Spend some time at a racetrack and you'll see that drivers are a superstitious lot. While much of the driving experience is under our control, the bits that aren't are scary. So we try to cope with the anxiety in weird ways. Wait, this isn't my lucky underwear. Where are my socks with the checkered flags on them? What would I like for lunch? Same thing I'm having all week. No, I'm not defacing press cars. I'm painting four-leaf clovers on them.
None of the C/D staffers who lap cars at Virginia International Raceway for this story are too open about their superstitions, but no one can deny that thoughtful pause before choosing underwear each morning. Undergarment choice is especially important this year, as we're on our 13th trip to VIR to lap the 4.1-mile Grand Course. For 2019, we've brought 19 of the year's hottest cars, a normcore one, and a classic from the '90s. If you don't see a Ferrari 488 Pista, a Lamborghini Aventador SVJ, a C8 Corvette, a Subaru STI S209, or a Mustang GT500, it's not because we forgot. They either weren't available or the carmakers decided they didn't want to play.
As we have done since the first Lightning Lap, in 2006, C/D editors set the lap times. Each of our five drivers is assigned vehicles to lap, but we cross-check our work by cycling into one another's cars. Doing it ourselves allows us to bring you an unfiltered firsthand experience. Well, that's the goal. It's also the three best days of the year.
As in the past, we lump cars into five price brackets, from the sub-$35,000 metal of LL1 to the super expensive machines of LL5. The biggest change this year is that we're moving SUVs into our price-based Lightning Lap categories. We had previously segregated them in the LLTruck class, but because of the proliferation and rapid evolution of these beasts, we've decided to treat them the same as cars. This year, two SUVs broke the three-minute barrier, so something has clearly changed.
Despite the unlucky anniversary, our luck this year wasn't too bad. We dodged a bullet with an unprecedented repair. One driver did hit a groundhog in Spiral, the downhill left-right-left complex we're now internally calling Whistle Pig, and the same guy had an exciting off in the Supra at Oak Tree when a cloudburst hit the southern tip of the track. He felt bad about both incidents, but not nearly as bad as the woodchuck felt. He probably should have worn a different pair of underwear. The driver, we mean. Not the whistle pig.
Click the links below for individual stories and lap videos for each car, or keep scrolling for more
Class Boundaries: LL1 (under $35,000), LL2 ($35,000–$64,999), LL3 ($65,000–$124,999), LL4 ($125,000–$244,999), LL5 ($245,000 and above)
Lap Time: 3:25.3
Readers whined that Lightning Lap isn't relevant to them, so here we are, lapping a Camry. At least it's a V-6 Camry, a top-of-the-line XSE with sexy 19-inch wheels and 301 horsepower. The Camry's 3:25.3 time is perfectly respectable for a family sedan on low-grip all-season tires. A few more seconds could come off the Camry's lap, but throttle applications at corner exit are met with reluctance.
Lap Time: 3:17.2
Thanks to the new 181-hp 2.0-liter inline-four engine, the MX-5 RF's lap time is 3.6 seconds quicker than that of the last Miata we lapped here. The higher redline of this updated engine means fewer shifts, too. A comical amount of body roll remains. Lean on the Miata in any tight corner and the side-view mirror threatens to eat asphalt—but it's fun.
Lap Time: 3:12.2
The Jetta GLI's lap time caught us off guard. The GLI shares hardware with the glorious GTI hatchback, including a 228-hp turbo four and 13.4-inch front brake rotors. The electronically controlled limited-slip differential keeps torque where it's needed, and the grippy Hankook Ventus S1 Evo3 tires allow you to go to the accelerator earlier and harder. Unfortunately, stability control cannot be fully disabled, so the trick to a quick time is smoothness and riding the edge of stability-control intervention.
Lap Time: 3:07.7
The Veloster N's 275-hp turbocharged inline-four pulls hard. You can keep your right foot pinned on upshifts, and downshifts are rev-matched, so you can focus more on driving and less on heel-and-toeing. And while the funky three-door cannot claim the Lightning Lap title of quickest front-driver of all time—that distinction goes to the Honda Civic Type R—it takes a strong second. It has us thinking: What's Hyundai's next N car going to be like?
Lap Time: 3:07.3
After hitting 136.9 mph on the front straight in the Genesis G70, we stepped on the brakes saying a prayer to the track gods: "Please work. Please work." The car shed 92.7 mph like it was nothing. This G70 lives up to the Dynamic part of its name. The steering operates with diamond-cutting precision, and amply bolstered, ventilated seats keep you cool and in place.
Lap Time: 3:04.8
In its 505-hp twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter V-6 heart, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio believes it's a Giulia, and it doesn't care what you think. All-wheel drive allows you to mat the accelerator sooner than in the rear-drive Giulia when exiting a corner. SUV levels of suspension travel allow you to go deep into the curbing, and the optional carbon-ceramic brakes swallow triple-digit speeds, but the electrohydraulic brakes have a split-second delay.
Lap Time: 3:02.6
Lexus's first Track Edition model wears the same Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires as the standard 2020 RC F. That's time left on the table. However, it is a major 253 pounds lighter than the RC F we lapped in 2015, and the lightened load begets quicker acceleration everywhere. Stiffer suspension bushings add steering precision, the handling is more neutral than before, and the V-8 makes all the right noises.
Lap Time: 3:01.4
Through sweeping combinations, the Toyota Supra skates from track edge to track edge with the deftness of a lighter car. Slightly soft by today's standards, the suspension moves around under duress, but it communicates how close the driver is to the limit in a way the steering doesn't. In the 13 years of Lightning Lap, only two cars have run faster with less power: the Ariel Atom 3 and the KTM X-Bow, which are essentially go-karts with fun-size curb weights.
Lap Time: 2:59.7
An extra 40 horsepower and 37 lb-ft of torque don't transform the M2, they simply sweeten this honey of a car. Wearing factory-fit Pilot Super Sports, the M2 drew apex speed traces right on top of the lines we inked in the 2016 M2. The cast-iron brake rotors proved as faithful as carbon-ceramics, and the chassis delivered the same fine fidelity and easily controlled power oversteer.
Lap Time: 2:59.2
We would expect the brakes to be the first thing to go when lapping anything this heavy, but the Cayenne's optional carbon-ceramic rotors did an exemplary job. It was the rear differential that announced its surrender with an excessive-heat warning. Steering is accurate and replete with feel. Some credit for the impressive lap time goes to the Pirelli P Zero Corsa PZC4 tires, a $2110 dealer-installed option.
Lap Time: 2:57.2
Through the warm-up laps, the Giulia's steering, cornering balance, and 505-hp twin-turbo V-6 felt remarkable. And then the problems started. The instrument cluster displayed aero-system and throttle-control warnings; overheating led to torque-vectoring trouble. Despite the issues, the Giulia's quickest time this year was a 1.4-second improvement over its 2017 time.
Lap Time: 2:57.1
Great tires, like the optional Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s that came on our Mercedes C63 S coupe, are what you want at Lightning Lap. The tires mean that the V-8's 516 lb-ft of torque can be wrangled into forward progress, and not expensive smoke. You don't have to tiptoe around the throttle as you exit corners and wait until the steering wheel straightens. AMG gave the C63 S a version of the GT R's nine-position traction-control system, but we found it too intrusive and turned it off.
Lap Time: 2:55.8
At 4955 pounds, the Urus has a lot of weight to manage, but it also has 641 horsepower, standard carbon-ceramic discs, and optional Pirelli P Zero Corsa rubber. The result is an SUV that's wildly capable, astonishingly grippy, and able to twist itself around corners in a way we've never witnessed from something this tall and heavy. The Urus pulls 1.04 g's in Turn 1; that's more than the M5 Competition manages. The Urus now holds our SUV record at VIR.
Lap Time: 2:54.0
This M5 is not playful, nimble, or light. It's not even new to Lightning Lap. We brought it back for 2019's event because of a 17-hp bump, retuned damping, stiffer springs, a new rear anti-roll bar, and ball-jointed toe-control links—minor stuff that adds up to a 1.2-second improvement in the Bimmer's lap time. When you're up against the final remaining grip from the M5 Comp's Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber, the words that come to mind are stable, grounded, and sharp.
Lap Time: 2:53.4
The latest 911 to lap VIR is the Carrera T, a 911 equipped with the outgoing base car's 370-hp engine, a few weight-saving measures like thinner rear-window glass, and some sticky dealer-installed Pirelli P Zero Corsa PZC4 tires. A lower ride height and brake-based torque vectoring are standard. Even with stability control fully off, the T never makes a false move. In the Porsche tradition, the brakes deliver the same speed-erasing power lap after lap, and the dual-clutch automatic transmission knows exactly when to downshift and when to upshift.
Lap Time: 2:49.3
Brute force was a big part of the GT63 S's success at Lightning Lap. And yet, 630 horsepower is meaningless if you can't use it. To that end, the GT 4-Door has an all-wheel-drive system that takes everything the boost-chugging V-8 can throw at it and turns it into unholy speed. The handling and grip of this 4628-pound machine foster confidence, but despite having large carbon-ceramic rotors, the GT63 S isn't immune to brake fade.
Lap Time: 2:45.0
A supercharged V-8 with 650 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque means the Camaro really doesn't need 10 gears, but the shifts are so quick and the programming is so spot on that it always picks the perfect ratio. The brakes—regular cast-iron rotors clamped by six-piston calipers up front and four-pot grabbers in back—are tuned to provide full stopping power even after a hard initial stomp. Coupled with the Goodyear gumballs made just for this car, it's almost as if you can't brake late enough.
Lap Time: 2:42.6
The McLaren 600LT has only modest aero aids—a fixed rear wing adorns its tail, a mild splitter is integrated into its nose, and side skirts are enlisted to direct airflow down its flanks. Its Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R rubber is relatively narrow with a slight stagger. On paper, it's a mere sports car with a paltry 592 ponies. On track, it's a supercar—pure joy all the time.
Lap Time: 2:41.6
Life begins at 5000 rpm in the GT3 RS, and its 4.0-liter flat-six revs to 9000. Porsche's dual-clutch shows signs of telepathy. The brakes and steering seem like living, breathing things as they course and pulse with feedback, but all of Porsche's sports cars have that. What's remarkable about this one is the way the chassis responds to stress and how it communicates when the available grip has run out.
Lap Time: 2:34.9
The Senna puts up big numbers everywhere: 172.9 mph on the front straight, 1.23 g's of lateral acceleration in Turn 1, and a best average speed of 134.5 mph. It stops, too. The big brakes and Trofeo R suction cups allow this car to shed speed like no other. With very effective active aerodynamics and just 3.8 pounds saddled to each of its 789 horses, the Senna is the quickest car we have ever lapped at VIR.
Lap Time: 3:07.1
The old NSX still captivates us after all these years, and this model with an aftermarket supercharger is no exception. It's so low, and the nose tapers toward the tarmac in a way that makes you think you could touch the track. Holding the NSX at 0.99 g in Turn 1 requires upper-body muscles that two decades' worth of power steering have atrophied. Remember to respect the car's rear weight bias—even a gentle lift will send the tail wide—and don't overwork the smallish brakes.