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The Battle For American Performance Bragging Rights Is On

GM locked down the C8 Corvette's ECU, and now the aftermarket appears to be left out of the automaker's future.
Image Via GM.

For the past 15 years, the team over at Car and Driver has headed out to Virginia International Raceway to test all of the industry’s very best performance cars. Known as Lightning Lap, this days-long track test aims to put hard figures on the level of capability on offer from all of your favorite new drivers’ cars. Despite a bit of a pandemic-related delay, C&D are finally ready to share their findings from VIR with us. That means that we can finally see how the C8 Corvette Stingray Z51 stacks up against the competition, including against Ford’s all-mighty S550 Mustang Shelby GT500.

The first thing that you need to know about Lightning Lap isn’t about the machines, but rather the circuit itself. VIR is an insane place, as no other circuit this side of the Atlantic has as many different types of corners. It’s also quite fast, with the high-horsepower cars surpassing 160 mph on the front straight. While the C8 Corvette wasn’t quite able to reach those speeds, it’s 6.2L LT2 V8 engine is far from underpowered. With 495 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque on tap, the C8 can go from 0-60 mph in just 2.9 seconds. This sort of acceleration helps the car shoot out of corners with authority, which can be seen in the lap footage. Around the 4.1 mile Grand Course at VIR, the C8 Corvette Stingray Z51 posted a time of 2:49.0.

According to C&D, the C8 was quite a solid performer on track. While in the past they found the C8 to be lacking front end grip, this was not the case around VIR. They found that the understeer that is so often ascribed to the C8 is more a result of driver error than that of the chassis, and that the brakes are stout as can be. Their main gripe came from the steering, as they had wished for the ability to mix the lightest weight with the car’s race traction settings. The Corvette managed to lap VIR quicker than the C6 Z06 and ZR1 models, while also surpassing the C7 Stingray. If this is what the base car can do, the upcoming Z06 looks poised to dominate.

The C8 Corvette Stingray Z51 wasn’t able to take home the LL3 class victory however. That honor was bestowed upon the 760 horsepower S550 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. C&D’s main takeaways from lapping the Shelby unsurprisingly relate to the amount of power the 5.2L Predator V8 pumps out. More specifically, they were impressed with how well the muscle car is able to get that power to the ground. Most RWD cars struggle with the longer sweepers around VIR, but the GT500 was able to just power out of the corners with ease. It is mighty impressive to watch, especially considering its 4,200+ pounds curb weight. After smashing down the front straight at 161.9 MPH, the super-Shelby posted a time of 2:44.6. That is faster than the $208,571 Lamborghini Huracan Evo, which posted a 2:45.0. Monstrous performance for a Mustang, indeed.

While the C8 Corvette and the S550 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 aren’t exactly what we’d call direct competitors, they both represent the current pinnacle of performance from their respective automakers. It wasn’t that long ago that American sports cars were seen as entirely inferior to their European counterparts, but that has clearly changed. Whether you prefer Ford or Chevrolet, we’re all winners after this Lightning Lap show-out. The real question is however, which of these two American icons would you rather have in the garage?

2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 Review
Photo copyright Matheus Pach,

Written by Lucas Bell

Lucas holds a journalism degree from Wayne State University, and is a Automotive Press Association scholarship recipient. While an American muscle fan through and through, he once wrote a fascinating comparison review about eScooters.

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