Strapped In: At Speed In The World-Beating 2016 Dodge Viper ACR

viperacr-leadartRecently Dodge invited a group of journalists out to Willow Springs Raceway, about an hour north of Los Angeles, to sample their 2016 lineup of high performance machines. Along with the Scat Pack cars, SRT 392 models and Hellcat twins, we’d also get our introduction to the new track-focused Viper ACR. As you might expect, it didn’t take long to get the RSVP back to them.

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The ACR keeps the standard Viper’s naturally aspirated 8.4-liter V10, which makes 645 horsepower and 600 pound-feet of torque. That might be a disappointment to some, but the ACR is not about straight line supremacy – it’s about fast lap times.

A pair of Viper ACRs parked on display greeted us at the entrance to the track. Though the Viper TA 2.0 would be available for journalists to drive, the ACR would specifically be used for ride-alongs with Chris Winkler, an SRT vehicle dynamics engineer who helped design and tune the Viper, including the new ACR model.

Compared to a standard Viper, the ACR boasts nearly one ton of downforce at 177 miles per hour because of its aggressive aero package, 1.5 g of sustainable lateral grip in the corners due its ten-way adjustable Bilstein coilover suspension and Kumho Ecsta V720 high performance tires (made specifically for this car), and some very serious stopping power by way of a new Brembo “Carbon Ceramic Matrix” system, which utilizes 15.4-inch two-piece front rotors (with six piston calipers) and 14.2-inch discs out back that are clamped by four-piston calipers.

To say it’s a formidable package is a bit of an understatement. In fact, the newest track monster from Dodge has nabbed more than a few production car track records recently – thirteen of them, actually. Not only does that make the new ACR the fastest factory-built Viper ever produced, it also means that the 2016 Viper ACR holds more production car lap records than any other car in the world – at any price.

The aero package on the new ACR is some military-grade stuff, capable of generating nearly one ton of downforce at 177 mph, more than any production car ever sold.

Those lap records include Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, where Motor Trend recently put a Porsche 918 Spyder and McLaren P1 head to head, with the 918 posting a new lap record and besting the million-dollar P1. Both of those hybrid powered, ultra-exclusive and technologically stunning cars are slower than the Viper ACR around Laguna Seca, despite both having dual clutch transmissions and several hundred more horsepower than the Dodge.

Specifically at the famed race track in Monterey, California, Dodge teamed with champion racecar driver Randy Pobst to establish the ACR’s fast lap. Pobst holds a number of Laguna Seca track records – among them are the records set in the Porsche 918 Spyder and McLaren P1. With Pobst behind the wheel, the ACR posted a blistering time of 1:28.65, which is 1.24 seconds faster than the Porsche and a whopping 5.27 seconds faster than the previous generation Viper ACR, itself the lap record holder years ago.

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At first glance you might think those front fender vents are there to aid cooling, but their actual purpose is to prevent front end lift at high speeds.

Winkler himself secured the other dozen lap records that the ACR has collected, which include famed courses like Road Atlanta, Virginia International Raceway, Motown Mile, and Willow Springs Raceway. You read that right, we would be going on a fast lap of WSIR with the lap record holder in the car that did the deed.

“The SCCA has certified that the new 2016 Dodge Viper ACR holds more track records than any other production car in the world,” Tim Kuniskis, Head of Dodge, SRT, Chrysler and Fiat brands in North America said during the announcement of the lap records. “We expected our new Viper ACR to be the fastest street-legal Viper track car ever. Now we know without a doubt that it is.”

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Dodge’s performance buffet included everything from a Challenger R/T with Scat Pack upgrades (which is, confusingly, not the same model as an R/T Scat Pack) to a Viper TA and both the coupe and sedan flavors of the SRT 392 and Hellcat.

But our ride-along with Chris around Big Willow would have to wait until later in the day – we had plenty of driving to do in the meantime. Along with laps around the big course, FCA also brought along nearly every model from their 2016 lineup for “street” drives around a road course that took us around and over the big course and onto sections of Streets of Willow, a smaller race course situated above Big Willow at the same facility.

To prevent what would likely be a massacre of automotive journalists, the folks from Dodge smartly added a chicane to Big Willow to slow us down turns six and seven, a fast downhill area where you can pick up a lot of speed in a Miata. With five times the horsepower under your right foot, you can really get moving here. By the time you get to turn eight if you’re not slowed down properly you could be in some serious trouble, so the chicane helped prevent drivers from picking up more speed than they could scrub off before getting there.

And behind the wheel of a Charger SRT Hellcat, as your author found himself for the first session around the big track, it’s certainly an understandable concern. These cars may be big and carry some heft with them, but they really do hustle down the track.

The suspension tuning done to the 2015 and up Challengers and Chargers has dialed out nearly all of the understeer these cars formerly had a reputation for, and the Pirelli Pzeros offer quite a bit of grip considering how much car and horsepower they’re tasked with handling.

When the Challenger SRT Hellcat was announced, along with the wicked power plant it also had the notable distinction of having the largest brakes ever fitted to a Chrysler product. Dimensionally it now shares the glory with the Viper ACR, though it's worth noting that the ACR's rotors are carbon ceramic.

And the braking on the SRT cars is flat-out fantastic. The six-piston Brembo setup might not utilize carbon ceramic discs like the Viper ACR does, but there was never a hint of fade throughout a day of near-constant track sessions, and the sheer ability to slow the car down with these puppies is just as impressive as the supercharged power plant is, the latter of which truly makes its presence known when you’re hitting 130+ down the main straight, supercharger howling all along the way.

Mopar's Plum Crazy paint hue has rejoined the fray for 2016, seen here on an Challenger R/T Scat Pack.

Mopar’s Plum Crazy paint hue has rejoined the fray for 2016, seen here on an Challenger R/T Scat Pack.

While the Scat Pack cars don’t have the same level of capability as the SRT models, they certainly hold their own on the road course and offer plenty of entertainment. As they come from the showroom, the four-piston Brembo brakes and Goodyear F1 tires are capable hardware for track use – as is the 485 horsepower, 6.4-liter Hemi V8.

After a few sessions behind the wheel of various Dodge high performance offerings we got our chance to ride shotgun in the Viper ACR with Chris. Within the first five seconds after we set off for a pair of fast laps your author was already praising the presence of a stabilizing handgrip placed to the right of the shifter – an excellent way to brace one’s self against the sheer amount of gravitational force this ACR can muster.

“We hit 1.6 g around turn two”, Chris explained after our laps. This is a level of grip that makes you feel like your face wants to come off. At the time of our session, Dodge’s people weren’t ready to post lap time numbers just yet, but rumor was that some people were in for a surprise. Now we know why.

Unfortunately we’ll have to wait until next year to see what the ACR can do around Germany’s Nurburgring, as the current speed restrictions – which limit speeds to 155 mph on the main straight, among other things – prevent Dodge from getting an accurate lap time there. The previous generation ACR held the production car lap record for quite a while as well, and there’s plenty of evidence to support the theory that the new ACR may stun there once again. There may be some disappointed seven-figure car owners come next year.

Although the ACR is the most track capable version of the Viper, at high speeds it can lose a step or two to cars with less aggressive aero, which is why our top speed on the main straight of Big Willow matched Winkler's.

Although the ACR is the most track capable version of the Viper, at high speeds it can lose a step or two to cars with less aggressive aero, like this GT model with the TA 2.0 aero package. This helps explain why we were able to match our top speed on the main straight of Big Willow to Chris Winkler’s in ACR, despite not keeping anywhere near the same pace around the rest of the course.

After our ride-along with Chris we got our turn at the helm of a Viper. This particular model was a GT outfitted with the TA 2.0 aero package, which now includes a rear wing and a pair of large dive planes up front. Though substantially slower than Chris’s lap in the ACR (due to my skill rather than the differences between the two models), it was a point of pride for your author that we got the snake up to 140 before mashing the brakes for turn one, and we also managed to emerge victorious from a friendly bet between yours truly and another journalist (who will remain unnamed) by handedly beating his fast lap time by a second and a half. Yes, we get paid to do this stuff.

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Take note: this is what 3000+ horsepower looks like lined up and ready to attack. The Hellcats, despite all of the “Fat Cat” attacks, handled the nine turns at Big Willow very well, and of course that power was always under foot.

When Fiat saved Chrysler from bankruptcy in 2009, some enthusiasts were certain the sky was falling – that Fiat would dismantle the Pentastar we knew and loved and that Dodge’s performance days were over. How wrong they were. Here we stand six years later with more than half a dozen models making in excess of 480 horsepower, a pair of them more than 700 horsepower, and one of them the undisputed production car lap record king the world over.

It might not be the first time this sentiment has been used, but it bears repeating – now is the golden age of motoring, and perhaps nowhere else is it more obvious than in the current Mopar performance lineup. Whether you’re a Pentastar fan or not, the entrance of the Hellcat cars into our lives has definitely created a spark with Ford and Chevrolet. We’ve said it before: we live in exciting times with these new musclecar wars.

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About the author

Bradley Iger

Lover of noisy cars, noisy music, and noisy bulldogs, Brad can often be found flogging something expensive along the twisting tarmac of the Angeles Forest.
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