The 14th Lightning Lap broke records. We crowned new kings for the fastest front-wheel drive car, the fastest turbocharged inline-four, and a new top speed record—174 mph down the front straight. VIR’s 4.1-mile Grand Course doesn’t give pretenders anywhere to hide. Cars that bring a bunch of horsepower can’t neglect downforce and maximum grip if they hope to turn a hotter lap than the competition.
This is why we return to VIR every year for the ultimate performance test. It doesn’t take a legend to sit at a traffic light, but at Lightning Lap if a car has a weakness, it’s sure to be revealed. Check out our full Lightning Lap 14 coverage here, and flip through the results below to see how today’s hottest cars did at America’s toughest racetrack.
2021 Toyota Supra 2.0 | 3:09.0
Lapping the 255-hp inline-four Toyota Supra at VIR is like eating Frosted Flakes without milk. It’s possible, but it won’t be easy. Tracking the Supra-lite reveals single-piston calipers are a bigger threat to performance than the 127 horsepower missing between the four- and six-cylinder Supras. The small calipers eat brake pads and rotors for breakfast. Temperatures rise, braking zones lengthen, deceleration weakens, and stabbing the left pedal becomes as useful as dropping anchor over concrete. A few hundred feet after posting our fastest lap we found ourselves racing into Turn 1, smashing the brake pedal and pulling-up on the electronic emergency brake. We ended up in the grass. For the Supra 2.0’s $43,985 price, it should have better brakes. Instead, its brakes limit the car’s true potential as the Supra 2.0’s handling and cornering speeds nearly matched that of the big-engine 382-hp Supra 3.0.
2020 Cadillac CT4-V | 3:06.2
You’re right to be excited about what Cadillac has built in recent years. Although now the CT4-V is the brand’s second-hottest version of its entry-luxury compact sedan, behind the CT4-V Blackwing, it scoots. The CT4-V’s magnetorheological dampers are less New Balance sneaker, and more Nike running shoe. They won’t let rumble strips upset the car or bounce it away from the racing line. Let our local hot shoe and technical editor Dave Beard offer a few tips: Don’t be shaken by the spooky high-speed oversteer when exiting the off-camber Turn 10; push hard to Oak Tree and you’ll find confidence in the outstanding brakes. The CT4-V’s 325-hp turbocharged four-cylinder is a great match with this superstar chassis, but it’s so good we want more. Between apexes the 10-speed works like it’s the only hourly employee in the building, happily putting in overtime to maintain mid-engine rpms and keep the turbocharged furnace burning. A 3:06.2 is a good showing from Caddy’s starting lineup, but we’re ready to see what the CT4-V Blackwing can bring to the game.
2020 Ford Mustang 2.3L High Performance | 3:04.4
The Ford Mustang 2.3L High Performance is the poster child for equipping the right tires. A 435-hp Ford Mustang GT set a lap time of 3:05.2 at VIR in 2015, and its 2.3-liter counterpart mustered a 3:15.6 that same year. This year’s 330-hp four-cylinder is quicker than both. Comparing performance numbers to the V-8 Mustang GT, the replacement for displacement is in the rubber. The Pirelli P Zero Corsa PZC4 tires are included in the $1995 Handling package. After the back straight, the 2015 Mustang GT is 1.1 seconds ahead of this year’s EcoBoost High Performance, but not for long. The more the steering wheel turns left or right, the more time is shaved from the gap. The magnetorheological dampers keep the sticky tires stuck to the ground. The result is cornering speeds far greater than what the old V-8-powered pony could do. We should point out that there have been faster Mustang GT’s since 2015, but that won’t take from the joy delivered by the turbo-four’s Handling package.
2020 Cadillac CT5-V | 3:04.1
We like our luxury sedans big and quick, and we especially like it when they breath fire and growl like the Cadillac CTS-V did. But dropping the 360-hp CT5-V into Hog Pen at 83.9 mph, and standing on the brakes is a lot of damn fun too. In fact, we were smiling before jumping back onto the fun pedal where the Performance Traction Management (PTM) works its magic to keep the car at speed and out of trouble. By the end of the lap the CT5-V was 2.7 seconds quicker than the old V-Sport, and 2.1 seconds better than the smaller CT4-V. Not bad for an entry-level luxury car.
2021 Mini John Cooper Works GP | 3:03.8
Just 30 of the 270 cars we’ve tested at Lightning Lap have been front-wheel drive. The 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt SS held the front-drive record for over a decade—until the 2018 Honda Civic Type R claimed the title. This year there’s a new king, the 301-hp Mini JCW GP. Not only is it the quickest FWD car we’ve driven at Lightning Lap (by just 0.1 second), it’s also the quickest FWD we’ve tested to 60 mph (also by 0.1 second over the Hyundai Veloster N DCT). How did the JCW GP do it? Straightaways were key, as the GP topped out 9 mph faster than the Type R. The GP is a limited edition Mini. Only 3000 will be sold, making its tall carbon-fiber fenders a rare sight. The GP’s power is a handful on the track, as battling the lock-happy limited-slip differential and stiff suspension makes you appreciate the ease of driving the cars 0.1 second slower than the GP.
2019 Subaru STI S209 | 3:03.4
Our elite editorial staff applies a special set of skills to get the right lap for each ride at VIR. They know where to put the car, and when, but some chariots, like the Subaru STI S209, require us to rewrite a few rules to achieve the best lap. The perfect amount of speed into a corner for the S209 is all of it. Throwing the S290 into the downhill turns of Spiral at 118.2 mph resulted in the highest minimum speed of any car before it—Corvette, 911 Turbo S, and McLaren 765LT included. This 341-hp special edition could use more power, as it tried to beat the Cadillac ATS-V’s 2:59.8 time and failed by almost four seconds. We hope the next track-focused STI is wilder in that respect.
2020 BMW M340i | 3:03.2
The BMW M340i isn’t an M3, but it does set a precedent for the upcoming 503-hp twin-turbo M3 Competition. The M340i is already 10 seconds quicker than the last-gen 335i Sport Line we tested in 2012. It’s only 2.5 seconds from beating the last M4, despite being down 43 horses. The M340i’s 382-hp turbo inline-six is relentless, and throughout our time on the track we experienced zero power degradation. The ZF-sourced eight-speed produced quick and accurate upshifts and downshifts at just the right moments throughout the course. The car’s good handling and brilliant grip kept it from falling behind the pure M car through slower sections of the track, but its steering was a noticeable fault. We hope this isn’t the case with the upcoming M3 and M4, but one thing is for sure, they’ll certainly have the power.
2021 Toyota Supra 3.0 | 2:59.3
Engineers have squeezed an extra 47 horsepower out the 3.0-liter inline-six Toyota Supra for 2021. The extra oomph resulted in a time 2.1 seconds quicker than last year’s 335-hp model. With more power, the Supra 3.0 achieved 144.3 mph on the front straight, 5.1 mph higher than before. The update also added chassis bracing, and the more rigid Supra produced less body roll through corners, and instead transported that energy to the ground, without losing it through the suspension. It’s 6.9 mph quicker at the left-hander following the Climbing Esses, which helped shave a quarter-second from its previous lap. Maybe this how engineers get to celebrate. After making an already fun and exciting sports car, they make it better.
2021 Jaguar F-Type R | 2:59.5
Look at its specs and you’d think the Jaguar F-type R would be an absolute legend at the track. A 575-hp V-8 up front, with all-wheel drive, and a power to weight ratio that’s more impressive than the Chevrolet Corvette, Porsche Cayman GT4, and even the Mercedes-AMG CLA45. And yet, despite it lapping quicker than any F-type before it, it was still slower by 10.2 seconds than the 495-hp Corvette. Thanks to its now standard all-wheel drive system, F-type has become easier to drive. The job of handling the engine’s 516 pound-feet of torque is now assigned to all four Pirelli P Zero PZ4 tires. And there’s no days off when it comes to ensuring this 4103-pound cat always lands on its feet.
2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA45 | 2:58.2
Now that we’re three cars into the sub-three minute zone, things start getting weird. High-octane 750-hp sedans averaging 120 mph without burning a drop of fuel, a Chevy with its engine under the hatch glass, and then there’s this: a 382-hp turbocharged four-cylinder that gets the Mercedes-AMG CLA45 to 60 mph in just 3.7 seconds, a full second quicker than the quickest front-wheel drive four-cylinder we’ve ever tested. The 4MATIC all-wheel drive is a major part of the CLA45’s success around the track, and partly why the quickest turbocharged inline-four we’ve lapped at VIR measured 1.08 g’s of lateral grip into Turn 1. The CLA45’s most impressive metric yet, averaging 121.3 mph through the Climbing Esses, while finishing that section just 0.8 second behind the fastest climb we’ve measured there (the McLaren 765LT is responsible for that). Crazy.
2020 BMW M8 Competition | 2:55.5
The BMW M8 Competition is a big coupe whose hunger for speed never settles. No matter where its needle points in the rev range, the the 617-hp V-8 doesn’t sleep. There’s plenty of kick through corners, and an abundance of gallop down straightaways. The M8 Competition was the third fastest into the uphill esses at 140.1 mph. Although last year’s M5 Competition ran 1.4 seconds quicker with almost identical specs, we chop that one up to either weather conditions, different drivers, or the reality of having two different drivers in two different cars a year apart.
2020 Porsche Taycan Turbo S | 2:55.2
The Porsche Taycan Turbo S is now the quickest EV ever at Lightning Lap, and it holds this lead with a 22.2 second gap. An impressive feat for the third heaviest car we’ve ever driven here (fourth when including SUVs). But nothing over 5000 pounds has lapped VIR quicker. Track days like these are a test of strength for EVs, as the last one we had here, a 2016 Tesla Model S P85D, overheated and cut power a quarter of a lap in. The Porsche didn’t do that. It withstood an out lap, a hot lap, a cool-down, one more hot one, and then a cool-down on the way back to the pits. That doesn’t mean it’s without limits. During our time at VIR, the Taycan Turbo S spent 50 minutes on track, but a whopping 4.5 hours plugged into the charger.
2020 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 | 2:50.3
The Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 was born for a sunny week of lapping at VIR. Compared to the previous generation, this GT4 has a 29-hp advantage, and it uses a naturally aspirated engine with an 8100-rpm redline. It’s 3.7 seconds quicker at VIR, and sheds time through every section of the track. The time difference is more than just tire and a marginal horsepower bump. Maybe it’s the new aero, as this car has 50 percent more downforce than before, and 30 percent of that from its diffuser under the rear axle. The reflexes of the GT4 make it a natural on the track, and only cars with a better power-to-weight ratio have circled VIR faster.
2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Z51 | 2:49.0
Chevy’s mid-engine Corvette‘s debut at racetracks has been impressive. The GT Le Mans C8.R won its first season of competition in Michelin GT Challenge last year, winning five of 11 races, with three second-place finishes in the class. This more civilized Corvette doesn’t falter either. Now that its 495-hp 6.2-liter V-8 is behind the seats, it’s 4.8 seconds quicker than the 2014 C7 we ran here, and with an identical power-to-weight ratio. At one point through the infield section, the new Vette reached speeds 15 mph faster than the previous generation. Think about it this way, the next fastest car we tested this year is ahead by just 4.0 seconds, but costs over $248,000 more. This winning formula is an absolute bargain.
2020 Lamborghini Huracan Evo | 2:45.0
The Lamborghini Hurcan Evo is a 631-hp V-10 powered sound machine. It’s racetrack ASMR, and hearing it hit 160 mph heading into Turn 1 is joyful. The Evo is a second slower than the lighter Performante we drove here in 2018. The Evo doesn’t wear an aero package like the Performante, so it has less downforce that would otherwise glue it to the racetrack. That’s not as big of a problem in slower corners, where the Evo sticks and can turn in without issue. We used the double apex method in areas that benefited the Evo, gaining fractions of a second in places the Performante took the simpler line.
2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 | 2:44.6
As the scale begins ever so slowly to tip toward EVs, the 760-hp Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 is here to remind everyone how incredibly awesome, and loud, internal combustion engines are. The supercharged 5.2-liter V-8 burning two gallons of fuel per lap is the stuff of the Mustang Mach-E‘s nightmares. The most powerful production car Ford has ever made starts at $92,595, but gets around VIR 16 seconds quicker than the last GT500, and splits the time between both $500,000 Ford GTs we’ve driven there. The carbon fiber wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires hold 1.16 g’s through Turn 1. At Hog Pen, in the on-camber corner, the GT500 grabs 1.30 g’s and enters the straight at 113.9 mph and goes until it maxes out at 161.9 mph.
2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S | 2:42.5
No matter how powerful or how excellent the handling, the scoot potential of any car can vary widely if it’s wearing the wrong dancing shoes. If you don’t believe us, try doing the Cupid Shuffle wearing drywall stilts. The fact that the Porsche 911 Turbo S was this fast while wearing performance summer tires makes its number even more impressive. Most cars of this caliber are run on track tires, but we only run cars the way they’re sold, and for now, the 992 turbo isn’t sold with race rubber from the dealer. The new 640-hp 911 Turbo S has 60 more horses than the last-gen, and is 4.3 seconds faster at VIR. The extra power makes the most difference on the straights, like at 163.4 mph the 911 Turbo S cruised to on the front. The summer tires cried around all 24 corners of VIR, and we think this car could easily lose another two or three seconds of lap time with track rubber.
2021 McLaren 765LT | 2:38.4
The McLaren 765LT shoots down the front straight at VIR at a blistering 174 mph. It’s the fastest speed achieved in that section, ever, and it’s part of the third-place fastest lap time we’ve ever recorded, just behind the Porsche 911 GT2 RS Weissach. With one big asterisk. So that Variable Drift Control (VDC) mode we had turned off to keep the car straight? It’s actually designed to counter rear tail slippage, not promote it. VDC was first launched on the 710-hp McLaren 720S, and was also on last year’s McLaren Senna, but this is the first time we ever needed it.
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