Last weekend, GM invited a group of automotive journalists to Detroit for the unveiling of the new Camaro. Along with the official press conference, GM also brought the media types out to the Belle Isle street circuit, a race course street up on the streets of Detroit (much the way the Long Beach circuit is) to compare some fifth generation V6 Camaros to their sixth generation counterparts on the course. We were there and so were a few others, including Patrick George of Jalopnik, whose mistake while driving the course at speed cost him his access to the event and GM a usable test car.
Very much a legitimate and challenging track, Belle Isle has played host to IndyCar, Trans Am, Formula One, Pirelli World Challenge, and many other professional racing events over the years. Like many street courses, Belle Isle is an unforgiving place to drive fast – the pavement is not a smooth, treated race surface, it’s the same pock-marked tarmac the citizens of Detroit commute on throughout the year. Compounding things is that street courses by their very nature usually do not offer any sort of meaningful run-off area, meaning that if things go wrong, even slightly, you’re probably going into a wall.
That’s why the crash of a Camaro test mule by George is a painful reminder that, while it might look effortless from the browser window, driving a car at high speed on a race track is no easy task. Doing so on a street course on production car tires while attempting to evaluate the car on camera is not the same level of difficulty as, say, spiritedly driving down to the grocery store on a Tuesday evening.
Evidenced by the video and corroborated by other journalists who also ran the course, the main issue is the George just missed the braking point at the end of a high speed straight, and by the time he realized his mistake, he didn’t have enough road left to save the car. From what we’ve heard, GM made efforts to mark the braking point clearly, but when your attention is divided between driving and giving a coherent review on camera, both tasks are probably going to suffer to some degree. In terms of driving fast on a street course, even a minor mistake can have dire consequences.
Though the car’s tires did give him some warning of their limits in the corners previous to the incident, this isn’t really an issue of negligence or lack of skill, it’s simply a circumstance of a course that requires a lot of concentration and punishes you for it dearly if you don’t fully respect that.
That’s something keyboard bench racers might consider before spouting off in their preferred online forum about how the lack of a V8 under the hood should have made this an effortless endeavor which, given the V6 models less performance-oriented handling and braking, only serves to bolster the notion that the peanut gallery often doesn’t know what the hell its talking about.