Pitting the C7 against the C8 at NCM Motorsports Park
The 2021 Corvette Stingray at the NCM Motorsports Park. Try driving one - its an experience you'll never forget.
Comparing the C7 and the C8 Stingrays on the NCM Motorsports Racetrack
On August 19, 2021, I traveled (along with my brother Joe and best friend Cliff) to Bowling Green, Kentucky to compare my 2016 C7 Corvette Stingray Z51 against the new, mid-engine Stingray on the NCM Motorsports Park Racetrack. I had the unique opportunity to track my own car and then immediately get behind the wheel of a 2020 C8 Mid-Engine Corvette Stingray and run it around the track as well. The objective? To identify the similarities (and differences) between these two cars really are and to determine whether the C8 is really that much of an upgrade over the earlier C7 model.
Our day at the track started poorly. My buddy Cliff and I had decided to track our pair of C7 Corvettes (for reference, Cliff has a 2015 Stingray 2LT coupe) during a shared lead-follow session. On our drive from Nashville, Tennessee to Bowling Green, Kentucky, we ran into progressively deteriorating weather conditions, culminating in a pretty steady downpour of rain by the time we arrived at the track. Discouraged but not deterred, we approached the sign-in desk determined to get our cars out on the track – weather be damned! Fortunately, the storms that were moving thru the area were expected to let up with more promising weather following behind it.
We had scheduled two, back-to-back track sessions. The first put us in our own cars for a four-lap stint on the NCM’s 3.15-mile track. The second had us running an additional four laps in the mid-engine C8. We chose to run the cars in this order so that we could gain some experience on the track in cars we were already familiar with before jumping into the new mid-engine Corvette (which neither of us had ever driven previously) on a foreign race track.
Eventually, the rain cleared and we were given the green light to proceed.
Excited, and with adrenaline surging thru our veins, Cliff and I followed the lead car – another C7 Corvette Stingray – out onto the track, with my brother Joe taking up the rear in his 2008 Ford Mustang GT/CS. We piloted our way down pit lane and then jumped out onto the track just ahead of turn one. For the next twenty minutes, the three of us were elated by the thrill of being out on a racetrack in our cars. Mind you, track conditions were less than desirable, with pools of standing water in several spots and a couple of areas where mud had run onto/across the track. Despite the potential pitfalls, our Corvettes handled the road course capably, holding the line set by the lead car and surprising us with its “on rails” handling, even when we went careering thru standing water. Needless to say, the session flew by entirely way too fast, leaving us wanting more.
Fortunately, we had the C8 experience waiting for us as soon we got back to the pits.
After parking our cars and picking up the keys to our respective C8’s, Cliff and I returned to the tarmac to climb into our loaner mid-engine Corvettes. As I climbed into mine, the first thing that I was impressed with was the additional space afforded the vehicle occupants. I had read that the C8 had more cabin space than the outgoing C7, but it really surprised me, especially given that I stand 6′-4″ and weigh in on the higher side of the scale. The car was comfortable – spacious even (as compared to some other Corvettes.)
The second thing I noticed was the technology upgrades made to the cockpit. While the C7 Corvette’s interior is full of cool technology, the mid-engine C8 takes it next level. There’s a large touch screen and a cascading center console of buttons and switches conveniently placed at the driver’s fingertips. The finishes are a step-up from the C7, and as both cars were similarly equipped with the 2LT trim package, it was interesting to compare the changes/upgrades made by GM when developing the new mid-engine platform. The one item that looked – and felt – very similar were the seats. While their styling and finishes may have been refined, climbing into the bolstered GT (Grand Touring) seat felt very familiar to the seats in my own car.
The two most notable driving items that caught my attention were the squared-off steering wheel, which took a moment to get used to, and the lack of a shifter or clutch pedal. This second is personal to me, as both of my Corvettes (my earlier C6 and current C7 models) have manual transmissions. However, as manual transmissions are not even offered as an option on the C8, I knew I would be climbing into an automatic and relying on the computer to rake the gears based on my driving behaviors.
By the time we got back out on the track to drive the C8 Corvettes, the track conditions had improved considerably. Much of the standing water was now gone and we were able to push the cars a bit more than either of us had felt comfortable doing in the C7’s. Additionally, we’d just run four laps on the track and had a much better understanding of the turns, tight corners, and tricky spots that awaited us. As such, we were faster in the C8’s than we’d been in our own cars. As before, the time flew by quickly…and by the time I came off the track, I was ready to put a deposit on a new, mid-engine Stingray.
To start, let’s compare the cars. My 2016 Stingray is an amazing machine. It is clear that this car was built around technologies developed on the racetrack. It is fast, capable and designed to corner like a Corvette should. It’s front-to-rear weight bias is well balanced, which virtually eliminates understeering and provides a car that is equally comfortable in the straights or in the corners. It is easy to understand how the C7.R Corvette was one of the winningest cars in the IMSA series from 2014-2019. While obviously not as stout as the race car, the production C7 performs well on the track.
But then there’s the mid-engine C8 Corvette. Climb behind the wheel of Chevrolet’s latest Stingray and you quickly discover that this car was built to live on the track. As someone who is familiar with the front-engine, rear-wheel-drive configuration of Corvette’s past, it took me a lap or so to familiarize myself with the subtle nuances that separate this car from its predecessors. But once I was there, I was blown away by the car’s stout acceleration and cornering. Take this car into a tight corner and it holds its line with ease. Come out of that same corner and trounce on the gas pedal and the car launches itself, literally squatting down and gripping the road while putting you squarely back in your seat. It is a truly remarkably sports car.
One of the features that I was most blown away with was the car’s 8-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. As all of my previous Corvettes have had either a six- or seven-speed manual transmission, I was skeptical about how the automatic would compare. I have to tell you, there is no comparison. This transmission is intelligent and responds more quickly than I could ever hope to when raking my own gears for optimal performance. Hit the brakes while diving into a corner, and you’ll hear the car quickly downshift from 5th to 2nd, presumably reversing the torque back thru the engine to aid in slowing the car to help navigate the turn. Find yourself with the pedal mashed to the floor in a straightaway and the car winds out each gear thru the powerband, ensuring maximum power is transferred to the rear wheels. In a word, the automatic is AWESOME.
On the Track
Okay, I’ll preface this by saying that I am relatively new to driving on a track. Most of my experience behind the wheel of a Corvette has been on the open road, though I have made it a point to seek out challenging secondary and tertiary roads for my own enjoyment. That said, I was admittedly a bit cautious coming out onto the NCM Motorsports Park track for the first time, especially given that the track was still wet when we began our initial run in our own cars.
The NCM’s track is a 3.15-mile juggernaut of straights and turns designed to challenge drivers of all skill levels. While we came nowhere close to pushing our cars to their limits, we discovered that our C7’s were well planted on the track, even when splashing thru areas full of standing water. As before, the cornering was fun, the straights even more so. Sadly, our four touring laps barely gave us enough time to really familiarize ourselves with the track. When we go back (hopefully in the next few weeks), we’ll provide an update on the track once we’ve been able to experience it under more optimal driving conditions.
One observation that was expressed by my buddy Cliff was this – the C7 feels equally capable on the track and on the open road. We were both amazed by how adaptable our C7 Corvette Stingrays are. The cars offer their drivers lots of pedal – and with good reason. You can drive this car conventionally seven days a week and it’ll shuttle you around town as nimbly as a Toyota Camry. However, when you are ready to dig in and go, the car transforms from a daily driver into a rocket ship on wheels.
As I mentioned previously, the C8 delivers in a number of surprising and satisfying ways. First and foremost – the car is incredibly fast. Its 495 horses will easily launch you past 100mph in a hurry. The track’s half-mile front straight was a favorite section for this reason. In all the cars we had on the track for that session (including my brother’s 2008 Mustang), we found ourselves trying to outdo our fastest runs down the straight. While I hit a personal best of 115-116 mph in the C8 (you’ll see it in the video below), I plan on attempting this run again in the future. My lack of track familiarity had me braking way too early. When I run this course again, I plan on standing on the gas longer before letting off for the “bus stop” that lies at the end of the straight. As it was, I was very happy to discover that the C8 climbed to 100+ mph with ease and was ready and willing to keep accelerating well past the 115mph mark that I reached on the track.
Turning into the tight corners took a bit longer to get used to. When you drive the C8, you get the feeling that you are being pushed, which is an accurate feeling given that the powerplant and transmission are all behind you. When you break it down though, all cars are “pushed” if they’re real wheel drive, so why did this feel different? I think part of the answer is driver placement in the cockpit. While both cars (C7 and C8) are well balanced from front to rear, the driver’s position in the car is further forward in the C8, which changes the feeling of the steering slightly. The front end of this car felt lighter to me and caused me to hesitate at first until I got used to the difference in the driving characteristics. Once I got used to it, I loved everything about it.
As you’ll hear me say repeatedly in the video, I want to add one to my stable. I’m now a man on a mission. Stay tuned for future updates.
I am still blown away by my 2016 Stingray Z51 coupe. The car is everything I wanted in a Corvette and I plan on keeping this car for many years to come. That said, I now have a huge appreciation for the new mid-engine Stingray. I have never been one of the mid-engine naysayers – and I had been longing to drive this car for some time – but now that I’ve driven one, I completely understand the appeal. This is a driver’s car (even without a manual transmission) that delivers under virtually any driving condition. It is clear that the C8 was developed on the track and for the track, and I suspect that future iterations of the car (including the soon-to-be-released Z06 edition), will only build on its incredibly strong foundation.
As for the NCM Motorsports Park race track? If you plan on visiting the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, treat yourself to the Corvette Touring Laps experience, and/or if you are driving your own Corvette (or similar sports car) there, at least try touring the track in your own car. The team at the Motorsports Park are good guys – friendly, knowledgeable, professional – and they’ll provide you a driving experience you aren’t soon to forget. For anyone that’s not had an opportunity to run their car on a racetrack, this is a great way to break the ice. The track also offers memberships for more seasoned drivers to test their mettle against the 3.15-mile road course.
Special thanks to my brother Joe Kolecki and friend Cliff Wanner, both of whom shared this experience with me. Joe brought one of his camera rigs with him and provided many of the photographs in this article. Also, a special thank you to Nick Dellis for making this opportunity possible. Nick, I hope I can get you down to Bowling Green sometime in the future (bring your 911 with you) so we can get you out on the track!