I should have expected as much. Over to GingerMan on the 120-mile ride from Ann Arbor (with the top down, of course), the air-conditioned-but-still-boiling interior of the Viper managed to make me recall venerable old frycookers like my Austin-Healey 3000--in which I've roasted heartily many a day and nearly perished on a few--as palaces of supreme chill-essence.
I was swooning after two hours in the Viper, and that was before I took a few exploratory test laps at GingerMan with executive editor Mark Gillies, who, it emerged, was alarmingly familiar with the course, enabling his dedicated hotshoeness to recalibrate more finely the relation of my internal organs to one another, with disabling, permanent effect, as we hurtled faster and faster around the track. For its part, DaimlerChrysler says the problem with excessive heat is a pre-production hiccup. I'd like to believe them, but eyeing the Viper's giant side pipes in the hot sun, I'm not so sure. Chrysler (as it was then known) yanked side pipes from the Viper first time around early in its production run; they'd come under criticism when they were found in actual service to be a leading cause of burn injuries among its clientele, which is one of those customer complaints you just can't ignore. The exhaust system was further observed to be less than mellifluous, with five-cylinder pulses on either side adding up to less than the sum of their auditory parts.
Side pipes never stopped looking butch, so Dodge was encouraged to solve at least one part of the vexing side-pipe dilemma for Viper 2.0. The system has been redesigned to let the exhaust gases of all ten cylinders commingle via a crossover pipe before exiting on either side of the car. A more sonorous note results, at the expense of channeling yet more heat underneath the cockpit--heat, you will have gathered, that passengers won't require. Heat is the second critical side-pipe issue, which DaimlerChrysler may or may not have licked. Looking at pictures, you can see the side pipe is largely under cover in the new design, but just try touching the cover, as you inevitably will. Ouch. I'm behind the wheel now. Prolonged proximity to the hot-to-the-touch sill and cabin heat, which continues to soak directly into my person courtesy of the long and giant V-10 riding just inches away, have distinctly harshed my mellow. Discomfort seems to mount with every corner I load myself and the Viper into. Twice each lap, I get to draw breath and cool my trousers down a few key degrees while the road stops bending and the g-forces start flowing backward, keeping my leg away from the sill. Accelerating flat-out down GingerMan's two short but tasty straightaways, thought temporarily reappears.
And here's the one that appears most frequently: Perhaps, I think, I really ought to be driving the 2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 we've brought along for comparison purposes. We're pretty sure by now that the fast and furiously grippy Viper will give the Z06, the Vette we love most (and Automobile Magazine's 2001 Automobile of the Year), a run for its money on the track--and it does. At least self-immolation won't be on the Vette's menu of driver delights. But let's pause a moment. In spite of the heat, overlight steering, and gearing designed to satisfy EPA monitors and intergalactic travelers more than short-track racers, it must be said that the Dodge proves a rapid and strangely appealing track companion. Its four vented discs with four-piston Brembo calipers just won't say die. The center pedal stays reassuringly firm after dozens of laps, where the Vette's pedal swiftly expires, along with most of the brakes with which they are in constant communication. Advantage Viper.