No matter how much you study, no matter how many videos and reviews you consume, or how many owners you talk to, you will never be “ready” for a Dodge Charger or Challenger Hellcat. The supercharged engine’s 707 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque shakes you down to your soul and brings the phrase “Wow, that was close” to the top of your lexicon. Dodge seems to agree, so it offers every Hellcat or SRT buyer the chance to adjust to a high-horsepower lifestyle with some coaching from the Bondurant Racing School. We spent a day at the school to see what treats buyers are in for.
With every purchase of an SRT-branded vehicle, which includes properly equipped Challengers, Chargers, and all Vipers, Dodge will foot the bill for one day of instruction at the recently renowned Bondurant Racing School in Phoenix, Arizona. Bondurant made the switch from Chevrolet performance cars to FCA products last October, when it took delivery of around 100 Dodge vehicles. In fact, the world-class facility, which features a learning-focused 1.6-mile circuit with multiple configurations, 8-acre multipurpose asphalt pad, along with three other tracks used for “advanced” classes, looks more like a Dodge dealership than a racing school. According to Bondurant, the garages play host to 24 Hellcats, 32 Dodge Viper TA 2.0s, and 10 Viper ACRs, among other cars.
To get the ball rolling (or, more precisely, the tires smoking), we headed to the skidpad to learn how to control Scat Pack Dodge Chargers. The sedans had been modified with hydraulically controlled caster wheels at each corner, allowing the instructor, riding shotgun, to reduce grip at one end of the car. With the rear tires raised, for instance, the unsuspecting driver had to finesse the Charger as it hung its tail way, way out in lurid oversteer.
The goal is for drivers to focus on the “eyes up” concept of looking at their target; novice drivers tend to fixate directly in front of the car at all times. After a few spins, I got the hang of keeping my eyes up, countersteering, and modulating the throttle to “catch” the rear before the car started spinning. Suddenly my instructor re-activated the dolly system, and we clumsily spun out in a cloud of smoke again.
Next, we moved to an autocross session, which was an exercise in frustration in navigating battleship-sized Challenger SRTs through the narrow cone gates. Challengers wouldn’t be a first choice for the cone circuit, but wheeling such a big, overpowered car through a technical challenge emphasized throttle restraint and smoothness, allowing drivers to get accustomed to the brutish Challenger ahead of the next activity.
Finally, it was time for the fastest portion of the instruction: lead-follow laps on the track. Instructors led packs of Challengers, Chargers, and Vipers around the road course at varying speeds, stopping after three or four laps for a car change, to give us a chance to sample the track while still getting acquainted with the proper driving lines. Though we quickly got the cars’ brakes very, very hot, the specialized track pads installed by Bondurant kept stopping power strong, keeping things safe lap after lap.
The more we lapped the track, the more my initial love for both iterations of the Hellcat began to wane. The 707-hp heavyweights charged around the technical course with all the deftness and accuracy of a bazooka—lots of power, not enough control. Of the Hellcat twins, we much preferred tracking the Chargers, as they had a more neutral and forgiving handling bent than the white-knuckle rollercoaster approach of the Challengers. The Hellcat Challengers brawled their way through the course, with the rear tires so unsettled that they bounced and hopped over track imperfections, even on straights. The Charger’s steering also had a better sense of linearity and smoothness compared to the Challenger’s relative numbness. My helmet bashed against the roof every time I hit a bump in either car, even though I had the seat positioned as low as possible.
Dodge’s supercar, though, was a different story. After falling madly in love with a 2015 Dodge Viper GT last year on a tour through public roads in the Midwest, thrashing Detroit’s supercar in a track setting was a second draught of ambrosia. As I suspected, the Vipers were brilliant and exacting on the track. With tremendously powerful brakes and an ultra-confident chassis, the Viper was a weapon. The all-too-brief lapping sessions weren’t enough to satiate our cravings for the 8.4-liter V-10 engine and the sensation of slamming the beefy shifter between gears at full throttle. Unlike the Hellcat twins, which make do with relatively skinny 275 mm section width rubber in the rear, the Viper has tires to match its stupendous power. The V-10’s 645 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque are managed well by 355/30R-19 rear sectionals. I climbed back into the Vipers for lap after lap, not wanting to return to the rotund Hellcats.
A useful introduction to go-fast Dodges
While the autocross was a laugh, and the lead-follow laps were valuable track time, the skidpad is where participants learn most about car control—especially as paying attendees get 40 minutes of individual instruction versus our 5-minute session. SRT owners will become intimately acquainted with power oversteer, so the skidpad tuition should pay huge dividends out in the real world.
As the cars began to cool down in the shade of the pit area, we were gutted to learn we had finished our first and only day at the SRT Bondurant school. If we were legitimate SRT customers, Dodge and Bondurant would offer us the chance to purchase a second and third day of instruction at a discount. As far as actual driving instructions, the first day is just a taste of what Bondurant can teach drivers, a quick hit to entice the attendees to return for the following sessions. However, SRT owners who take advantage only of the one free day will not be disappointed, as the Bondurant SRT program is the best way to become accustomed to your new high-performance Dodge sports car.