While many of us have seen a Viper rumbling down the street, few have actually had the opportunity to sample it. The chance to sample the first production models of the 2014 SRT Viper Time Attack (TA) at Willow Springs International Raceway was a great opportunity to discover how the folks at SRT are altering the fundamentals as well as the image of the Viper.
The first-gen car had striking looks and a huge amount of power, but could never have been considered a sports car. However, constant improvements and success on racetracks around the world over the past couple decades have changed that perception. But can SRT go one step further with the Time Attack version, creating a 200mph-plus car that also scores high marks for maneuverability? We are, after all, talking about a car that is shorter than the latest Porsche 911, which is a promising start?
The team at SRT knows the market for the Viper, and embraces it. On any given weekend you will find staffers from SRT at a racetrack, autocross, car show or cruise-in. They are car guys, and as much as these trips are research, they are also there because they’re enthusiasts.
Russ Ruedisueli, head of SRT & Motorsports Engineering, has been a card-carrying member of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) for nearly 30 years, and can be found club racing his open-wheeled Formula F when not working on SRT projects. Similarly, Vehicle Development Manager Eric Heuschele is a longtime SCCA racer and owns a pair of SCCA National Championship Runoffs gold medals. Even SRT CEO Ralph Gilles can often be found behind the wheel, as he has been known to suit up and join fellow racers in the SRT Viper Cup.
These extracurricular activities give the SRT team a great opportunity to get in touch with their core audience. ?We know about 20 percent of our owners like to track the Viper,? says Gilles. ?That includes owners who do track days, autocross and drag race. It’s that 20 percent the TA was built for.?
Over the years, there has been a number of special edition or track-oriented Viper packages; the TA pulls it off without sacrificing comfort or going over the top on styling. Much of what sets the TA apart is unseen.
With 640hp and 600 lb-ft of torque from the 8.4-liter Viper motor, the SRT team found little reason to delve into the engine. Instead, emphasis was put on handling, braking and stability.
The TA shares the two-mode driver-selectable Bilstein DampTronic shocks that are fitted to the GTS, but the TA has unique shock valving to match its stiffer springs for track driving. The swaybars are also increase in rigidity to combat body roll. In addition, a much more aggressive alignment setting was set, helping to optimize the massive Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires.
?We have the largest production car contact patch,? observes Gilles, and that’s not difficult to believe: the TA wears 295/30ZR18 tires wrapped around a matte black 18×10.5-inch Sindwinder II wheel in front, with 355/30ZR19 tires mounted on a 19×13-inch out back.
Improving brake performance was a challenge for the SRT team, as the Viper’s standard 14-inch diameter front brakes were seemingly using ever bit of available space inside the Sidewinder wheels. Ruedisueli and his team took another approach, decreasing the hat size of the two-piece Brembo rotor, which offered a larger swept area for the TA-specific Brembo caliper to clamp.
A subtle but effective aero treatment, consisting of a pair of carbon fiber front corner splitters and a rear spoiler, aids high-speed stability. Amazingly, the TA sees a 700-percent increase in downforce over the base Viper at 150mph thanks to these parts, and the engineers at SRT incorporated durable skid plates into the splitters to help them handle the hazards of street driving.
To be able to access the performance, the Viper GTS five-mode stability/traction control system was recalibrated along with the TA trimmings. Or as Heuschele puts it: ?Track mode does not interfere. It will let you embarrass yourself on the track.? And for those diehards, or the foolhardy, the system can be completely disabled, giving you full control of all 640 ponies.
For the test day, a short autocross course was setup at the Willow Springs Balcony, a surface caked with burnt street tires courtesy of drifting school regulars, making it rather slippery.
After a couple of shake down runs on the first gear only course with Track Mode engaged, I elected to turn the nannies off completely. Surprisingly, there was only a very slight difference in the way the car felt ” not at all like turning off stability systems in most other cars. With full driver control, the car felt less sensitive to braking on turn in ” if you have ever autocrossed, you’ll know cars are often asked to multitask ” which inspires confidence.
The biggest surprise of the TA was discovering its ability to use its power effectively, even in first gear. Unless provoked, the car was very drivable; I have driven cars with half the power that did not pull off low-speed corners as cleanly. Years of development, and that massive contact patch, have tamed the snake at the rear, and the steering is sharp and precise, allowing the car to change directions quickly, too.
Once acclimated with the TA on the low-speed course, the SRT crew had everyone head over to the main racetrack. Wisely, SRT had placed cones to guide first-time visitors to the apex of key turns, and had added a chicane at Turn 8, slowing entry speeds to the challenging Turn 9. Despite that, speeds achieved were still breathtaking.
On the track, the TA is at home. Even with production tires and street-oriented brake pads, the car is more than capable of putting a grin on the face of the most seasoned weekend warrior. The components on the car prove durable enough for track use, yet civil enough to be driven home at the end of the day.
Ironically, the Viper’s stability at speed and the ease with which it reaches that speed may be the TA’s only drawback for inexperienced drivers: the relatively mellow exhaust note and smooth power delivery does an excellent job of fooling your senses so that a quick glance at the gauges can be a major wakeup call. For me, that moment came shortly after clicking into fifth gear and seeing 143mph on the gauges, with the car still accelerating hard. It’s important to remember that strapping into the driver’s seat of a Viper and hitting the ignition button does not automatically turn you into Jonathan Bomarito or Tommy Kendall.
If you’re convinced this is the car for you, and you’re ready to check the TA option when ordering your 2014 SRT Viper, do yourself a favor and also select the SRT Track Experience. This course is a much better place than the street to unleash the beast and a trained hand ” and foot ” will enable you to tap into the considerable talents of the 2014 SRT Viper TA.
Jason Isley is the Associate Editor at SportsCar magazine. A 20-year member of the Sports Car Club of America, Jason has four SCCA Solo National Championship titles to his credit as well as a bronze medal from the SCCA National Championship Runoffs.
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