I have no idea why Editor Telford thought it would be a good idea to throw me the keys to a 477kW supercharged Camaro and entry into the 2019 Drag Challenge, nor can I remember why I agreed. I have as much experience drag racing as I do coronary angioplasty procedures and probably as much skill. And yet, here I am staring down the quarter mile at Calder Park along with 200 other extraordinary cars and their equally incredible (possibly insane) drivers.
But this is not simply an experiment to expose and humiliate a drag racing impostor – highly likely, but not the core premise – it’s the weirdest and possibly coolest car review I’ve ever conducted.
The vehicles that attend Drag Challenge each year are engineering masterpieces and batshit crazy in equal measures, piloted by experienced drivers with the reactions of a swallow. Can a completely unmodified production car with an idiot at the wheel hold its own in this 2000km, five-day battle to the finish line?
In accordance with Drag Challenge rules, the only thing non-standard about this Camaro ZL1 is a set of Mickey Thompson radials on the back. Other than that, this is exactly what $162,190 gets you straight from HSV’s facility.
After not royally cocking up the burnout, I crept into staging and nervously awaited the green light. Astonishingly, the Camaro hooked up without any wheel spin and lunged off the mark. Its ten-speeder swapping cogs instantly and the supercharger wailing loudly into the cabin. Or maybe that was me.
An initial run of 11.36 was improved on for a best time of the day of 11.20. A respectabletime, I was told, but in my head I was thinking it was a bloody miracle.
Over the following days the Camaro continued to produce fast and constant times at each of the venues with impossible stoicism. And when it wasn’t turning American rubber into vapour, it was patiently ferrying its driver to the next strip in comfort that the other competitors could only dream of. Heated and cooled seats, head-up display, a touchscreen and leather might cost me a tenth on the track but I was glad to have them as Victoria threw every kind of weather you can imagine at us.
Frustratingly, a return to Calder for the final day failed to repeat the satisfying result from day-one despite cooler conditions. Perhaps it was the lower barometric pressure, maybe I was doing something differently or perhaps the tyres had had it. Whatever the explanation, I had started to feel the maddening pursuit of speed and the obsession that has already claimed every participant here.
By Friday night, I was done. Tired and filthy, but overwhelmingly humbled. The only thing more staggering about the Camaro’s ability to lay dawn scorching passes on race day but cruise to the next challenge, is the fact it didn’t end up stuffed into wall backwards with its driver running in the opposite direction. I’ll remember it fondly for that reason and many more.
2019 HSV CAMARO ZL1
Class: Turbosmart Outlaw Blown
Engine: LT4 6.2-litre V8
Supercharger: Eaton R1740 TVS
Transmission: GM 10L90 10-speed automatic
Power: 477kW/640hp (claimed)
Previous PB: N/A
Best DC 2019 Pass: 11.20 @127mph