Victory is always possible for the person who refuses to stop fightingAnd that brings us to the topic we were discussing earlier. The reason why you don't see as many American drivers high up on that record list is quite simple. A direct flight from New York to Frankfurt will take about eight hours and could cost about $1,000 or more. Then, you're still facing a three-hour drive to the track if you won't get stuck in traffic. And when you get there, you'll have to rent a car that can handle the task ahead. Alternatively, if you're a big manufacturer, you can always ship a car over, but that just adds to the overall expenses.
It's much easier for German drivers to reach the venue, and most of the fast ones have been driving there for as long as they can remember. So, if you're curious to know how Jim Mero and GM managed to achieve the goals that they had set out to achieve, we're happy to let you in on the story. Seeing that Chevrolet was aiming to set some records with the Corvette while also gathering valuable data, they couldn't just do it during the Tourist Drives. The Industry Pool days are the right way to go for companies with that kind of goal in mind.
"Being based in the United States, attending a session of Industry Pool was a huge undertaking both logistically and financially. Logistically, we would start preparing for the trip two to three months before leaving. Financially, shipping cars, spare parts, and tires (sometimes 50 sets) as well as the travel expenses for everyone attending, I would estimate the cost of the trips were north of $500,000 each. Most auto companies based in Europe are at the Nürburgring every month. I think it’s about 14 to 16 weeks of Industry Pool per year. When we go, it’s typically one to three times a year, and each session is two weeks long (typically one week in May). There were times that there was a year or more between trips."
Going to the Nurburgring is what I lived for
"Back then, the highlight of my entire job was going to the Nürburgring. I could not wait for the next trip. It’s what I lived for. But I’m here to tell you after you have not been there for a year, the track is daunting. Not from a being scared standpoint, but you forget just how fast and narrow the track is. Combining that with pretty much no runoff, it always takes a day or two to come up to speed to the point you were on the previous trip. But again, stepping on a plane headed to Frankfurt, Germany, arriving at the Nürburgring, strapping into a car, and heading out on the track was completely euphoric."
Looking at Jim's website, you'll notice eight different highlights on there. So we asked Jim about his most memorable one. We were dying to know which of those records was the most exciting and challenging, and the answer did not disappoint. "Probably the first one. The 7:26.4 in the 2009 ZR1 (ran in June 2008). There are several reasons for this. It was the first time we used Magnetic Ride on one of our top-end cars. Historically, MRC had been used as an option on a base car. Somewhat gimmicky in my opinion."
"So, I convinced Dave Hill we needed to use Magnetic Ride to take one of our high-performance track variants and make it ride better. Plus this gave me more flexibility to utilize the handling algorithms Magnetic Ride offered. I truly believe the success of Magnetic Ride on the 2009 to 2013 ZR1, the 2010 to 2013 Z06/Z07, the 2010 to 2013 Grand Sport, and the 2012/2013 Z06 prompted the rest of the world to take notice. Shortly thereafter Magnetic Ride was picked up by Acura, Audi, Land Rover, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Ford."
"At that time, I was fine with Jan driving. After all, he was Jan Magnussen, and I was nobody. Jan was so cool to be with. He’s a very funny guy. I watched him race the factory cars so many times. It was just an honor to hang out with him. I worked on the chassis calibrations in April 2008. Then Jan was going to arrive for a week in May to set the time."
All great achievements require time
"Unfortunately, we had an issue with one of the components on the ZR1 and the cars were grounded for the week in May. But we still had two more morning sessions rented to lap for a good time which were already paid for.""I was looking at some of my data compared to Jan’s, and I noticed I was faster. We also had a Z06 there. So, Tom Wallace, Corvette Chief Engineer, said let’s have Jan drive the Z06 the first morning for time, then Mero would drive it the second morning. Faster time drives the ZR1 in June."
We're going to stop with part two of our Jim Mero story just after this last insight. Back in July of 2004, Walter Rohrl had driven the Porsche Carrera GT on the Nürburgring. He set a fast lap of seven minutes and 28 seconds. Naturally, Jim knew all about Porsche's legendary driver, and he looked up to him. So it's easy to understand why the 2008 record in the ZR1 was so exciting for GM's test driver.
He had managed to improve that fast lap by almost two seconds, driving a car that cost only 10% as much as the Carrera GT. Even with several years of development in between, he was now officially faster around the Nürburgring than one of the most legendary names in motorsports. But he was just getting started, and we'll give you more details about the whole thing in part three of his story.