2015 Dodge Viper GT: Crazy Swede Shows Us How to Really Drive a Viper
by Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor on October 1, 2015
Disclosure: I've been kind of a wuss with our 2015 Dodge Viper.
Part of it is mental. Logically, I know the current generation Viper is far removed from its "bite the hand that feeds it" reputation, but it's an aspect that's nonetheless hard to fully dismiss. But even setting that aside, there's just the car itself: Monster 645-horsepower V10, tires so big they should require yellow "wide load" warning labels on them, and styling to attract an officer's attention right away. Truly testing the car's capabilities on a public road seems like a really good way to risk my license and/or mortality.
What we need for our Viper, I've decided, is track time (which is why the SRT Track Experience program is so cool). Rather conveniently, I got a taste of what it's like to drive a Viper on a racetrack recently, piloting a blue 2015 Dodge Viper ACR with a guy nicknamed "The Crazy Swede," no less.
This occurred at a Fiat-Chrysler drive event at Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond, California. While my main focus was to sample Fiat-Chrysler's mainstream products, Dodge also had some go-fast hardware available for driving on the main track, including the pictured ACR. Dodge was letting participants drive it with a professional driver riding along, and/or hot laps with the driver (if you want to read more about the ACR, check out our road test).
I was paired with Samuel Hubinette. He seemed like a pretty cool guy when we first met, with a friendly demeanor and a Swedish accent and pretty-blue-eyes combo that I'm sure gets the ladies all googly. Only later did I learn he's also a Formula Drift champion, professional stunt driver and owner of a very cool nickname. Need an interesting person to have at your cocktail party? Invite this guy.
I buckled into the ACR's full race seat and harness first and headed out onto the track, taking my three-lap set (warm-up, full race and cool-down.). This is where our long-term Viper belongs, I thought to myself. I could drive the Viper ACR with improved confidence, pressing it harder around turns and going full whack for each straight.
It was quite interesting how it didn't seem nearly as intimidating. That said, I know I only used a fraction of the Viper's cornering abilities given my unfamiliarity with the track and a desire not to do anything dumb.
After my drive, I pulled into the pits so we could swap. "You were very smooth," Samuel the Crazy Swede said. It was a nice compliment, but hard not to think that in racer speak that translates to: "But you were slower than a goat."
After that, Samuel drove three laps. Good gravy. He didn't need no stinkin' warm-up lap. He was immediately fully on the attack. Even though I was strapped in, I still had to brace myself with my feet on the floor and right knee against the door. My head was bouncing around like a Brett Favre bobblehead, and I was laughing at the absurdity of his speed and uttering the mindless, single-syllable exclamations common in situations like this, such as "Woah!" and "Cool!"
I thought that perhaps being a drift champion and stunt driver, Samuel would have the Viper's tail hanging out the entire time in a haze of expensive tire smoke. But nope, he was calm and focused, driving a perfect line around the track. Only at one point did the Viper's back end slide a bit. He caught it easily with the steering. I gave him a thumbs-up. He replied back with a Hawaiian shaka ("hang loose") sign and put the hammer back down.
Dodge wisely nerfed a few turns with cones for the journalist drivers (most notably, the infamous eighth and ninth corners), so there was no point in tracking Sam's lap times, but around turn two, for instance, I noticed Samuel averaging 100 mph, which, having watched a couple YouTube videos with telemetry on them, is quite fast indeed.
A lot of credit is due the extra grip of the ACR's aero and tire upgrades. Samuel was even driving hard enough to get the ACR's rear diffuser to scrape when exiting turn nine, which, apparently, is supposed to happen. It's a race car that that you can put a license plate on.
Later I asked Sam how he approached driving a Viper, ACR or not.
"It's actually a very balanced car," he said. "Just be smooth in the corners, and then go very fast out."
Easy, right? But I came away with a renewed appreciation of the Viper. It's still not an "easy" car to drive fast, necessarily, but once you get used to it a little bit on a track, and then seen its potential through the lens of a professional driver, the Viper produces thrills few others can match.
Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor