Our First Lightning Lap Track Day Is in the Books

On Tuesday, March 15, we held our first Lightning Lap track day, in conjunction with Kaizen Autosport. It took place at our favorite track, Virginia International Raceway, in the same Grand Course configuration we use for our annual running of the year’s hottest performance cars. About 40 entries showed up across a huge spectrum of performance and price, populating all our price-based LL1 through LL5 categories for street cars and all but the most expensive race-car class. Each class winner received a $ 1000 prize, a trophy, membership in our Track Club, and the satisfaction that they beat out everyone else vying for that top spot.

It was sunny and cool, perfect when going for times. Or even when not, as when we did a few less-than-committed laps in our long-term C8 Chevrolet Corvette, BMW M3, and Ram TRX so they could earn a Grand Course decal to wear proudly for the rest of their 40,000 miles in our fleet. It was great to hear from attendees — even some VIR regulars — that this was their first time on the 4.1-mile Grand Course. That was one of the reasons why we wanted to do this: to give people the chance to experience it the way we do, which is a configuration rarely used for track days.

Plans are already in motion for the next Track Day. Stay tuned.

LL1 (under $ 35,000)

Michael SimariCar and Driver

2005 dodge srt4 acr

Michael SimariCar and Driver

Michael Congelosi is the original owner of his 2005 Dodge SRT4 ACR, and he drove it with the skill that comes from a decades-long bond with a vehicle. Also helping is that Congelosi’s day job is pushing tires to their limits for Yokohama. The SRT4 is old enough that we never ran one during our 15 years of Lightning Lap, but we know that his 3: 08.6 lap time is plenty impressive, beating out a Mazda Miata and a Hyundai Veloster N, and putting it in the neighborhood of the Veloster N we ran in 2019. For reference, we did a 3: 20.8 in the hot Neon’s successor, a 2008 Dodge Caliber SRT4.

LL2 ($ 35,000 to $ 64,999)

ll2 winner for track day

Michael SimariCar and Driver

2021 ford mustang mach 1

Michael SimariCar and Driver

LL2 was the largest of the street-car classes, consisting primarily of Camaros and Mustangs, plus a Cayman and a BMW M2. After two afternoon sessions, the car with the swiftest time was a brand-new 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 piloted by Jeff Quesenberry. Although Quesenberry has thousands of laps at VIR, this was his first time on the Grand Course, and our own David Beard, who drove a Ford Mustang Mach 1 to a 2: 51.4 in the most recent Lightning Lap, was giving some pointers. Although the winning 2: 56.9 was a bit off Beard’s pace, his Mach 1 also did not have the Handling package and its adjustable front camber plates and the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires that ours did.

LL3 ($ 65,000 to $ 124,999)

ll3 winner for track day

Michael SimariCar and Driver

2017 chevrolet corvette grand sport

Michael SimariCar and Driver

The 2017 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport driven by Cody Hunt laid down the best time in LL3, beating out three other storied performance brands: a Dodge Viper, a Nissan GT-R, and a BMW M4. Hunt’s best lap of 2: 46.6 just beat our 2: 47.1 in that car in 2016, although his new R compound tires were likely an advantage over the stock Michelin Cup 2s of five years ago that the C6 Grand Sport wore from the factory.

LL4 ($ 125,000 to $ 249,999)

ll4 winner for track day

Michael SimariCar and Driver

2017 dodge viper acr

Michael SimariCar and Driver

Nothing could match Corey Radcliff in a 2017 Dodge Viper ACR Extreme in LL4, where his very impressive 2: 40.9 beat out a trio of 991 Porsche 911s: a GT3 RS, a GT3, and a GT3 Touring. Radcliff’s win is well deserved, as his time is a solid chunk better than the 2: 44.2 we recorded in 2016 — driver KC Colwell remembers the heat being oppressive that day — and is closing in on Dodge development driver Chris Winkler’s 2:40 flat. Impressive. The other news to come out of the LL4 class is that a Tesla Model S Plaid ran a 2: 50.7, 4.5 seconds quicker than the Porsche Taycan Turbo S we lapped in 2021, which is equally surprising; and the supremely fortunate tank slapper up the esses during that quickest lap that somehow did not end in disaster.

LL5 ($ 250,000 and above)

2018 porsche gt2 rs ll5 winner for track day

Arthur SinnottCar and Driver

Piloting a beautiful 2018 Porsche 911 GT2 RS, Randy Copeland took the honors in the top LL5 street category with a 2: 48.6 lap time. Although our KC Colwell went considerably quicker with a 2: 37.8 in a GT2RS in 2018 — beating out a Corvette ZR1 and McLaren 720S for the quickest time that year and, at the time, the quickest lap ever — kudos to Copeland for being the rare owner who exercises his car in the way Porsche’s GT squad intended it to.

LLR1 (under $ 65,000)

llr1 winner for track day

Michael SimariCar and Driver

2022 subaru brz tca race car

Michael SimariCar and Driver

This least expensive race-car class was the most contested, with a brand-new Subaru BRZ coming out ahead of a trio of BMWs — E30, E36, E46 — a Nissan 350Z, a Porsche Boxster, a Mustang, and a Miata. We loved the new BRZ when we ran a 3: 12.4 at this year’s Lightning Lap, which is almost two seconds quicker than the best previous-gen BRZ, a tS model. But the fully race-prepped TC America Subie built by TechSport Racing and driven by Devin Anderson shows the true potential of this excellent lightweight rear-drive sports coupe, with his best time of 2: 56.5.

LLR2 ($ 65,000 to $ 124,999)

llr2 winner for track day

Michael SimariCar and Driver

2001 bmw m3 race car

Michael SimariCar and Driver

The gap between Eric Magnussen’s LS-swapped E46 M3 and the rest of the LLR2 field was nearly nine seconds large, proving that the fire-spitting and insanely loud yellow BMW was far more than pomp. Magnussen’s best time of 2: 39.3 puts it in the top five most rapid street cars we ran, between a McLaren 765LT and Corvette ZR1.

LLRP (prototype)

llrp winner for track day

Arthur SinnottCar and Driver

2008 staucher s08 race car

Michael SimariCar and Driver

Convincingly proving our point that VIR’s Grand is not a horsepower track, Jonathan Finstrom ran an epic 2: 27.2 lap — a new Grand Course record — in his lightweight and lightly powered Staudacher S08 P1 prototype racer. The Suzuki GSX-R 1.0-liter engine makes a mere 152 hp and 75 lb-ft at the wheels, and Finstrom’s peak speed down the straight was just 137 mph — about the same as the BMW M240i from our most recent Lightning Lap. Yet the 782-pound machine went 7.7 seconds quicker than the McLaren Senna that currently sits atop our all-time Lightning Lap leader board, and nearly that many ticks ahead of the next-quickest competitor, too.

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