Snake Attack: Cranked-Up Viper TA Gets All the Go-Fast Goodies

By J.G. Pasterjak
Feb 24, 2014 | Dodge | Posted in Data & Communication , Product Reviews , News and Notes | From the Feb. 2014 issue | Never miss an article

Here are a couple of facts about the new SRT Viper TA:

• You want one.

• You’re probably not going to have one because they’re only making 159 of them at about $125,000 each.

• That’s fine because you’d just poke out your eye anyway.

The TA in Viper TA stands for “Time Attack.” It’s a brazen admission by the team that builds the cars that they expect this package to appeal to, and be utilized on, race tracks at a bit of an undersell.

See, this Viper doesn’t merely “attack” time. It’s much more personal than that. A more accurate name would be the “Viper T/Stalks it in a windowless van, then kidnaps it and tortures it in a remote cabin in the desert,” but that didn’t fit on the already ample fender.

So let’s start with the particulars: The TA package basically takes the lighter base Viper (the “SRT” model in the lineup), which eschews some of the weight-adding comfort and convenience features of the more highline Viper model (the “GTS” designation), and turns the sport quotient up even higher.

The TA package adds a laundry list of high-performance goodies, mostly in the suspension department. The 640-horsepower, 600 ft.-lbs. 8.0-liter V-10 carries over through all three models because at some point, enough is enough.

The TA gets the stiffest springs in the Viper lineup, solid anti-roll bars vs. hollow ones on more pedestrian models, specially valved remote-reservoir shocks, and some big, honking, two-piece Brembo brake rotors in the front (vs. StopTech pieces on the GTS).

The resultant car is heavier than the base model by a few pounds due to the larger brakes and solid bars but still lighter than the GTS.

With aggressive alignment settings—like 2.5 degrees of negative front camber paired with a bit of toe-out (pretty ballsy for a factory car), and insanely sticky Pirelli P-Zero Corsa tires, the TA is basically ready for the track right from the showroom floor, not that any TA will see much showroom time.

The newest Viper makes extensive use of weightsaving materials in its construction, like a carbon-fiber hood, aluminum doors and a magnesium cowl structure.

While the Viper may have traditionally been viewed as a low-tech American brawler, it’s closer in reality to a European exotic than folks may be willing to give it credit for.

This exotic nature is reflected in the production numbers, too. Fewer than 30,000 Vipers have been built since the first ones rolled off the assembly lines in 1992. That’s about two years’ worth of Corvette production at current numbers.

Get to the Good Part

Yes, we got to drive it. But we also got to watch many of the senior staff of Dodge’s SRT division drive it. And if you ever wondered whether there were still enthusiasts building sports cars, you need to look no further than the SRT division.

SRT head Ralph Gilles is an enthusiastic and gifted racer who grew up drawing cars and autocrossing a VW Scirocco. Erich Heuschele funded his own Neon ACR road racing program while he was still in the trenches at Chrysler. These guys have street cred and skills, and they’re allowed to build cars that reflect their desires.

On the autocross course, the Viper TA is both helped and hampered by a tall first gear that can run past 60 mph. The thing is a beast once in the powerband, but below 4500 rpm you can feel some untapped potential. On the road course, where the revs are higher and the vistas more open, it’s pure pleasure. Point the car into a corner, squeeze the throttle, and watch the scenery go all blurry.

With 640 horsepower on tap, acceleration is obviously explosive. But it’s a controlled explosion. At first, the throttle travel seems unnaturally long, but as Heuschele explains, “Even with all that power available, we wanted the driver to still be able to make fine adjustments. So the throttle is a bit long, but it’s extremely linear. You always know what’s going to happen next when you lean into it.”

Power builds from idle, but the real surge comes at more than 4500 rpm. You’d never refer to an 8.0-liter V10 as peaky, but there’s a definite sweet spot as the revs climb. Out of the meat of the power curve, the car can understeer a bit as power is applied, but once the revs get into the fat part of the torque curve, there’s plenty of reserve torque to balance the chassis nicely, even with those massive 355-width Pirellis out back.

Front tires are a similarly broad 295 width, but despite their extreme footprint, the steering communicates well and never feels sluggish. The car changes direction with authority—almost too much authority for standard threepoint seat belts. You end up using a lot of energy just gripping the wheel and keeping your torso planted. But Eric Heuschele points out that the T/A package is harness-ready, with bosses for lap belts and shoulder harnesses, and passthroughs in the seats. They will be a welcomed addition to a car that we easily saw 140-plus-mph with, approaching Turn 1 at Willow Springs— and that was at a press preview where we were driving the only two TA package cars in existence at that point.

Grip is naturally high— between the well-sorted A-arm suspension, the aggressive alignment and the massive, sticky tires, we’d expect no less—but relatively easy to manage. We say relatively because with such high capabilities, you have to remember that by the time you get to a point where you’re losing traction, you’re traveling at ludicrous speeds. Through the constant-radius Turn 2 at Willow Springs, the Viper TA took a near-neutral set, with only a slight hint of understeer at the limit, letting you know you were reaching the end of the tires’ capabilities. With a firm right foot, oversteer was available, but hanging the tail out didn’t seem to do much to improve exit speeds.

The Viper likes to be driven at the limit, and it makes it easy and rewarding to do so. Going beyond the limit may impress the ladies—and that may be reason enough—but it won’t lower lap times. It won’t punish you too badly for getting slightly out of shape, though, either. The Viper recovers from a slide at either end progressively and with minimal chassis upset.

Look, we’re not saying it’s any great surprise that a car with a ton of power, giant tires and brakes and a great suspension goes around a track fast. What we’re really trying to get across is that the Viper is not the rough-edged buckboard some make it out to be. It’s a downright sophistimacated sports car capable of stunning track performance, and that performance is accessible to a huge range of drivers.

With the electronic assist package, you can select varying degrees of chassis and traction control, and dial in as much or as little intervention as your skills and temperament warrant.

The electronic wizardry won’t override the basic laws of physics, but they will make a journeyman driver’s track day a great deal more enjoyable.

Yes, there is a fully off mode, although even the most highly skilled drivers still find themselves fastest and most consistent with some level of chassis management. We’d say go out and buy a Viper TA if you have the means—but if you have the means, you probably don’t need the encouragement from us. If you don’t have the means, you can just sit alongside us and drool. You can also take comfort in the fact that there’s a big car company out there giving some hard-cores the tools and resources to build some amazing cars. While we all may not find a Viper TA in our stockings this holiday season, we can all be thankful that the team that made it happen is allowed to do what they do.

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