VIRGINIA INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY is a place with many special memories for me. It’s the place I learned the word diagonical (perhaps that’s still not a word) and it’s the place I first visited during One Lap of America. However, one of the highlights of my small racing career was racing there in two rounds of the Dodge Viper Cup a few years ago.
Viper Cup was a series based on identical Dodge Viper ACR-Xs, the racing version of the then-fastest Viper – 640 horsepower, Michelin slicks and a little bit of downforce – ever made. The ACR-X was the fastest race car I’d ever driven, and to this day it’s still the most demanding car I’ve ever driven in anger.
So, for Dodge to hold the launch event of the 2016 Viper ACR in Virginia was perfectly serendipitous for me. Simply put, VIR is much more fun when you’re driving a properly fast car.
The American Club Racing name originated on the 1999 Viper and, with a few enhancements, it was the sort of car Viper enthusiasts could take to the track.
Three years into the production run of this latest fifth-generation snake, almost on cue, there’s a new ACR on the ground. It would be easy for the Viper team to slap on some aero, throw on some sticky tires, take some weight out, and call it the ACR. That would be the easy way out, but that’s not how Viper engineers do things.
Not only is the 2016 ACR the fastest V10-powered monster they’ve ever made, as SRT President and CEO Tim Kuniskis says, “It has the most aggressive aero package ever put on a production vehicle.” No, not just a Viper, but any road legal production car built by any manufacturer. Indeed, it took 300 hours in the wind tunnel, as well as countless hours of CFD simulations, to hone the aerodynamic package.
Not only that, but the ACR’s aero package defines the car visually. Head of Dodge and SRT Design Mark Trostle says, “The aero had to be beautiful and functional,” and that’s evident when you lay your eyes upon it. Whether it’s standing still or blasting up VIR’s legendary Esses at 200 km/h, the ACR looks like an authentic racing machine. Its stance, front splitter, massive rear wing and mega rear diffuser tells you all you need to know. This car is legit!
The Viper you see on these pages is equipped with the single most important option for the ACR – the Extreme Aero Package. While sounding like something straight out of the ’90s, these aero bits are the real deal. When you tick that option box, you get a bigger front splitter, removable front fender vents, deeper rear diffuser and a taller, wider rear wing than the normal ACR. As if you could call the ACR normal.
Sure, it’s easy to focus on the aerodynamic kit, but the ACR is all about how all of the systems are engineered and optimized to work together. Bilstein dampers were engineered into the car for their light weight and high range of adjustability – 10 clicks for both bump and rebound. Springs and sway bar rates are engineered specifically for the higher loads of the ACR. For the first time, carbon ceramic brakes are fitted to a Viper and their lighter weight makes it easier for the dampers to keep the tires in contact with the road.
Tires are engineered specifically for the ACR by Kumho and their character reminds me of the excellent Hoosiers I race on for their epic grip and longevity. Once up to temperature, the Kumhos maintain their grip, without going off, for the 15-minute sessions I was doing.
The drivetrain is standard Viper – the 640-horsepower, 600 lb-ft, 8.4-litre V10 and six-speed manual from Tremec carry over from the other models – save for one key difference. To keep differential temperatures down, the engineers have “finned” the diff cover and fitted cooling ports, allowing owners to add a cooler if they so desire.
While the ACR has a meaningful weight savings program – only essential carpeting is retained, all NVH materials are removed, the audio system is downgraded to three speakers and the amplifier is removed, never mind the lighter brakes and dampers – the effect is almost nil and the car rolls over the scales a few pounds lighter than a standard Viper.
There are just three things the ACR needs to be race ready – a roll cage, race seat and a six-point harness – and yet this street legal supercar is capable of turning laps as fast as a pro-level race car.
With that in mind, I hopped into the ACR and rolled out of VIR’s pit lane, and it felt like coming home. Peering out over the long hood, shifting up through first, second and third gears with that short lever, and easing into the throttle brought back Viper memories for me. As easy as the old Gen 4 ACR-X and Gen 5 T/A are to drive, this new treatment gives the Viper the skills to pay the bills. Want to be the superstar at your local track day? Buy this car. Precise steering and brakes that seem to defy physics are immediately apparent, but it’s the stick of the tires and the high-speed aero grip that take this car to unheard of performance for any road legal car.
The Viper’s V10 thrust plus the go-fast engineering of the ACR makes for a car that’s both rewarding and demanding at the same time. It rewards any driver that gives this Viper its due because it’s relatively easy to drive quickly, with massive reserves of power, grip and braking.
On the other hand, the ACR’s limits are so vast and so high, that it demands the full attention and skills of an experienced driver in order to fully and thoroughly exploit its capabilities. This is what makes the ACR unique among supercars and among track day cars.
If you’re fortunate enough to put one of these in your garage, don’t forget to buy a good six-point harness because this thing corners at a level that exceeds the ability of the three-point belt and seat to hold you in place. I overheard Viper engineers talking about peak cornering forces of 1.6 Gs and I’m not surprised. In high-speed corners, I’d have to use the door and transmission tunnel for support – and that’s something I’ve never done in a road car before.
Among flappy-paddled and four-wheel driven supercars, the Viper remains a breath of fresh air for those of us who remember what it’s like to be engaged with a machined that demands so much of your attention. This ACR, though, takes the track car game and raises it up a full notch. Even Porsche’s venerable GT3 RS doesn’t make as much downforce as this supercar from Motown. You’ve been warned, track rats. You can’t get a faster or crazier road legal track car than this ACR.
BY THE NUMBERS
$213.18/HP (CALCULATED W/ ESTIMATED BASE MSRP)
15.7 L/100 KM (AUTO – COMBINED)
Extreme Aero package; carbon fibre structural X-brace; 19-in. ACR Brass Monkey wheels; exterior carbon fibre package; ACR car cover; ACR Extreme car cover.
2016 Dodge Viper ACR
BASE PRICE: $137,500 (estimate only)
ENGINE: 8.4L V10
HORSEPOWER: 645 hp @ 6,200 rpm
TORQUE: 600 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm
CONFIGURATION: Front engine / Rear-wheel-drive
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual
DRY WEIGHT: 1,530 kg (1,539 kg with Extreme Aero)
FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (CITY / HWY. / COMB.): 19.5 / 11.1 / 15.7 L/100 km
WARRANTY (MOS. / KM): 48 / 80,000
ALTERNATIVES: Corvette Z06, McLaren 570S, Porsche 911