The list of tests reads like a newly licensed adolescent's fantasy: Total Vehicle Durabiity. High Performance Validation. Mountain Driving. Autocross Simulation. Of course, to turn a 16-year-old loose behind the wheel of the Corvette Z06, with its 405-horsepower powerplant, would be foolish at best, and possibly dangerous. And in fact, Dave Wickman, Corvette's lead development engineer and the man charged with ensuring that the Vette maintains its half-century-old position as America's premium sports car, has held a driver's license for more than 30 years. But that doesn't mean he's forgotten the thrill of driving one of the world's most powerful sports cars. And it's his job to make sure the public doesn't, either.
To continually improve upon a car is difficult enough; to continually improve on what is widely regarded as the best car in its class is truly Herculean. And that's exactly why Wickman and his team of engineers spend every working day putting the Vette through its paces, and dreaming up new ways to torture the car. "Because this is such a high perform- ance car, there's a high potential for abuse," explains Wickman. "There's a lot of stuff we can do analytically, with computers and mathematics. But there's still no substitute to submitting the car to the environment."
Make that "environments." If a car could qualify for frequent-flier miles, the Corvette would never fly coach again. "You can pretty much name a place, and we've been there," says Wickman. That includes Australia, to test engine and brake temperatures in extremely hot weather; northern Ontario, to make sure the car will start at 30 degrees below; and the infamous Nürburgring, a 14-mile closed road course in Germany, where the car is subjected to speeds in excess of 160 mph for hours on end. "As manufacturers come under increasing pressure to develop new models faster, you have to go where the weather is," says Wickman. "It's gotten to the point where we're shipping the cars all over the world."