I am blazing into Willow Springs Raceway's turn 1 at almost 150 mph. I have 600 docile horsepower under my right foot, and I'm driving a well-balanced, flagship sports car the size of a school bus. And for as much sweat and talent as I expended to get here - which is to say, not much - I might as well be dead. Quite frankly, it's amazing.
The Dodge Viper SRT10 ACR (the second acronym is short for American Club Racer) was developed by Chrysler's Street and Racing Technology skunk works, the same division that gave the world such luminaries as the Neon SRT4 (and the dead-on-arrival disappointment, the Caliber SRT4). At its core, the SRT development team consists of a host of former racers and race engineers - men whose sums include everything from SCCA competition to the 24 Hours of Le Mans - and, with the exception of the occasional Caliber, nearly every car they've touched has been a boon to the enthusiast driver.
The Viper ACR is no exception. Happily, at just $12,050 more than the standard Viper, it's also something of a bargain. Although SRT's modifications were handicapped by retail-price goals and by a desire to avoid costly government recertification - the ACR's powertrain is shared with the base Viper for those reasons - the end result of their efforts is still a formidable offering. New hardware includes a hefty bump in both spring rate and suspension adjustability; German-made, double-adjustable dampers at all four corners; forged aluminum wheels; and various aerodynamic devices claimed to add roughly 900 pounds of additional downforce at high speeds (see sidebar). Two-piece, aluminum-centered StopTech brake rotors mate with the base Viper's Brembo calipers; combined with the aluminum wheels, they help reduce unsprung mass by sixty pounds. (Overall, the ACR weighs forty pounds less than the stock SRT10 coupe, according to Chrysler.) Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires - essentially track-only rubber, although still DOT-approved - are standard, and the whole package is street-legal.
All of that hardware adds up to one thing: the Viper ACR is fast. Damn fast. It's also remarkably controllable and the single most cost-effective way to shred racetrack asphalt this side of a six-man crew and a bulldozer. As with all Vipers, spine-flattening thrust is available anywhere on the tach; that monstrous V-10 simply pulls, no matter what you ask of it. Thanks to the enormous increase in grip, underwear-curdling cornering speeds come up without even trying. Oddly enough, the base Viper's relatively quiet exhaust is retained, and ride quality is fairly respectable. As a result, you're initially a little confused - the ACR is balanced like a race car, it sucks up pavement like a race car, and it generates high-speed aerodynamic grip like a race car, but it's also as submissive and coddling as your grandmother's Buick. (Not to mention just as large.) It's odd, but ultimately comforting.
Dodge sees the ACR as the ultimate in bang-for-the-buck apex carving, and it's difficult to argue with that: finding this much practical, streetable track speed for less cash isn't easy. And what few faults exist - numb, slightly slow steering is our only real complaint - are easily outweighed by Look-Ma-I'm-doing-a-buck-eighty glee and gobs of triple-digit grip. Does this much easy closed-course speed in the hands of Joe Public make us a little nervous? Does it prompt questions about social responsibility? Of course it does. But when you're grinning from ear to ear in a bewinged, 180-mph school bus, who cares?
Click to the next page for a sidebar explaining what makes an ACR Viper an ACR Viper. There's also a link to our high-resolution gallery of this mean snake.