Working for a car mag has its perks; one of them is getting to drive the “latest and greatest” out of Motor City. This time it was a call from the guys at Chevrolet Performance with an invitation to flog the new Camaro ZL1. We tried to wheel one around the fast piece of asphalt known as Virginia International Raceway (VIR), but that was a bust due to torrential rain. All the trip did was whet our appetite to get some actual ZL1 seat time.

Back in March, when our track day was cut early by Mother Nature, the ZL1 wasn’t yet cleared to be sold, which meant we couldn’t drive it on the streets, so this chance to experience the car in a real-world environment wasn’t about to get passed up. As an irresistible bonus, the guys at Chevrolet Performance booked us some track time at Lucas Oil Raceway (home of the NHRA U.S. Nationals), for a little drag racing action.

Now, given the handling prowess of the ZL1 some may not consider it a drag car, but Chevrolet Performance went out of their way to make sure the new super Camaro is up to whatever sort of performance driving the owner may get a hankering for. Monte Doran, Chevrolet Performance communications, says, “The ZL1 team had both drag racers and road racers on the development team and they all fought to make the car good at their respective sports. As a result, it’s good at both, and equally adept at tracks like Lucas Oil and Virginia International Raceway. To make sure the ZL1 was drag capable, we subjected the car to 1,000 ‘Woodward tests’, which is a hard launch and full acceleration up to 100 mph. We did this a thousand times, and we never had an issue.” The official quarter-mile time from Chevrolet Performance was 12.0, but recently they nailed down a new official time of 11.96 at 117 mph (manual). The ZL1 hasn’t been out long, but already some aftermarket tuners have taken them into the low 11-second range with a tune and sticky tires. Not too shabby for a ride developed to rule a much more curvaceous type of course.

For the drive, Chevrolet Performance had the challenge of giving us the right sort of road to really appreciate the ZL1, not an easy task in “straight and flat” Indiana. What we got was a nice mix of city, highway, and twisty road driving. We were tossed the keys to an Inferno Orange M6 ZL1 and given a preplanned route map. The only admonishment was that we had to pay for our own tickets if we got them, which seemed fair enough.

We learned that the Camaro is very civilized for a blown, 580hp car designed to hang with exotic fare around world-class road courses. Well, at least until the throttle was mashed. The adaptive mufflers gave just the right amount of engine growl at just the right moment with zero drone when cruising down the highway, and the twin-disc clutch was effortless to shift. The frustrating understeer we had experienced in a stock ’10 SS seemed to be only a frustrating memory as the ZL1 felt very balanced and far more neutral. The newfound agility, along with the extra power from the LSA engine, helped make the ZL1 seem much lighter than a 4,000-pound car should be expected to feel. As Al Oppenheiser, Camaro chief engineer, told us, “We set out to make the Camaro ZL1 a performance car that is great at everything, including road racing, drag racing, and daily commuting. I cannot think of many cars that are capable of running 11-second quarter-mile runs, can set a 7-minute lap at the Nürburgring, and still be comfortable enough to drive to work every day.”

On the dragstrip we were presented with a mix of manual- and automatic-equipped cars. Now, launching a manual-equipped car can be a bit of a challenge, but thanks to the Launch Control, it was a snap. The only Launch Control for the automatic was the gray matter between our ears, but once launched, the shifts were quick, firm, and well timed. Of course, with 30 guys jockeying to drive only four ZL1s, the big problem was hot-lap induced heat soak. This was made even worse by the 94-degree temps and high humidity. Still, it was a great way to get a feel for how the ZL1 performed. Besides, complaining about the weather when given the chance to beat on The General’s newest super Camaro would be like complaining about a slightly overcooked steak on your dinner date with your favorite supermodel.

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