A look at the unique tracks of the 90-year-old Milford Proving Ground
DETROIT – To develop performance cars, automakers depend on fundamental analysis, but it’s the test tracks and road courses that bring out the best in a vehicle. The collection of roadways assembled at the 90-year-old Milford Proving Ground has more than 140 miles covering parts of two Michigan counties.
“The proof is in a powerful ride like the Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 that won Motor Trend’s 2014 Best Driver’s Car,” said Dick Knoll, Chevrolet Camaro lead development engineer. “Because of our Proving Ground, we can put the vehicle through the paces that a customer purchasing the car will put it through and then some.”
To get these powerful cars ready for track days as well as day-to-day driving, Milford Proving Ground employs test tracks including:
- The North South Straight Away – Built in 1955, it provides a three-lane, 3-mile-long road without twists so that a car can reach its maximum speed. There is a high-speed turnaround on either end of the straight away.
- The Milford Road Course – Developed in 2003 under the leadership of Bob Lutz, the former GM vice chairman who wanted the Proving Ground to have a road course to emulate specific sections of race tracks around the world. The 2.9 mile course consists of 17 turns, each designed to test specific performance requirements along with significant elevation changes to ensure the vehicle performs under all suspension and aerodynamic-load conditions. The straight away allows for testing at speeds above 150 mph.
“I lobbied for it, all of a sudden it was approved,” said Lutz. “Look what’s happened to the ride, handling, steering, braking… everything of GM cars. We’re better than the best of competition and part of the reason is we have that facility. The lessons learned on steering, tire grip, braking, etc. that are learned on very high performance vehicles, some of that translates all across the line.”
- Black Lake – Built in 1968, the 67-acre asphalt surface allows engineers to develop and refine traction control, electronic stability control and brake performance. By moistening the lot with a water truck, engineers can replicate wet road conditions.
- Ride and Handling and Noise and Vibration roads include the Fenn Holden area (named after the first director of the Proving Ground), the Oval track, and the Ride & Handling/Noise & Vibration loop.
Driving on these tracks is about 1 percent of the performance testing. The rest of the time consists of preparing for the drive to ensure the information gathered provides guidance for further refinement and not just a seat-of-the-pants thrill. During a test trial, an engineering team can collect data on more than 220 channels at any given moment.
“To make the world’s best vehicles, you need the world’s best people along with the world’s best facility,” Knoll said. “We are fortunate to have both.”
Globally, General Motors has other Proving Ground facilities including in Lang Lang, Australia, Shanghai and Yuma, Ariz.