Chevrolet isn’t bluffing when it says the 2012 Camaro ZL1 comes from the factory ready to rumble at the drag strip. At $55,000 and packing 580 horsepower, the 2012 ZL1 is the priciest, most powerful Camaro ever offered by Chevrolet. That $30,000-plus price difference from base models will no doubt exclude many buyers, but the sticker shock might be softened if you think of this car as two in one: A four-seat coupe that’s surprisingly comfortable as a daily driver, and – for when the weekend comes – a four-wheeled beast that can run the quarter mile in less than 12 seconds.

To prove the ZL1’s dual personality, Chevrolet invited us to drive its top-of-the-line Camaro in earnest on both road and track. On winding, rural Indiana roads, the car’s new electromagnetic suspension system easily tamed rough pavement, and its 6-speed manual transmission is actually lighter and easier to use than those in the Camaro SS and Cadillac CTS-V.

We then took these same, stock models to Lucas Oil Raceway to get a sense of their wild side. Under the guidance of veteran drag racer Frank Hawley, we learned the finer points of how to launch the ZL1 in both manual and automatic forms to nail the best quarter-mile time possible. Here’s what we learned.

Launching a 6-Speed Manual Camaro ZL1 for the Quarter Mile

Want proof of technology translating to speed? Look no further. The ZL1 features a Performance Traction Management (PTM) system that takes most of the guesswork out of launching the car from a dead stop. The PTM works its magic by managing traction control, launch control, magnetic ride control and stability control, optimizing them from the most restrictive in Mode 1 (for wet and slippery settings where control is most needed) to the least restrictive in Mode 5 (full-on race mode with the least interference).

• Put the ZL1 in PTM Mode 5. This will optimize the car for racing the quickest launch.
• With the clutch in, press the accelerator pedal to the floor. Instead of redlining, the car’s computer will rev the engine to the optimal speed for launch, depending on temperature and other variables. On this hot Indiana day, the car’s 6.2-liter supercharged V8 was limited to about 4,200-4,400 rpm.
• Let out the clutch quickly after it catches, but don’t dump it completely. And, our instructors noted, a little slip of the tires is a good thing.
• Expect to be in fourth gear as you finish the quarter mile, hitting just under the car’s 6,200 rpm redline for each shift.

No doubt, properly launching a manual ZL1 requires faith in the car. If you take your foot off the accelerator during the initial seconds, you risk throwing off the computer system and just smoking the tires. Commit to flooring it, release the clutch properly, and you’ll be rewarded with a screaming-fast, remarkably planted ride. Chevy’s engineers were previously able to do the quarter mile in a 6-speed manual ZL1 in 11.96 seconds, hitting 117 mph.

Launching a 6-Speed Automatic Camaro ZL1 for the Quarter Mile

Without the third pedal, there’s obviously less to think about here, but optimizing an automatic ZL1 for the quarter mile still takes more than simply mashing the gas.

• Select the most-aggressive PTM Mode 5 setting.
• Shift the transmission into M mode for manual. This will make the car start in first gear instead of the usual second in normal D mode.
• Depress the brake pedal with your left foot and, using your right foot, press the accelerator pedal until the engine revs to about 1,500 rpm.
• Release the brake pedal and roll on the throttle. After just 2-3 feet, you’ll want to be wide open on the accelerator pedal all the way through the quarter mile.

While purists might object to an automatic transmission, the proof of how quick an auto can shift is in the numbers. Chevy’s engineers had their best quarter-mile time in an automatic ZL1, running the distance in 11.94 seconds at 116 mph. And regardless of transmission choice, you’ll still have to master the human factor of split-second response if you’re being guided by the traditional ready-set-go “Christmas” lights, as we did at Lucas Oil Raceway. The beauty about the 2012 Camaro ZL1, though, is that it can make amateurs to the track look good, and veterans look exceptional.


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