The Answer to Many Corvette Owners' Prayers
by: Andy Roderick - Team NCM
DAY 1 -- My anticipation of driving the new Z06 was such that I was the first to arrive at the Goodyear test facility near Akron, Ohio. Chevrolet had provided a 2001 Corvette for me to drive from the Cleveland airport to Akron earlier that day. I had the whole facility and staff to myself due to my early arrival. The track seemed small at first, but would prove to be plenty big for testing the improved traction control and active handling systems on the 2001 Corvette. Traction control has been a standard feature on Corvettes since the fourth generation and active handling has been offered as an option since mid 1998. Active handling is now standard on all Corvettes for the first time.
Chevrolet provided two suspension engineers to explain the differences between the 2000 and the 2001 parameters in these systems. Chevrolet also supplied one of each, a 2000 Corvette and a 2001 Corvette. After a short briefing, one engineer rode shotgun with me to explain how to perform the tests on the track. The engineers took turns riding shotgun. The track has banking at each end and a garage area on the backstretch. The front part of the track is about the size of a football field, and was built so water can flood most of the area for wet testing of tires.
On this day they had about 2/3 of the front part of the track flooded. The track was set up for several tests. The first was a slalom, the second was an object avoidance test, and the third was a double lane change track. There were two other tests as well, a decreasing radius curve and an intersection for rapid corner acceleration testing.
After running each test in the 2000 Corvette, we then ran the same tests in a 2001 Corvette with the new and improved active handling and traction control systems. Trying to find the perfect point to turn in on the slaloms first cone took a couple of runs, and you could feel the improvement in the suspension as you threw the 2001 Corvette from side to side. I was wondering when the rear end would break loose, it never did, until we turned off the active handling. If you have ever tried a slalom run, you know the feeling I am talking about. Your mind has a very hard time accepting that you can go through the course at these speeds on a dry track, let alone one that was flooded.
There was no set order for performing these tests and because no one else had arrived, we could perform them as many times as we liked. I tried each test at least twice in each Corvette. The engineer who was not riding shotgun acted as the cone re-setter and safety controller. After each test run, you had to go around the track and enter the next test from the south end. This was for safety and to allow time for re setting any cones that got knocked over. The drive around the track was fun because you could drive on the steep banking at the north end of the track.
The toughest maneuver to perfect is the double lane change; I had a tendency to rearrange the last few cones. My favorite was the obstacle avoidance test. The speed of the left/right maneuver exaggerates the intensity of the active handling kicking in; you feel the car doing it's work, and the difference between the 2000 and the 2001 systems really showed up during this test. To say I was impressed would be an understatement. The anticipation of putting this car into a spin gets your heart pounding, then you make it through all three tests without even one spin and you feel pretty sure of yourself. You get over that as soon as you try these tests with the active handling turned off. I kept the guy who was resetting the cones very busy at that point.
By driving the 2000 Corvette first and then the 2001 you could feel the dramatic difference and improvement in the recalibrated active handling system. We also performed a test of acceleration from a stop while turning right or left. The traction control parameters that have been revamped for 2001 give the driver a new sense of precision during this test. You don't get the heavy stall feeling that was prevalent on the system in years past. I even got in a few four-wheel drifts on water on the decreasing radius turn.