Few videos are as inspiring as this to the ambitious amateur. Here, we see that a talented shoe in a capable street car can run with a champion in a dedicated racing car. Granted, Jeffrey Cook’s Camaro ZL1 is running a set of new Hoosier R7 slicks, but to hang with a Mercedes AMG GT4—albeit one on worn tires—is an incredible feat under any circumstance. Come along for a thrilling ride which demonstrates the differences between these powerful front-engine monsters boasting forced induction, sticky tires, and real talent behind the wheel.
Both of these heavyweights aren’t short on grunt, but it’s the Camaro which enjoys a marked power advantage. However, it has a much harder time putting that power to the ground—something we saw with a recent battle against a GT3 RS. With 650 horsepower at his disposal, Cook is able to reel in the Mercedes once he’s able to get his foot to the floor. However, the Mercedes—a car which produces 503 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque—which has the corner-exit advantage in some sections. While those figures are considerably less than those of the road-going variant because of racing rules, the AMG GT R, they’re enjoyed across a wide and usable powerband, which makes the GT R quite effective at the relatively technical Sonoma Raceway.
Additionally, the Mercedes benefits from being a half-ton less than the nearly two-ton Chevy. It also benefits from an MX-5 Cup winner in the driver’s seat. With 305-section Pirelli slicks at all four corners, a decent amount of aero, massive AP Racing brakes, the GT4 is undeniably the quicker car. However, the Mercedes’ worn tires and the power disadvantage help keep the Cook and his Chevrolet in contention.
Ken Murillo Jr., the driver of the Mercedes, elaborates, “We never stickered up—actually we were close to cords all day—so we were trying our best to save the front tires. We should run about 1.5-2 seconds quicker on newer tires depending on the track conditions.” That levels the playing field, but that alone wouldn’t make enough of a difference. To keep up, Cook has to drive slightly outside his comfort zone—on cold slicks, no less.
The Mercedes ahead goads Cook to push a little harder than he might on a casual first lap; there’s no way he was going to let the race car—and an impressive bar room boast—walk away. Note his steering inputs and the quick jabs of opposite lock in the first few corners, and you get a sense of just how cold his Hoosier R7s are. It’s best seen while he shimmies through Turn 8 and 8A (2:47-3:00). There, he can barely sniff at the loud pedal; barely using maintenance throttle. Any more makes the rear slither. It’s clear that hunting down a racing car—which was likely on tire warmers just moments earlier—takes real bravery.
After a beautiful slide over the adversely cambered Turn 2 (3:41), it’s clear Cook’s tires are fairly warm, and he starts to close the gap with the aid of two pesky backmarkers. Once clear of the FR-S, we can see how much quicker the Mercedes is accelerating away from the fast, bumpy, and incredibly important Turn 6/Carousel’s exit (4:15). Mid-corner speeds look comparable, but it’s the Mercedes’ ability to mat the throttle a few car lengths earlier which earns the Mercedes a considerable gap until the end of the straight, where the Camaro’s power closes some of it.
Clearly, the lighter, wing-clad Mercedes has the upper hand throughout the Turn 8/8A esses, and Cook’s frantic steering show just how hard he’s pushing to remain in the fight. It’s this willingness to find entry speed and chase that hare on the horizon that earned Cook his fastest time at Sonoma—a 1 :42.53—nearly a full second faster than the Mercedes. To be fair, that car was struggling with traffic.
While that alone would be an achievement Cook could float on for the next few days, he got in touch with Murillo Jr., who had nothing but nice things to say. “I remember looking in my mirror thinking, ‘This guy is haulin’ ass in that thing!’ Great car, and a great driver.” Nothing quite puts pep in an ambitious driver’s step like hearing admiration from a seasoned vet.