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Join Date: Feb 2011
Drag Racing the Camaro ZL1
Muscle cars of the 1960s were originally conceived with one thing in mind – accelerate as fast as possible in a straight line. Today, their modern equivalents can do a good deal more, such as stop and go around corners.
Still, the primary reason for having a large V8 engine under the hood is about standing on the gas, which is why Chevrolet says most customers who buy the 2012 Camaro ZL1 will likely have it on the drag strip before the ink on the sales contract has even dried.
Chevrolet also says that the ZL1 is a fully capable 11-second machine in the quarter mile (Chevy engineers having clocked an automatic at 11.93 seconds and a six-speed manual at 11.96), yet one you can drive home afterward, with air conditioning and your favorite tunes blaring out the stereo. To get the original, 1969 Camaro ZL1 to run 11 seconds, you had to re-jet the carburetor, install open headers, rear slicks and traction bars and even then, there was no guarantee.
So in order to illustrate just how far we’ve come in muscle car (and ZL1) circles, we found ourselves at Lucas Oil Raceway, just outside Indianapolis. Those familiar with the sport of quarter mile thrashing will recognize this track as the home of the NHRA Nationals, so if there’s one place to really test the effectiveness of the new ZL1’s progress it is here. Also on hand, was Frank Hawley; legendary racer, former NHRA champion and founder of Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing school. If you want to learn how whittle down your ETs and improve your launch technique, you can’t get better instruction than that from Frank.
At the track, both manual and automatic versions of the ZL1 were on hand for our little test, though as Frank and GM engineers pointed out, launching each successfully requires a different technique.
For the 6L90 six-speed automatic, the best option is to roll across the beams, put your left foot on the brake pedal and raise the revs to 1500 rpm. With the transmission placed in M (sport mode) but still shifting automatically (no use of the shift paddles), release the brake as soon as the stage lights on the tree come on and progressively apply the throttle, to the point your foot’s to the board within the first 60 feet of the track. You want to make sure that you don’t apply the throttle too quickly, because with 580 horsepower and 556 lb-ft of torque on tap all you’ll do is either: A, spin those monster 305 section rear tires or; B, if the track surface is grippy, kill power to the engine, or bog, since the ECU will override in an effort save strain on the driveline (the car nevertheless features asymmetrical rear axle shafts and a stout 9.9-inch differential carrier to withstand repeated hard drag launches).
As Frank mentioned during a pre test seminar “your Elapsed Time doesn’t begin until the car leaves the stage beam, that’s why the way you launch the car is crucial to achieving a good ET and trap speed.”
Read the complete Camaro ZL1 Drag Racing
school story at AutoGuide.com