Parade of Progress
In 2006, at our first Lightning Lap outing, no car broke the three-minute threshold; this year nearly half the field did. The Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition illustrates that steady improvement in lap times over the years—it matched the lap time of the quickest car from the inaugural year, the 550-hp mid-engine Ford GT. So how is it that a front-drive hot hatch—one with 58 percent more weight saddling each horsepower—that you can buy for one-fifth of the GT's inflation-adjusted price can hang with a mid-2000s supercar?
A lot of it comes down to tires. The Ford's Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercars (rumor has it that Corvette engineers nicknamed them "Eagle Superhards" when the Corvette wore them) are no match for the Type R's Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s. In every corner, the Civic enjoys nearly 10 percent more grip, and the front-driver rips through the Climbing Esses at a 6.3-mph-faster average speed. Let the GT stretch its legs and its supercharged 5.4-liter V-8 turns a 1.5-second deficit at Oak Tree into a 0.4-second lead at the end of the back straight. But in the slower, more technical sections that remain, the Honda whittles away at that lead, reeling the Ford in for a photo finish. Is this a perfect comparison? Of course not. Since 2006, VIR has been repaved, and additional curbing effectively widens the track in a few spots. What is clear is that cars, tires, and lap times have improved massively.
Performance metrics have a funny way of creating temporary milestones. After all, there was a time when a sub-three-second zero-to-60 time was inconceivable. When we started Lightning Lap, breaking three minutes became a target because the quickest car on our first outing couldn't do it. SUVs cracked three minutes a few years ago, and now a sedan won't raise a brow unless it dips below 2:50. Even front-drivers are flirting with three minutes. Our fastest lap ever is the 2:34.9 set in a McLaren Senna. Will 2:30 be the new 3:00? That's going into our next performance review, if only to confuse HR.
The King of Our 'Ring
After a conversation with Cadillac engineers about how much they use VIR, we were curious about how many laps our most experienced drivers have logged. So we counted 15 years of data. Tony Quiroga and K.C. Colwell have been at this the longest, each driving in 12 events, and Quiroga wins with 1689 recorded laps. This doesn't include sessions lost to data gremlins, laps without recording equipment, or other times we've visited our Virginia playground. Quiroga has very likely lapped VIR's Grand Course more than 2000 times, making him king of our ring.
A Tale of Two Tires
To avoid production snafus, manufacturers usually outfit their vehicles with multiple tire brands, but we've never seen a car offer two versions of the same tire. So we found it notable that the AMG GT Black Series can be had with soft and hard versions of the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 R. To tell the difference, check the sidewall. The soft compound is marked MO1A and the hard MO2. To ensure the fastest lap possible, Mercedes-AMG fit the softer compound for this year's Lightning Lap, but if we were taking a Black Series to a track day, we wouldn't hesitate to run the harder and longer-wearing Cup 2 Rs. The car might not break grip records on the MO2-spec tires, as the MO1As did in Turn 1 at VIR with 1.25 g's worth of stick, but they will undoubtedly last longer and hopefully avoid a midday tire change.