Zazzle Shop

Screen printing

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Viper ACR slays ZR1 & GTR at the Ring- goes 7:22

By Ron Kiino
Photography by Charlie Magee

Watch the Viper's record-breaking lap HERE

After Nissan announced in May of this year that its 480-horsepower, all-wheel-drive GT-R lapped Germany's infamous 20.8-km (12.9 miles) Nurburgring Nordschleife in a time of 7:29, Viper people became restless. Then, just a month later, following Chevrolet's declaration that its 638-horsepower supercharged Corvette ZR1 was the king of the hill, breaking the GT-R's record with a time of 7:26, Viper people became downright mad. Not the folks who work for Dodge, mind you, but the members of the Viper Club of America, a group of Viper fanatics that in fact stretches its arms well beyond America, as far as Japan and Germany. Sick and tired of hearing about other cars setting records at the Nordschleife, they wanted to see their pride and joy-namely, Dodge's new track-attacking 600-horsepower Viper ACR (American Club Racer)-take a shot at the record books. But what could they do about it?

Well, they could (and did) bug Dodge-specifically, the Street & Racing Technology team-to the point that SRT said, What the heck, let's go for it. So SRT rented the Nordschleife for a half-day (at a cost of $2000 Euro per hour), shipped two ACRs over to Germany, hired a pro driver through Zakspeed (a race team that runs Vipers in the ADAC Zurich 24h Race at the Nrburgring), and hoped for good weather and, more important, a lap time quicker than 7:26. And, for posterity, the SRT team figured having a media outlet on-hand was a wise idea, so they invited Motor Trend, and yours truly was fortunate enough to get the call.


Chasing the Record
On August 18, the day of the record attempt, the climate gods appear to be on Dodge's side-temps are in the 60s Fahrenheit and rainclouds have come and gone the day prior, so, save for two, slightly damp spots, the track is dry (a rarity at the Nordschleife, as precipitation is common in the Eifel region of Germany, often leaving the 'Ring damp, in parts or entirety). At 8 a.m., FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) driver Tom Coronel, who pilots a Leon TFSi for SEAT Team Holland, arrives at the track, ready to be debriefed and prepped for his 9 a.m. start time. In addition to his time in WTCC, Coronel, a Dutchman, has compiled extensive experience in Formula 3, Formula Nippon, and, most significant on this day, the 24-hour race at the Nurburgring. After donning his race suit and conversing with the SRT engineers, Coronel squeezes into the red-and-black ACR (a black-and-gray ACR was brought along as a back-up) and departs on his warm-up lap.

(A note on the two Viper ACRs: Except for a Racetech seat with a six-point harness, each ACR is factory stock and fitted with the Hard Core package, a no-cost option that cuts 40 pounds off the curb weight. About 10 percent of ACR customers order the HCP, which deletes the audio system, trunk carpet, rear cabin sound insulation, tire inflator kit, hood insulator, and steel battery cover.)

If there were any skeptics regarding Coronel's ability to hustle a Viper around the 'Ring, his first two laps-a 7:42 and a 7:35, respectively-silence all of them. Informed of his times, Coronel seems somewhat pleased and then asks, "And what time are you trying to break?" After hearing that he's nearly 10 seconds behind the record, he shrugs and says, "I think that is possible." To address Coronel's complaints that the ACR is displaying light understeer in medium- to high-speed turns and its steering feels a little light, engineers stiffen the front dampers for both compression and rebound (up three clicks to position 11, out of 14 total) and the rear dampers for compression (again, up three clicks to 11). The adjustable rear wing, which offers seven hole positions with the seventh offering the most down force, remains in position three, while the front splitter stays at its initial setting (0) as does the ride height (0.5 inch lower than stock).

Breaking the Record
Coronel's second and third stints, each with one hot lap, render the same record-breaking time of 7:24, evidence that the suspension alterations, along with fresh Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires, are cutting time. The team is happy but not overjoyed-the record is theirs but they know the car can do better. According to SRT engineer Mike Shinedling, computer simulations done back in Michigan showed the ACR capable of times well into the teens, so a sub-7:20 is the ultimate goal.

On the fourth run, another single hot lap, Coronel puts down the best time of the day, a 7:22.1, slicing over four seconds from the ZR1's time. It's not a sub-7:20, but it'll more than do. Per Shinedling, "Had we shortened the gearing and had more than a day to develop the car for the Nordshcleife, we probably could have dipped below 7:20, but we're very happy with our time, nonetheless." So is Coronel, who suggests the team celebrate with a round of beer at the famous Pistenklause restaurant. Everyone obliges, as there is much to rejoice and, let's face it, likely little time to enjoy it-undoubtedly, the ZR1 will be back as will the GT-R (rumors abound that a V-Spec version has lapped a 7:25). But for now, the Viper ACR is the most lethal 'Ringer around.