On Friday, October 21, we ran our second Lightning Lap track day, in conjunction with Kaizen Autosport and the National Auto Sport Association (NASA). We use any excuse we can to get back to Virginia International Raceway, and this track day was run using the same Grand Course configuration we’ve used since 2006 for our annual running of the year’s hottest performance cars. Roughly 25 entries showed up across a huge spectrum of performance and price, populating our price-based LL1 through LL4 categories for street cars (the only one with no entries was the mega-expensive, $250,000-plus LL5) and all but the most expensive race-car class. Each class winner received a trophy, a yearlong membership in our Track Club, and the satisfaction that they beat out everyone else vying for that top spot.
It was great to see quite a few familiar faces from the last event and, just like last time, 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. It also was an excuse to give our long-term Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing, which we had driven down from our Michigan HQ, a dose of VIR.
We already have plans to do another event on May 10, 2023, so get those wrenching projects done during the upcoming winter months.
LL1 (under $35,000)
LL1 winner Duane Black deserves a special callout, because he piloted his 2013 Ford Mustang—a V-6 automatic, no less, that started life as a Hertz rental car—to a staggering 3:00.8 lap time. Back in 2010, when we ran a V-6 Mustang it spent more than 15 seconds of its 3:12.5 lap banging off the 114-mph speed limiter, so no surprise that Black’s car has a single-piece-driveshaft upgrade and that pesky governor removed, allowing him to see 129 mph on the front straight. His car also has upgraded bushings, springs, and anti-roll bars. Making us smile even more is that this Mustang is Black’s daily driver that he uses to commute to his high-school teaching job, and it’s been his partner during dozens of lapping days at various tracks. Black reports that in the throes of chasing a sub-three-minute lap, he cracked a wheel in Spiral and blew an exhaust header gasket. Also back in the LL1 group was the previous winner Michael Congelosi in his Dodge SRT4 ACR, and he went a couple seconds quicker this time around. No one peddling excuses will get much sympathy from Scott Campbell, who made the four-and-a-half-hour drive down and back to VIR from the Washington, D.C., area on the same day in his Hyundai Veloster N. Between all those hours of commuting, he turned in a respectable 3:13.5, which was good enough for third place.
LL2 ($35,000 to $64,999)
There were just three entries in the LL2 class, and John Willcox beat out a Porsche Cayman and a BMW M4 Competition in a rental Chevy Camaro SS 1LE from our friends at Kaizen Autosport who operate on-site at VIR. Although his 3:04.5 is a solid effort for a first outing in the Camaro, this underscores our point about just how impressive the V-6 Mustang time is from LL1. We coaxed a SS 1LE manual like this one to a 2:54.8 back in 2016.
LL3 ($65,000 to $124,999)
Stephen Anderson is another repeat Lightning Lap track day attendee, and this time around he beat out a C8 Corvette and a racy-looking Porsche Cayman S with a suspension overhaul and a big wing to take the LL3 win in his Nissan GT-R. His time of 2:53.9 puts him right in the neighborhood of the 2:53.2 we ran in two different GT-Rs in 2011 and 2017. When we spotted Anderson refueling from cans in the bed of his truck, we made a joke about him wanting to save a few bucks by avoiding the pricey on-site fuel. But, no, he was schlepping in his own E85 to take full advantage of his modified engine tune, since the closest place to find it near the track is not that close.
LL4 ($125,000 to $249,999)
Having LL4 all to himself, Matt Einstein piloted his new 992 Porsche 911 GT3 to a 2:46.8. We ran one of these just last year, where it went seventh-quickest of all time at 2:40.6. But Einstein’s time is no slouch, as that’s tied for the fourth-quickest time of the day in any class and puts him in the top 25 of all 300-plus cars we’ve run. Plus, his is a manual, which is worth some amount of lap-time penalty versus our PDK automatic. Like that green color? We sure do. It’s Irish Green, a $12,830 option as part of Porsche’s paint-to-sample program. Kudos to Einstein for risking stone chips and flinging it around VIR like Porsche intended.
LLR1 (under $65,000)
Once again, this class had the most entries, with a trio of 3-series BMWs—a spec E30, an E36, and a E90—plus a Nissan 350Z, a Mazda Miata, and a new Toyota GR86. The trophy came down to just two-tenths of a second, with the GR86’s impressive 2:55.9 lap not quite enough to take the win. That’s 15.9 seconds quicker than a stock GR86 we ran at last year’s event, and also 0.6 second quicker than the race-prepped Subaru BRZ that won this class at our last track day, but Joey Hutchinson in the mean-looking E90 with a massive swan-neck wing managed a 2:55.7.
LLR2 ($65,000 to $124,999)
Duking it out in LLR2 were a pair of Ginetta G56 GTAs. Both are maintained by Kaizen Autosport, which is an authorized retailer for the roughly 2400-pound British tube-frame special powered by a Ford V-6 from the Mustang. If we learned anything from this event, it’s that you shouldn’t discount the Mustang V-6. Christian Shield, in the quicker of the two Ginettas, did a 2:46.8, which beat—what else—a Camaro.
LLR3 ($125,000 to $249,999)
Michael Merritt was getting after it in his race-prepped Dodge Viper, running a 2:42.3, which was second-quickest time of the day. That’s nearly two seconds quicker than we ran in a stock Viper ACR back in 2016.
An early wreck in the Radical SR8—we’re told driver Garry Gray was treated on-site but was okay—left Denver Liabenow in his neon-green Tatuus, from the Italian race-car company that is a designer and manufacturer of all manner of formula cars. Over a couple sessions, Liabenow shaved about seven seconds off his time, to a best of 2:46.4.
Chasing the Grand Course record that was set during our last track day—a wild 2:27.2, by Jonathan Finstrom in a Staudacher S08 P1—Robert Rossi was running laps in his Radical SR10 that were nearly 15 seconds quicker than anything else. He didn’t quite get all the way there, with a best of 2:28.2, but for a reminder at how insane this time is, the fastest street car we’ve run is a McLaren Senna, which went nearly seven seconds slower.