One part video game, one part reality TV, one part Formula One: The Corvette Z06’s onboard Performance Data Recorder (PDR) not only makes driving better, it also makes for better drivers.
A world’s first on a production car, the PDR records high-definition video and audio of track laps or a scenic weekend cruise. But for the 485-kilowatt (650 horsepower), 315 kph (195 mph) Z06, the PDR is about more than capturing moments. It tracks all sorts of data to power sophisticated track-analysis tools that help drivers improve their performance.
“If you’re a professional driver, you have tools like this,” says Harlan Charles, the Chevrolet product manager who first envisioned the PDR. “It’s not just about stronger engines and stickier tires, but making yourself better as well.”
I’ll get to what it does and how it works, but first, let me tell you how it feels.
I was blown away by both Z06 and its PDR at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Nevada, a winding road course in the Mojave Desert. Like the Z06, whose shattering performance can be safely enjoyed by amateur or pro alike, the PDR proved anything but daunting.
Popping in an SD card, I established my baseline lap, took a few reconnaissance runs, and turned the Z06 loose in the desert like a crazed roadrunner. Spring Mountain is a tight, technical course, and I could only brush 210 kph (130 mph) on its longest straightaway. But on a sprawling circuit like Road Atlanta, the Z06 would easily hit 275 kph (170 mph) on the main straight.
Here’s how it looked, from my point of view—and the car’s:
Charles got the idea while playing the Gran Turismo video game nearly 10 years ago. Telemetry and track analysis were already prevalent in high-end racing. Enthusiasts were beginning to mount cameras on the inside and outsides of cars to create YouTube videos. Starting with a Gran Turismo screen shot, Charles began doctoring it, thinking about how to present pertinent graphical information to drivers.
“We’re capturing all this data in the car, so how can we bring it to the real world?” Charles says of the philosophy.
That data includes speed, g-forces, engine rpms, throttle position, tire temperatures, maps, and lap times. It derives from video and other sensors and also from GPS tracking.
For both the Z06 and standard 2015 Stingray, a windshield-mounted camera and microphone pair with an eight-inch touch screen and 30 channels of streaming data from the car’s Controller Area Network. A 32 gigabyte SD card in the glovebox holds 15 hours of video and data. For super-accurate locating, the GPS antenna gets a 5-herz refresh rate, versus 1 Hz on the Stingray’s standard navigation system.
When this American supercar stops and heart rates return to normal, passengers can review playback on the eight-inch touch screen; or use the SD card to share feats of derring-do online. British motorsports company Cosworth, which designed telemetry systems for the LeMans-winning Corvette racing team, provides owners a simplified Cosworth Toolbox version. On a personal computer, drivers can choose myriad presentation formats for track analysis. They can compare multiple, simultaneous laps by a friend—or pro driver—in split-screen or overlaid views to show precisely how and where one driver is gaining or losing time. Using Bing-enabled track maps, owners can even watch and correct their racing line from space with an overhead satellite view. You don’t even need a track per se: With the touch of a button, users can set a start or finish line anywhere, turning a local commute or a 100-kilometer highway run into a baseline “lap” for comparisons.
And the PDR is just the ticket for recording jaw-dropping Z06 numbers, which match or surpass many of the world’s priciest supercars: A 2.95-second explosion to 60 mph (97 kph), 1.2 g’s of lateral roadholding grip, and braking from 60 mph to 0 in less than 31 meters (100 feet). How powerful are the Z06’s carbon-ceramic brakes? This Corvette can halt from 40 kph (25 mph) in less than 14.75 feet (4.5 meters)– that being the length of the car itself.
There’s more: A special Valet Mode records black-box data to instantly bust parking attendants who couldn’t resist a spin. Chevrolet planned to offer in-car audio even in Valet Mode, but nixed it over privacy concerns arising from covert recording.
That’s a shame, actually: The ingenious PDR could record, on average, the number of times a Ferris Bueller-style hijacker screams “Holy S---!” in the fantastical Z06.
Lawrence Ulrich is an award-winning auto writer and former chief auto critic at The New York Times and The Detroit Free Press.