General Motors wants you to know it’s in the performance car business, so it brought a posse of Corvettes and Camaros to the racetrack to prove it.
Not just any Corvettes and Camaros, either, but the 650 hp Z06 and 455 hp SS versions. Some of the Camaros had the 1LE handling package fitted, too, which boosts their grip on the asphalt and around the curves.
These are vehicles used by Ron Fellows at his Driving Experience school in Nevada, and he brought them this year to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park – the former Mosport – to show off their capability north of the border. This season, the school’s been driving in the evenings at the track, north of Bowmanville, Ontario, but these are corporate events for companies and their employees. They cost just over $1,000 per person with a minimum of 10 people, though custom packages for different sized groups are available.
“You become more aware of your surroundings when you drive at speed on a track,” says Fellows, who is one of Canada’s most accomplished racers. “You’re a lot more focussed and attentive, and that’s not an easy thing to do. Your ability to process information quickly and accurately takes some practice, and track driving can give that to you.”
These are very fast cars, but they’re easy to drive, too. There was a choice of manual or automatic transmissions, and the manuals were all fitted with “Active Rev Matching” that replaces the need for tricky heel-toe shifting. Heel-toe is the action of pushing the brake pedal with your right toes, while pushing the throttle with your right heel at the same time to bring up the revs for a smooth shift. Plenty of experienced drivers never quite master it – this writer included – but the new technology makes it unnecessary. Phew!
I followed behind a pace car at all times, but even flat out on the back straight at 240 km/h, the instructor was quicker and far more capable than me. One of the instructors is Ron’s son Sam, and as he drove the pace car, he watched me in his mirrors and talked me around the track through a walkie-talkie wired into the car’s sound system.
“Keep your eyes up and look at the next corner,” he would say. “Look where you want to go and that’s where you’ll go. Brake where you see me brake. And keep all four wheels on this patch of new asphalt – it’s got better grip.”
The instructors all kept their speeds to whatever pace was most comfortable for the drivers following them; some were reasonably swift while others were very quick indeed. One of the fastest drivers on the track was Travis Hester, the new President of General Motors Canada. He’s an engineer by trade who loves fast cars and has driven on some of the world’s most iconic tracks.
“The more our customers understand their cars, the better off they are,” he says. “They’re so complicated now, there’s so much technology, that it’s hard for people to understand them, and you definitely can’t do it by standing and looking at them in a showroom. The only way to truly understand the capabilities of a car is to get out and drive it as it’s designed to be driven.
“And besides – any day when you get to leave the office and come drive on a track is a good day.”