When someone asks if you want to spend an afternoon driving the new Chevrolet Corvette C8 around Pukekohe Park Raceway – a historic race track that’s closing soon – it’s almost illegal to say ‘no’. This was the case for DriveLife.
When John went to the launch of the C8, he found it to be pretty darn fine, so this was my turn to get behind the wheel of this mid-engine Corvette and take it to the track.
As part of the afternoon’s activities, I’d also be getting behind the wheel of a Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD, towing a triple-axle trailer carrying a large fishing boat with a total trailer weight of 4,500Kg. This rig is part of Fishing and Adventure’s TV show, and we’d be seeing how the Silverado would cope with towing with a reasonable load on the back.
But wait, there’s more. Another segment would be driving a new Isuzu N Series truck, and also the big mamma of the Isuzu truck range, the Giga truck. While we aren’t a truck mag and don’t pretend to be one, it would be good to do some laps in a modern truck to see how they have developed over the years. While driving a pickup truck towing a boat and driving a huge truck is not something normally done on a racetrack, since some motoring journalists do not have a Class 2 license the track is the only place they’d get some time behind the wheel.
GMSV in New Zealand
First up, General Motors Specialty Vehicles (GMSV) introduced us to the brand and what it’s been up to. Actually, the 2-year anniversary of GMSV is nearly here, since they started business in November 2020.
They went on to say that in Q3 of 2022 we’ll be seeing the new Silverado when the ZR2 model will be joining the current LTZ model. GMSV will be heading to Field Days this year, so if you are attending that event be sure to check out the new Chevy trucks.
C8 Corvette in New Zealand
GMSV confirmed there are now 20 owners of New Zealand-new Corvettes, bought through the 7 GMSV dealer network. In the new year, they are aiming to add the high-performance Z06 model to the New Zealand line-up. So far response in both New Zealand and Australia has been strong, even in New Zealand with its Clean Car Programme.
C8 Corvette at Pukekohe Park Raceway
With a nicely brief introduction, it was time for me to head out onto the track in the C8. I’d never been behind the wheel before, so this was an especially keen moment for me. Like my own C4 Corvette, the C8 is very low and needs some dexterity to get in and out. There’s not a lot of room, and you almost have to slot yourself into the driver’s seat.
Once seated, there’s a total cockpit feeling with the wrap-around console sitting high and proud, loaded with buttons all the way down its edge. Very sporty. Practical? Probably not, but who cares when it’s this cool.
It was time to start the engine. The engine roared – literally – into life, that sound burbling behind your ears is excellent. I hit the ‘Z’ button on the wheel to give the car maximum exhaust noise, race track steering, race engine response but we left the suspension setting on standard. Pukekohe is not a smooth track.
Race car driver Mike Eady from Tracktime was in the passenger seat to give me some tips on track driving. I’d driven at Pukekohe before, but I’d never say no to learning more from a professional race driver. My initial impression at the first corner was the outstanding turn-in on the car. It just about falls into the corners, needing little man-handling to get it to turn. The torque of the engine was the second response – there’s a lot of torque, so coming out of the corners on these first easy laps meant a gentle prod of the gas pedal, and not much more. I didn’t want to be the one to spin the C8, or worse.
We cruised around the track faster and faster, hitting a good speed on the back straight. That V8 in the rear sounds incredible at all speeds, but especially when accelerating hard out of a corner. Covering more laps, I got my lines tidier and my speeds and times went up each lap. The brakes helped here – they are excellent. Great initial bite if you have to hit them hard, but gentle braking is easy too, and the feel from the pedal is superb. Passing the other traffic on the track – the Silverado with its trailer, and two trucks – was oh-so easy; Once we had the all clear it was stab the right pedal and hold on. This car can accelerate so very bloody quickly when passing slower traffic.
I can’t finish without mentioning the engine and exhaust noise again. On the back straight, we were hitting 7,000rpm through the gears and it proves that a V8 is still the best-sounding engine, ever. I’d be tempted to buy this car, just for the soundtrack. All too soon my time was over. While I wish I’d ended the day with the C8 Corvette, I was the first one out in it. So it was time to pull into the pits and switch to something else.
Chevrolet Silverado 2500 +Trailer at Pukekohe Park Raceway
This isn’t something I’d ever done before – drive a pickup truck towing a boat trailer with a boat, around any racetrack. I’m not sure anyone there for the day had done that, either.
With the Fishing and Adventure guys on board, we headed out from the pits, a huge ass boat in my rearview mirror. It felt weird, but after a while, I forgot about the boat. That 6.6-litre, V8 turbo-diesel of the HD LTZ Silverado is perfect for doing this. I’ve driven around 80,000Km in the USA, and this is what you see Silverado’s doing day in and day out. They are born to tow and are so well set up for it you can forget that you have a load on the back. Well, for me that ended at the hairpin when I forgot I was no longer in the C8 Corvette and had to press a lot harder on the brake pedal. Still, the Silverado 2500 has engine brakes so that helped too. That’s a heap of weight behind the pickup, but the Chev handled it without issue, with no swaying or any sort of feeling of loss of control.
While out in the Silverado, it was bliss to hear the Corvette come past in full anger, the engine singing the song of its people.
Isuzu Giga truck at Pukekohe Raceway
Another first for me, driving a truck at a race track. It’s been more than a decade since I’ve been behind the wheel of a big truck, so this was another part of the day I’d been looking forward to. What I wasn’t prepared for was the massive improvement of both driver comforts and total vehicle safety in the modern large trucks of today. The Giga truck I was driving around has adaptive cruise control, adaptive LED headlights, multiple cameras for driver assist and safety assist features like automatic headlights, lane departure warning, and electronic stability control.
But the way the big “truck” drives is the icing on the cake. The one we were driving was a 16-speed automatic-manual (Isuzu’s ‘ATM’ transmission), complete with a clutch for hill starts when in manual mode. After a lap or so, it was obvious the automatic gearbox was just fine on its own, so I left it to it. The 16-litre engine, pumping out 2,256Nm of torque is excellent and so quiet for what it is.
The whole truck is so light at the controls, and the ease of driving can’t be easily described. It’s quiet, smooth and almost refined. Not what you’d expect a truck to be like, but the Isuzu Giga certainly is all of those things.
Isuzu N Series at Pukekohe Raceway
My last drive for the day would be in Isuzu’s biggest-selling truck, the N Series. A lot smaller than the Giga, obviously, but just as easy to drive. Again, light controls, and lots of safety aspects. Honestly, I could see myself driving this truck back to Wellington from Auckland, and not feeling any more tired or jaded than if I was driving a car.