 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||376.1 cu in/6162cc||511.5 cu in/8,382 cc||243.8 cu in/3,996 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||650 hp @ 6,400 rpm*||645 hp @ 6,200 rpm||500 hp @ 8,250 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||650 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm*||600 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm||338 lb-ft @ 6,250 rpm|
|REDLINE||6,500 rpm||6,400 rpm||8,800 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||5.4 lb/hp||5.2 lb/hp||6.6 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed manual||6-speed manual||7-speed twin-clutch auto.|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Control arms, transverse leaf spring, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, transverse leaf spring, adj shocks, anti-roll bar||Control arms, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; Control arms, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar|
|STEERING RATIO||12.0-16.4:1||16.7:1||17.7-13.1:1; rear-steer +/-1.5 deg|
|BRAKES, F; R||15.5-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc; 15.3-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc, ABS||15.4-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc; 14.2-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc, ABS||16.1-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc; 15.4-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc, ABS|
|WHEELS, F; R||10.0 x 19-in; 12.0 x 20-in, forged aluminum||11.0 x 19 in; 13.0 x 19 in, forged aluminum||9.0 x 20 in; 12.5 x 21 in, forged aluminum|
|TIRES, F; R||285/30R19 94Y; 335/25R20 99Y Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2||295/25ZR19 90Y; 355/30ZR19 99Y Kumho Ecsta V720 ACR||265/35ZR20 99Y; 325/30ZR21 108Y Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 N1|
|WHEELBASE||106.7 in||98.8 in||96.7 in|
|TRACK, F/R||63.5/62.5 in||62.9/61.0 in||62.5/61.3 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||177.9 x 77.4 x 48.6 in||175.7 x 76.4 x 49.1 in||178.9 x 74.0 x 50.8 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||37.7 ft||40.5 ft||36.4 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,499 lb||3,368 lb||3,243 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||51/49 %||50/50 %||39/61 %|
|HEADROOM||38.0 in||36.6 in||37.8 in|
|LEGROOM||43.0 in||42.7 in||66.7 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM||55.0 in||53.1 in||53.4 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||15.0 cu ft||14.7 cu ft||4.4 (fr) 9.2 (rr) cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||1.6 sec||1.6 sec||1.2 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||1.4||1.4||1.4|
|QUARTER MILE||11.4 sec @ 124.4 mph||11.5 sec @ 127.3 mph||11.1 sec @ 125.0 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||91 ft||87 ft||96 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||1.17 g (avg)||1.14 g (avg)||1.09 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||22.3 sec @ 1.06 g (avg)||22.6 sec @ 0.97 g (avg)||22.9 sec @ 0.92 g (avg)|
|2.21-MI ROAD COURSE LAP||1:33.05 sec||1:30.46 sec||1:33.29 sec|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,200 rpm||1,400 rpm||2,600 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$98,360||$132,890||$203,115|
|AIRBAGS||Dual front, front side/head||Dual front, front side/head||Dual front, front side, front curtain|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/36,000 miles||3 yrs/36,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||5 yrs/60,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||5 yrs/100,000 miles||5 yrs/100,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||18.5 gal||16.0 gal||23.9 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||15/22/18 mpg||12/21/15 mpg||14/20/16 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||225/153 kW-hrs/100 miles||281/160 kW-hrs/100 miles||241/169 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.11 lb/mile||1.30 lb/mile||1.20 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium|