By Patrick Rall
I recently had a chance to attend the Chrysler “What’s New” event at the Chelsea Proving Grounds and among the dozens of cars available for the invited members of the media to drive was the 2013 SRT Viper GTS. Technically, there were two new Vipers to be driven – a GTS Blue Pearl unit that would be my test car on Chrysler’s 3 mile oval and an Adrenaline Red model fitted with the Track Pack with the Matte Black Sidewinder II wheels.
There was one person in front of me in the long line to drive the 2013 SRT Viper GTS around Chrysler’s 3 mile oval so I had a few moments to reflect on the amazing experience on which I was about to embark. Growing up as a Mopar lover, the Viper has always been the ultimate dream car so the opportunity to drive two of them in a closed environment where there are very few rules and no police was truly a dream come true. This was a moment in my life that I would most certainly never forget and it reminded me of another such moment that also came due to my love of all things Mopar.
When I was 16 years old, I was at the Mopar Nationals and there was a strip club that shared the parking lot with the hotel where we were staying. From my hotel window, I could catch quick glimpses into the club when the front doors opened and closed and after some time watching this, I wandered over. A local Mopar fan who had been in and out of the club all night, talking with the guys outside while watching the cars cruise told me that I should check out the club. I told him that I left my ID in the car at the track and he told me that it didn’t matter – they weren’t going to question me walking in with him. I don’t know if that guy really thought that I was 21 (I did have a full beard at that early age) or if he was just a cool local Mopar fan but he was right…I was able to stroll right into the club. After a few minutes, I lost track of him but that didn’t matter. I was living the dream of a 16 year old guy…surround by gorgeous naked women dancing for dollars and it just so happened that I had a bunch of dollars in my pocket. It was a night that I never thought that be surpasses in terms of sheer awesomeness but as I climbed into the Viper at the Chrysler Proving Grounds – I felt every bit as awesome as I did that night some 18 years ago on Ohio.
I got settled into the new Viper, adjusting the seat and pedals to perfectly fit my frame, the gentleman tasked with driving along with all of us gave me a quick briefing of the incredible SRT Viper after which he told me to go ahead and fire her up. I pushed the clutch in and turned the key with the response of the sweet purr of the 640 horsepower Viper V10 roaring out of the side exit exhaust tips. There was a big crowd around the front of the car but they were quick to back away after a few quick, short revs of the V10 and I pulled onto the entry road of the 3 mile oval. I have driven previous Vipers as well as a variety of high end performance cars but none of them were mine to enjoy in a closed environment like the Chelsea Proving Grounds. Even before getting on the track, I could tell that the 2013 Viper GTS clutch was much more user friendly than a great many other high performance cars with a fair amount of play for those who might have struggled with the race style clutch on the older Vipers.
I eased onto the oval in first gear but as soon as I had the new Viper straighten out, I hammered the throttle and was instantly wowed by the awesome acceleration forces at work. I have been in plenty of cars that accelerate hard but even at low RPM – before you are really into the powerband – the Viper pulls incredibly hard. Even better, as the RPMs climb, you can feel the new Viper just pulling harder and harder and before you know it, you are nearing 60 miles per hour before shifting out of first gear. A quick, hard shift into second gear is easy thanks to the tight, concise gates of the Viper shifter and the car continues to rapidly soar towards the century mark on the speedometer. When I hit the first turn of the huge oval, I was going a touch over the often-ignored 70 mph speed limit on the oval and where other cars (including those from the SRT lineup) will require you to lift at these speeds though these broad, sweeping corners – the Viper cruises though them like you are going 30. People say that a car handles like it is “on a rail” but Ive never driven anything that felt so tightly planted to the ground as the new Viper. As I came out of turn two, I had pulled far enough away from every other car on the track that I was able to quickly come down to a stop and launch the car hard. With just a quick chirp of the tires, the Viper was climbing through the RPMs and I was banging smoothly through the gears and while the “co pilot” was willing to let me stretch the speed limit a bit – when I power shifted into 4th gear and kept climbing he gave me the quick “down down” hand motion to which I obliged. However, that quick 0 to ‘Dream Sequence Fast’ blast provided me with the full force of the Vipers fury at wide open throttle and as I let off of the throttle, I was able to take a deep breath and utter but one word – WOW. The co pilot smiled and agreed. I made a few more laps of moderately high speeds, all the while being amazed how at easily the Viper will accelerate from a mild cruising speed to “Oh My God” fast in the blink of an eye while screaming through the wide, sweeping corners of the oval track without any suggestion of needing to slow down for the turn.
After lapping the oval a few times, I turned the 2013 Viper GTS back into the paddock area where I could let everyone else have their turn. After a short trip on the shuttle to the autocross area, I was standing in front of the Adrenaline Red Viper GTS featuring the Track Pack that would serve as my next test vehicle. The venue was a short autocross course that combined some tighter, more intricate turns with longer, wider sweeping turns and a quick slalom. Between these turns were some straights that gave us a chance to let the Viper stretch its legs without ever having to shift out of second gear. This allowed us to focus on the raw acceleration and handling of the mighty Viper and having taken a great many vehicles through an autocross course in my day – I can honestly say that I’ve never driven anything that handled so well…including the Ford Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca package. In the short, tight turns the Viper jumped around the cones at 70 miles per hour with the same confidence that most cars can only hope to offer in this situation at speeds under 15 miles per hour. You turn the wheel and the Viper responds exactly how you ask without any suggestion of the front end pushing…although coming out of the turns too hard – even in second gear – would bring about some tire spin. On the longer, sweeping turns, I was able to continuously accelerate without any concern of oversteer or understeer and it was through those higher speed turns where the Viper truly felt like it was rooted to the racing surface. I was going very fast and at no point did it feel like I was anywhere near breaking the car loose. Even in the slalom – which forced me to tap the brakes in the Challenger SRT8 when I got overzealous – the Viper seemed to have no problem roaring between the cones as the course neared the end.
I was able to make a few more passes around the autocross course in the 2013 SRT Viper GTS, each time pushing the Mopar supercar a little harder and I don’t think that I ever got close to pushing the limits of this awesome piece of American machinery. From a professional standpoint, driving the new Viper raised the standard by which all other sports cars will now be compared but from a personal view – this was truly one of the most exciting experiences of my life. I would like to think that my career as an automotive journalist will continue to offer up thrilling high performance cars to drive but my first chance to push the 2013 SRT Viper GTS at the Chrysler Proving Grounds was an experience that I will never, ever forget.