autoevolution
 

Jim Mero Turned Dream Into Reality: Corvette Legend Act 2

Just recently, Maro Engel set a new lap record at the Nürburgring in the Mercedes-AMG ONE. He needed six minutes and 30 seconds for a full lap in the 1049-horsepower hypercar. And you'll notice one thing by looking at the list of drivers that went below seven minutes for a fast lap on the Nordschleife: most of them are of German nationality. You'll see a few other Europeans as well, but there aren't that many Americans up there.
 Jim Mero Turned Dream Into Reality: Corvette Legend Act 2 18 photos
Photo: Jim Mero/Chevrolet
Jim Mero Turned Dream Into Reality: Corvette Legend Act 2Jim Mero Turned Dream Into Reality: Corvette Legend Act 2Jim Mero Turned Dream Into Reality: Corvette Legend Act 2Jim Mero Turned Dream Into Reality: Corvette Legend Act 2Jim Mero Turned Dream Into Reality: Corvette Legend Act 2Jim Mero Turned Dream Into Reality: Corvette Legend Act 2Jim Mero Turned Dream Into Reality: Corvette Legend Act 2Jim Mero Turned Dream Into Reality: Corvette Legend Act 2Jim Mero Turned Dream Into Reality: Corvette Legend Act 2Jim Mero Turned Dream Into Reality: Corvette Legend Act 2Jim Mero Turned Dream Into Reality: Corvette Legend Act 2Jim Mero Turned Dream Into Reality: Corvette Legend Act 2Jim Mero Turned Dream Into Reality: Corvette Legend Act 2Jim Mero Turned Dream Into Reality: Corvette Legend Act 2Jim Mero Turned Dream Into Reality: Corvette Legend Act 2Jim Mero Turned Dream Into Reality: Corvette Legend Act 2Jim Mero Turned Dream Into Reality: Corvette Legend Act 2
We recently had the honor of interviewing the fastest American to ever conquer the Green Hell. Not only that, but Jim Mero is a legend among Corvette enthusiasts as well as he played a significant role in the development of GM's sports car. Given the sheer size of the story, we decided to split it into four parts. The first time around, we spoke about his teenage years and his first few steps in the automotive industry. And we also learned that throughout his career, he has driven between 4,000 to 5,000 laps on the North Loop of the famous German race track.

Victory is always possible for the person who refuses to stop fighting

And 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."

Jim Mero Turned Dream Into Reality\: Corvette Legend Act 2
Photo: Jim Mero/Chevrolet
Now consider the following scenario. A friend of yours invites you to take compete in a half-marathon. But you haven't exercised in over a year. How difficult do you think it will be for you to go through with it all? Whenever we take a break from testing cars in Assetto Corsa, it takes at least half an hour to warm up before being able to put together a good lap. But the virtual world is infinitely easier to handle compared to the real thing. They don't call it the Green Hell for no reason!

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."

Jim Mero Turned Dream Into Reality\: Corvette Legend Act 2
Photo: Jim Mero/Chevrolet
And in case you're wondering why GM didn't call in Jan Magnussen for the job, there's a good reason for that as well. "Jan Magnussen drove the C6 Z06 in 2006 for a time of 7:42.99. Truth be told, Jan was supposed to drive the 2009 ZR1 as well."

"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."

Jim Mero Turned Dream Into Reality\: Corvette Legend Act 2
Photo: Autoevolution
"Needless to say, my times were faster. Now I’m not implying that globally I am faster than Jan. I believe it’s because to that point I had spent over 15 years driving production cars with production tires on racetracks, and Jan was used to driving race cars with slicks and a ton of downforce. So, I got the green light to run for the record in June 2008. No pressure, right?"

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.

If you liked the article, please follow us:  Google News icon Google News Youtube Instagram X (Twitter)
About the author: Dragos Chitulescu
Dragos Chitulescu profile photo

The things Dragos enjoys the most in life are, in no particular order: cars, motorcycles, diecast cars, and drifting. He's seen (and driven) many vehicles since he started his writing career back in 2009, but his garage currently houses a 1991 Mazda RX-7 FC3S Turbo II and a 1999 Suzuki SV650-S.
Full profile

 

Would you like AUTOEVOLUTION to send you notifications?

You will only receive our top stories