After we’d finished thrashing the new SRT Viper at our recent secret test (which you will have read about by now), we handed it over to SRT boss Ralph Gilles for his first track laps in the car and went along for the ride.
So, what was the main focus of the development?
‘The assignment for the Viper was to create a true driver’s car. Everyone knows the Viper is powerful, but how accessible is its performance to a good driver? Everyone today is talking about how accessible it is. And that’s exactly how it feels – this is my first time driving it on the track. I have a lot of seat time in race Vipers, production Vipers. And already the immediate sensation is the steering is doing precisely what I want it to do. I can tell right away that it is much more linear and responsive. Feels very contemporary, modern, alert. I’m so comfortable with the old car it’s not scary to me, but you are definitely having to manage it, having a wrestling match with it. In this new car you are going faster in it without even realising it, which to me is evidence of a true sports car.’
What differences are you noticing in the new car?
‘Even a simple thing like blipping the throttle – the lighter flywheel allows the engine to match revs faster when you heel and toe, so all the arts of true driving are now part of the Viper story. We worked with Tremec to really get the shifter right. It was always a bit sloppy and tall. Now it’s much more snickety. The steering wheel weight and the rack have been tuned nicely but also the way the steering wheel feels… We spent a lot of time benchmarking all the serious steering wheels – the Audi R8, Porsches, Abarth, Ferraris. We had a big internal discussion about which one felt best. When you hold it you notice that it immediately feels natural in your hands, great fun to be holding.’
Did Ferrari have any input on this new Viper?
‘Ferrari? Dynamically not so much, as our cars are so fundamentally different. More on the art of building low volume. We never really approached the Viper as a low volume build before, the suppliers we used were the same ones we used for the normal mass production stuff. The instrument panel came from the same plant as the old Concord and Intrepid [mass produced cars]. So learning how to do wrapped leather interiors, they told us ‘we use this supplier, that supplier’. I know there were lots of rumours that it was more than that, but that’s not the case.’
What are your first conclusions about the new Viper on the track, then?
‘We’ve finally achieved go kart-like reflexes. It also seems a lot less bothered by mid- corner bumps. Just kind of swallows them up. I’m tryng to make the car slide on purpose and I’m not feeling anything. And I’m still on soft mode – crazy! What I’m finding is all four corners are very useable. We always had the biggest front tyres but with that kind of stiction the back end would come around with the least provocation. Now it feels much more balanced front to back. In our slalom tests it’s 4mph faster. It all ads up – if you talk about the engineers’ wish list being granted, this is it.’
Not to mention customer desires…
‘Right. We were proud of the myth [that the Viper is a proper handful] but there comes a point where it doesn’t make sense. I think we are there now.’