Johnson & NFL's DeAngelo Williams in SPEED Test Drive: Corvette A star-studded roster featuring NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson, NFL’s DeAngelo Williams and American Le Mans Series star Johnny O’Connell are all going behind the wheel of Chevrolet’s newest lineup of sixth-generation (C6) Corvettes when SPEED original series Test Drive premieres on Dec. 8 @ 10:30 pm., ET.
Hosted by Setup lead Tommy Kendall, the SPEED Test Drive team visits Bank of America Stadium (BoA Stadium) in Charlotte, N.C., and Carolina Motorsports Park (CMP) in Kershaw, S.C., putting the Grand Sport convertible, the Z06 and the 638-horsepower brand flagship, ZR1, through there paces.
“We’ve been trying to put this Test Drive together for literally two years now,” Kendall said. “Finally we were able to have it all work out.”
Williams and Kendall traversed the downtown streets of Charlotte, centered at one of the main entrances in-and-around BoA Stadium, home to the Panthers. There, Williams received his first opportunity to drive a new Grand Sport convertible, as his automotive affinity is more ‘old school,’ while Kendall gave his first road impressions of the new Z06.
And on CMP’s challenging road course; Johnson, O’Connell and Kendall mixed it up between a new ZR1 and two Z06s. It’s the first time the trio had been on the track at the same time.
“I’ve never really been out in a car against Tommy, or really Johnny, for that matter,” Johnson noted. “They are two guys I have looked up to throughout the years. I have a ton of respect for them and had a great time.”
In the Test Drive episode featuring the then brand new (C6) Corvette Z06 back in 2006, Kendall was joined by Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jeff Gordon. O’Connell also appeared in that show, which was shot in and around Flowery Branch, Ga., and high-speed Road Atlanta.
“It’s really cool,” O’Connell noted. “Tommy and I actually go all the way back to 1995. We’ve both followed each other’s career, and kept up with each other. What’s really cool about this is that it’s really an evolution of the show we did with Jeff Gordon. This is an intervening show and since then, Chevrolet has come out with the ZR1. Now, having the opportunity to do the show with Jimmie (Johnson) is a pretty cool deal.”
Championships and accolades abound among this exclusive group. Johnson just wrapped up his fifth-consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title; Kendall won four Trans Am Series titles and five IMSA GTU championships, while Corvette Racing’s O’Connell has more victories at Sebring (Fla.) than any other driver, three Le Mans 24 Hours trophies and two IMSA GTS Series championships. Williams, one of the NFL’s top running backs, made the Pro Bowl following the 2009 season.
But this show was about the different flavors of Corvette.
“It was just gorgeous out there,” said Williams. “It was like getting into the cockpit of a fighter jet, which is what it felt like getting out there today - on a higher level as far as the feel.”
“I’ve had both (ZR1 & Z06), and I’ve always just been impressed with them, (especially) when you really get into the car and put it through its paces; how much grip it has, how well it stops and how much power it has,” Johnson said. “When I got my ZR1, it was my car (Z06) on steroids. It’s a blast. I just think it’s a perfect car. It has an affordable price, and when you really think about what you get for your money, its one hell of a car.”
Kendall held similar impressions as Johnson, taking them a step further by placing it on a world stage.
“Everything is just a little bit more,” Kendall said. “If you didn’t know there was a ZR1, you would think the Z06 was ‘King of the Hill.’ Then you get into the ZR1 and everything is just a little bit sharper, crisper with more power and more torque. You can actually tell that it’s the next generation too. In some ways, it’s (ZR1) slightly more forgiving at the limit than the Z06. It’s the top of the food chain.
“You see people talk about Corvettes, ‘yeah, they are a great performer for the money,’ Kendall continued. “You can forget the ‘for the money part now.’ You can put this car up against any performer in the world. It’s won several shootouts. If it’s not the fastest, the other car isn’t going to beat it by much. It’s hard to believe the progression in street performance that we’ve seen in the last 15 years. I used to remember a time when people would go ‘coo coo’ over a car that had 400 horsepower, now, its 638 horsepower. Wow. I joke that when the (GM) lawyers went on vacation, they were able to push this car through.”
Then, once the road cars were rung out, Johnson got behind the wheel of Corvette Racing’s American Le Mans Series GT2 racer, an opportunity which he took full advantage. It was also his first public appearance driving a competition sports car since running the Rolex 24 endurance race at Daytona International Speedway last January.
“Obviously, the Cup car has more power and you’re really trying to concentrate on putting the power onto the ground,” Johnson said. “With this car, power down wasn’t as big of an issue, but I was really trying to understand the brakes. The brakes are so far superior to what we have on the Cup car, that I was way short on the braking. I spun out that one time, and didn’t want to do anything stupid after that. As I was getting more fluid with the car, it’s amazing to me with this being such a narrow track, how much corner speed you can carry. You didn’t need to get onto the curves. Usually in the Cup car, you need to use every inch of the road. Here, you point the car where you want, and go.”