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Car and Driver's Lightning Lap 2014 - A Closer Look

Yes, Lightning Lap 2014! I thought they were going to skip 2014 all together but luckily they didn't. I know it has been available for a while in the paper magazine but I am not subscribed so I wait for it to be available online to read it. The full article is here: Car and Driver - Lightning Lap 2014. This is easily one of my favourite magazine features of the year. As always, my car picks aren't necessarily very quick or slow. They simply did much better or much worse than I excepted them to. With that said, I would like to get one car out of the way. The Focus ST.

The Highs:

LL1 (Up to $35,000) - Ford Focus ST: This car made it to last year's feature, Lightning Lap 2013, and it was on my "Lows" list (Car and Driver's Lightning Lap 2013 - A Closer Look). It posted a very mediocre-for-the-class 3:21.4. I said last year that "I wouldn't be surprised if, with more seat time on the track and a true limited slip differential, the Focus ST may be well under the 3:20 mark." The car was hit by misfortune when it was forced to miss the second day of lapping which is usually the day with the fastest laps. They invited the car back and sure enough, the car posted a best lap of 3:17.6, nearly a full 4 seconds off last year's time. Moreover, that's without a proper mechanical limited slip diff (LSD). Where is the Focus RS?

LL2 ($35,000 to $64,999) - Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Z51: This car makes every other car look bad. With a lap time of 2:53.8, it hugely embarrasses much more expensive cars. I am still struggling to figure out how it managed to do that time. Is it the electronic diff taking advantage of every ounce of traction the car has and putting down the power well? Is it the Magnetorheological shocks doing their job and keeping the wheels pressed hard into the ground? I think this is a great case of a car where the sum of its parts results in performance that far exceeds the whole. The stiffer (57% more than the C6 according to GM) and balanced chassis, the e-diff, magnetic shocks, etc allow this car to punch far above its "weight".

The Jaguar F-Type R Coupe, with a supercharged V8 making 550 hp only managed a best lap of 3:01.0; over 7 seconds slower. Think it's unfair because of the 500 lb disadvantage the Jag has to carry? Consider this, the BMW M4, which is just over 150 lb heavier than the Corvette, has a quick shifting dual-clutch auto and is also rear wheel drive with an e-diff, only manages 3:00.7 which is almost exactly 7 seconds slower. Let that sink in. Yes, the M4 has a power disadvantage on paper, but in all tests, it consistently posts a higher 1/4 mile trap speed by about 2-4 mph over the Stingray so it isn't power that is the problem. The weight disadvantage, 166 lb to be exact, does not result in a 7 second disadvantage. How did Chevy pull that off?

LL2 ($35,000 to $64,999) - Cadillac Vsport: The first thing to remember is that this is the skim version Vsport with a twin turbo V6, not the full fat, supercharged V8 CTS V replacement everyone has been waiting for. Despite that, it is only 2.8 seconds slower than the outgoing CTS V despite a power disadvantage of over 130 hp. Even more impressive, it managed to basically match the much more powerful Jaguar XFR-S (3:06.8 for the Cadillac vs 3:06.7 for the Jag). The Jag makes 550 hp, 130 hp more than the Cadillac, and it also comes courtesy of forced induction (a supercharger) so both engines should have a very meaty power curve. The Jaguar does (once again) carry a large weight disadvantage of 463 lb so that could cost it a lot in the corners but this just further emphasizes the impressive package that is the CTS and how much lighter it is than the competition.

LL2 ($35,000 to $64,999) - Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG: I don't know if this and the CTS Vsport are along the lines of what should be expected due to progress but I'm impressed nonetheless. At 3:05.9, it's within spitting distance of the last generation Cayman S, 911 Carrera S and BMW M3. It's even only 0.7 seconds behind the current M5. When Mercedes/AMG first announced that the car will make 355 hp out of a 4 cyl turbo, I wasn't impressed. I wasn't underwhelmed, I simply have seen plenty of reliable tuner 4 cylinders that make that power. The impressive part is using that power.

The WRX STI, for example, has 50 hp less but also weighs a good 157 lb less (3,388 lb for the STI vs 3,545 lb for the small Merc). The CTS Vsport and Corvette Stingray managed to pull the trick of being faster than the competition while being lighter but less powerful. The STI, though, is nearly 5 seconds slower (4.6 seconds to be exact, at 3:10.5) so unlike the GM siblings which did more with less, the Subaru couldn't even match, let alone beat, the competition. I know the STI and the CLA45 AMG aren't in the same category and probably wouldn't be cross shopped but they should be competitive in performance. Keep in mind that both cars are AWD. According to the article, though, the STI is much more engaging so take that for what it's worth.

LL3 ($65,000 to $124,999) - Chevrolet Camaro Z/28: Is there some sort of a pattern here? Another GM car? I don't know if GM recently hired a bunch of chassis engineers that are really bright, enthusiastic or both or it simply had all that talent buried under layers of bad management. Either way, they seemed to have figured out how to extract a lot more out of a car than others can (with a few exceptions). With a lap time of 2:50.9, it very nearly matches the C6 Corvette ZR1 with the Michelin Cup tires (2:50.7) and the new Ferrari F12 Berlinetta, the one with 730 hp (2:50.8). Moreover, it beats cars like the current 911 Turbo S and the non-Nismo Nissan GT-R. Yes, the car wears massive tires and they are very sticky but they are street tires, the likes of which can be found on special editions of other performance cars from different manufacturers. They did lighten the car a little but at 3,861, it is hardly a featherweight or a stripped out street legal race car. There is some chassis magic at GM and I hope they keep bestowing it on future models.

LL4 ($125,000 to $244,999) - Nissan GT-R Nismo: This car surprised me not because of this performance alone but rather its performance on Laguna Seca during Motor Trend's Best Driver's Car feature (Motor Trend Best Driver's Car 2014 - A Closer Look). Out there, it was just over 1 second quicker than the run of the mill (and more than $50,000 less expensive, 55 hp weaker) GT-R. I was expecting a similar performance here, with a slightly bigger gap due to VIR being longer than Laguna Seca. That wasn't the case though. The gap here more than tripled to nearly 4 seconds long, with a lap time of 2:49.4 vs 2:53.2 for a 2012 GT-R.

LL5 ($245,000 and above) - Porsche 918 Spyder: I don't want to say too much here so that I don't take away from what this car accomplished. With a lap time of 2:43.1, it comfortably sits as the fastest car with the next fastest being the Mosler MT900S posting a lap time of 2:45.9. The Mosler could be quicker at the hands of a professional as they said in the test back in 2008 that their skills could not "fully exploit its capabilities." But I'm sure the Porsche would also shave some time off the 2:43.1 lap in the hands of a pro. The point being, it is in the same league. This car is seriously, seriously quick. Judging by the commentary, it seems every bit as quick from behind the wheel but unfortunately, I don't think I would ever experience that.

The Lows:

LL3 ($65,000 to $124,999) - Jaguar F-Type R Coupe: This is the second time I have put this car in the lows. The first being this year's Motor Trend's Best Driver's Car. I will say something; I haven't been fortunate enough to drive this car but I have heard and seen it in person. The way it looks and sounds suggests just how good it would be to drive.. and judging by how owners and reviews talk about it, I can probably guarantee that from behind the wheel, lap times would mean absolutely nothing to whoever is driving it. But since these lists that I put together depend on objective figures, it had to be included in the "Lows." At 3:01.0, the car is no slouch and sits mid-pack among the LL3 class. It is only beat by one car from the lower LL2 class, the Corvette Stingray. The Corvette beats every other car from the LL3 class, though, except for the Camaro Z/28 and even beats half the cars in next class up, the LL4 so there's no shame in that. The reasons why it's on the list are: in its class, the price tag is near the top, the hp output is near the top, it has the best power-to-weight ratio and the looks and the R badge suggest a much faster car.

LL5 ($245,000 and above) - Ferrari F12 Berlinetta: No one in the right mind would call this car slow. But a time of 2:50.8 means it's slower than cars like the Viper TA, the C6 Corvette ZR1 and only 0.1 seconds quicker than the Camaro Z/28 as mentioned above. It is even almost a full second slower than Ferrari's own 458 Italia. Aside from the ultra rare and exclusive LaFerrari, this is Ferrari's flagship. It also happens to have 730 hp. I think I'm right in saying that, aside from the hyper fast 918 Spyder, this is the most powerful car ever to participate in the Lightning Lap. To make matters worse, it is wearing the same sort of tire that the Camaro Z/28 is wearing (Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 vs the Camaro's Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R). So how is it that a humble Camaro that weighs about the same (the Camaro is 11 lb. lighter) with a similar type of tire but a whopping 225 hp disadvantage manage to basically match this Ferrari around the track? I would be surprised if, in the hands of a professional driver, the Ferrari wasn't faster but the results we have here are very disappointing for Ferrari and very impressive for Chevy. I'm sure, though, that if you're one of the lucky few who can get behind the wheel of an F12 Berlinetta, the first time you let that V12 sing you won't be able to care less about its lap times.


Aside from those two, no other cars were really much slower than I would have expected so that's it for this year's Lightning Lap. Overall, I liked this year's feature better (more cars!) and will be looking forward to next year's. With possible cars like the Focus RS, Corvette Stingray Z06, and Mustang GT and GT350 (if that's what they end up calling it), it's bound to be even better.

For a full list of lap times for this year's and previous years' cars, go the following link which will take you to Car and Driver's sortable list: Lightning Lap 2014: Complete Times 2006 to 2014. I'm sure most people would disagree with at least a couple of the cars above so let the comments begin! What cars above do you agree or disagree with you? Would you add other cars to either list? Sound off below!