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Viper Competition Coupe Article in Autoweek
02-14-2003, 12:54 AM
Baring its Fangs: Dodge uncoils its most potent Vipers, the SRT-10 and the Competition Coupe
By LARRY EDSALL
The Dodge Viper Competition Coupe is a derivative of the ’03 Viper SRT-10, but the Comp Coupe is all about speed. (All photos by Bill Delaney)
SKIP THOMAS WAS A Chicago beer distributor who was able to retire at age 45. He tried golf, fishing and other retiree activities, and found fulfillment in none of them.
Thomas had raced hydroplanes as a youngster, and was among the first in Illinois to buy a Dodge Viper. He also had friends who bought Vipers.
One day, one of those friends lost control of his car in the rain. The result was fatal. Thomas realized not everyone who buys a high-performance car knows how to control its capabilities. He decided to provide that knowledge and started Viper Days, a driving school. From that program, the Viper Racing League evolved.
2003 VIPER COMPETITION COUPE PHOTO GALLERY
Six years later Viper Days schools offer instruction to everyone from rookies to racers. The Viper Racing League has a 13-event schedule drawing an average of 60 to 80 cars, with more than 100 expected in late April for the Eastern Region opener at Mid-Ohio.
2003 DODGE VIPER COMPETITION COUPE
ON SALE: Now
BASE PRICE: $118,000
POWERTRAIN: 8.3-liter, 520-hp, 540 lb-ft V10; rwd; six-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT: 3000 pounds (est.)
0-60 MPH: 3.7 seconds
Naturally, when Dodge unveiled its second-generation, 2003 Viper SRT-10, Thomas, now 59, and his league plus other Viper racers wanted a competition version. The new Viper wraps a more sophisticated body around an enlarged V10 engine, the so-called triple 500 powerplant with 505 cubic inches, 500 horsepower and 525 lb-ft of torque.
The racers lobbied Chrysler—okay, it didn’t take that much lobbying for such a car. After nearly a yearlong development process, the Viper Competition Coupe is eligible for Skip Thomas’ races, the SCCA’s Speed Channel World Challenge and the Grand American Cup, the pro series in which driving school dean Skip Barber is an investor.
To meet both demand and homologation requirements, Chrysler’s Performance Vehicle Operations plans to build 60 Dodge Viper Competition Coupes this year. The price starts at $100,000 for the first 32 cars, bumps to $118,000 for the second set and will cost $125,000 if you’re among those late in line, though you’ll also get a car that benefits from ongoing development.
A full cage envelopes the driver, who sits in a racing seat built to accommodate a HANS device.
Chrysler follows a road blazed by Porsche in the sale of Comp Coupes: turning motorsports into an income producer, not merely an expense—and expensive—item. Income from Viper Competition Coupes, and from Mopar Performance Parts sales, also means Dodge doesn’t have to run to the Chrysler Group executive committee every time it wants to fund an aspect of its motorsports program. Some income generated by the Comp Coupes may provide seed money for the development of another Viper endurance race program and a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Viper GTS-Rs finished 1-2 in the GT class at Le Mans three years in a row, from 1998 through 2000, before Dodge turned its focus to NASCAR’s Winston Cup series.
The team developing the Viper Competition Coupe includes more than a dozen Chrysler engineers as well as mechanics, designers, supplier reps and drivers Tommy Archer and John Fernandez.
Primary development responsibility lies with two young Chrysler Group engineers who have intense experience with both the street and track Vipers—29-year-old Eric Petersen and 26-year-old Matt Bejnarowicz. For those times when they need sage advice, the team includes Chrysler veterans Ted Flack, who manages NASCAR engine development, and John Wehrly, technical manager of all Chrysler Group racing. Wehrly is an engineer whose experience dates to when a young Richard Petty raced Plymouths on dirt ovals.
The adjustable rear wing isn’t for looks—it keeps the rear end down as the car flirts with warp speed.
According to Petersen, the senior motorsports development engineer who is a suspension engineer on the Viper GTS-R, the Competition Coupe’s development goals were for a car that is fast but safe, and that provides value in its durability.
The Comp Coupe team started with the ’03 Viper frame, but “chopped some parts off and added a cage,” says Petersen. It has a safety cage of 1.75-inch-diameter 4130 steel tubing with a 0.095-inch wall thickness. The cage protects the driver and ties into rear suspension attachment points. It also works with special X-, V- and diagonal bracing underhood and an aluminum rear bumper to double the car’s torsional stiffness. The effort reportedly improves the car’s resistance to beam flex by 60 percent.
The production Viper’s 98.8-inch wheelbase stays the same, but the competition car is nearly a foot longer overall and has a wider track—nearly five inches in front and more than two inches in the rear. The race car’s hard roof is little more than an inch lower than the convertible. The Comp Coupe provides just three inches of ground clearance compared to five inches on the street version.
DODGE RACING'S GODFATHER
Make no mistake John Fernandez is behind Dodge's motorsports effort. Good thing: He has a history and a sense of what needs to be done to make it right.
Fernandez flogged race cars around dirt ovals as a teen in upstate New York. As a young Chrysler engineer he was loaned to Carroll Shelby to help develop a series of Shelby-branded Chryslers including the GLHS, CSX, V8-powered Shelby Dakota pickup and the Shelby Can-Am cars.
Shelby knew Fernandez had done some racing, and encouraged him to take part in a test at Willow Springs raceway. "I was pretty quick," admits Fernandez, who soon was both engineering and racing cars for Shelby's team.
That was before Shelby's heart transplant put the race program on hold and let Fernandez return to Chrysler. There he helped develop the Neon and the ACR (American Club Racer) version, enjoying a dual role of engineer and development driver. Eventually, Fernandez piloted his own Neon ACR to win the 2000 SCCA Runoffs in the SSC class-before he was DQ'd for a bumper rules infraction. He continued his club racing ways before he was called into DaimlerChrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche's office.
Seems Fernandez had been doing as well off the track as on. In 1997 he rose to be executive engineer for Viper racing and was then promoted to director of the Chrysler Group's Performance Vehicle Operations. But the president had a new challenge: "He said, 'We really want to win the [NASCAR] Winston Cup,'" Fernandez recalls. "'You put the Viper program together, and have won the world [FIA GT] championship three times. Would you like to do this [win the Winston Cup]?'"
Fernandez jumped at it, though his duties limit his own track time. Last year he entered 16 races and the Runoffs. This year he will be at NASCAR ovals instead of Midwestern road courses.
He still wants to win at the Runoffs and has wedged eight SCCA events into his schedule. But Fernandez doesn't want to be the only winner in a Dodge at the club level, so he resurrected a contingency prize program for competitors in SCCA road racing, rally and Solo events.
Yes, he has disqualified himself from the contingency deal, but he hasn't yet put the brakes on the occasional stint as a development driver for the Viper Competition Coupe.
While the Comp Coupe carries a stock nose—its windshield, windshield surround and side-view mirrors—the rest of its elongated bodywork is custom made of carbon fiber, Kevlar and glass fiber with a Nomex core. Aerodynamic aids include a front air splitter with downforce-generating lips at the ends and an adjustable rear wing and underbody diffuser.
Much of the production suspension hardware stays, but spherical bearing frame attachments increase rigidity and reduce friction. The front end gets stiffer, 2.25-inch race springs. All four corners ride on Moton monotube two-way adjustable coil-over dampers and higher-rate antiroll bars. Ride height, bump and rebound are adjustable.
Three-piece wheels from BBS measure 18x11 inches in front and 18x13 in the rear (vs. 19x13 rears for the street), and wear Hoosier race slicks—305/35 in front, 345/30 in back.
Steering gear is solid-mounted and includes travel restrictors, so there’s room for those wide front tires, which all dramatically widen the car’s turning circle to 61.2 feet from a stock figure of 40.5. The steering ratio remains 16.7:1, but with a 1.6 lock-to-lock range instead of the stock 2.4 turns. The production tilt steering column stays, but the Comp Coupe gets a removable, racing steering wheel. Brakes are similar to the stock setup—14-inch rotors with four-piston Brembo calipers, ABS and EBD, but with electronically adjustable front/rear bias, racing pads and cooling via large front inlets that feed air through four-inch carbon fiber ducts.
The Comp Coupe’s engine is built on the street Viper production line in Detroit, but it gets a special cam and a smaller, billet aluminum crank pulley designed to slow the accessory drives because the engine operates at such high speeds. The Comp Coupe’s engine produces 520 hp at 5600 rpm and 540 lb-ft of torque at 4600. It operates with low- restriction racing mufflers and its exhaust flows directly from the engine to side pipes while the production car’s exhaust involves pipes that cross under the car.
The six-speed Tremec T56 manual transmission benefits from such things as shifter fork pads developed for the GTS-R. The rear differential is a speed-sensitive, viscous unit that includes special shear plates and highly viscous fluid to help transfer torque to the track.
The race car weighs some 400 pounds less than the production version, thanks in part to its spartan interior. Viper engineers brought in motorsports safety expert John Melvin to work with them and with Racetech in developing the Comp Coupe’s driver’s seat and other safety equipment, which includes special interior padding, an onboard fire suppression system and a fuel cell mounted in the center of the car to provide it with maximum protection in a crash. Petersen says Comp Coupe drivers are encouraged to wear the HANS safety device and that the Comp Coupe’s seat was designed to accommodate that equipment. The seat is available in two sizes, to better accommodate a variety of drivers.
The heart of the beast is the 505-cubic-inch V10 producing 520 hp and 540 lb-ft.
The car has a standard racing window net and a second interior net to the driver’s right, to help keep the driver’s head in proper alignment should an impact occur. Even the seatbelt routing for the six-point harness was designed to provide optimal protection. The entire safety system was sled-tested at Chrysler’s Proving Grounds.
A Motec data acquisition system is standard, with an upgraded system available for those competing in Grand-Am or World Challenge, which allow more leeway in suspension tuning. Every Comp Coupe comes with an extensive owner’s manual, and factory engineering support is available at every Viper Racing League event.
The Comp Coupe is a single-seat race car and is not street legal. Like any factory-built vehicle, it offers a list of optional equipment: A lightweight flywheel goes for $600, for example. A full set of spare parts comes in a $21,000 package.
Petersen, Bejnarowicz and the other engineers make extensive use of the company’s four-post, chassis-shaking test bed for their design, development and evaluation of the Viper Competition Coupe. But the car’s true validation takes place on the racetrack, where Tommy Archer is primarily at the helm.
Archer and his brother Bobby gained some fame in the 1980s when they raced down from Minnesota’s frozen lakes to win SCCA and IMSA championships. In the 1990s, Tommy was part of Team ORECA that won FIA world championships and GT victories at Le Mans and Daytona.
Archer realized quickly that the car had been engineered with a tendency toward understeer for safety, but he believed it went too far in that direction.
“The young engineers could drive the car,” Archer says, “but they can’t feel the same things as someone who’s raced for a long time. They couldn’t feel it push. When you’re driving three to four seconds a lap slower, you wouldn’t. It’s like the difference you feel between walking on the sidewalk and walking on a tightrope. I wanted to make sure that the Viper Competition Coupe was ready for whomever got into it.”
Later in development, Archer wanted to see how some of those “whomevers” responded to the Comp car. By late September he convinced the development team to let three Viper club racers try it, including his brother Bobby (another Archer brother, John, maintains several of the cars that race in the Viper league). “They loved it,” Archer remembers, “and it wasn’t even done yet.”
While they loved the way the car felt, they wondered if—or even doubted that—it was fast enough. To verify its capabilities, the development team persuaded the race league to let Tommy run the test mule in a race. He had a four-second lead after the first lap, opened an eight-second gap next time around, and soon had lapped the field.
The Comp Coupe weighs 400 pounds less than the street version, thanks in part to the no-frills race car interior.
Chrysler’s performance estimates for the Comp Coupe are 0 to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, 0 to 100 in 9.2 seconds and the quarter-mile in 11.8 seconds at 123 mph. Top speed is 193 mph. It pulls 1.25 lateral g, it stops from 60 mph in 90 feet and from 100 in 260 feet.
“It’s a pretty neutral car and has a lot of horsepower for a stock motor,” Archer says. “The brakes want to throw you through the windshield, and it has ABS and a lot of neat things for the money. Some people had $160,000 to $180,000 invested in their Vipers. Now for the same money they can buy a Competi-tion Coupe and a street Viper.” Speaking of that $72,500 street Viper, it’s impressive in its own right. Dodge had John Fernandez on hand when we put the Viper Competition Coupe and the production ’03 SRT-10 on the 11-turn, 1.2-mile west circuit at Phoenix’s Firebird International Raceway. The team brought two Comp Coupe mules, including one with a second seat so Fernandez could show what it was like on that tightrope.
Fernandez took it easy on the warm-up lap, but soon everything moved to warp factor. The shift from second to third after a cone chicane was an act of violence; the next time around, we pushed our helmet against the seat rather than face another punch from the car’s powertrain. The track’s fastest turns are left-handers; the Viper stuck so well that it felt as if the g forces were trying to suck us out the passenger window.
The thrill ride finished, it was our turn to drive the single-seater, for laps not nearly as fast but instructive nonetheless. First we noticed its brakes: It decelerates so quickly that we lost all the momentum the car carried down the straight. We just started too soon. Thinking we’d learned our lesson, we were too late the next go around and carried too much speed into a tighter than 90- degree left-hander. Fortunately, we braked and downshifted in a straight line and the Hoosier slicks kept grip on the pavement, with the nose pointed toward the next apex.
A few more laps and we got comfortable. Things smoothed out and we pushed harder, taking some turns faster. Inevitably, such thoughts indicated it was time to head for the pits, to cool down the car and our adrenaline rush.
Back on the track in the production Viper, Bejnarowicz speculated that with a driver of Fernandez’s caliber doing back-to-back stints, the SRT-10 gave away about four seconds a lap to the Comp Coupe. As with the race car, the brakes are extremely effective, and they slowed us way too early at the end of the straight on our first hot lap. We explored its power and here, out on the track, all our senses sharpened. The ragtop was quiet, and it smelled good; the Comp Coupe screamed through its virtually unrestricted exhaust and its racing brake pads gave off a malodorous waft after repeated stabs.
Still, we missed the sound and the smell of the race car. We steered the SRT-10 into the pits and climbed back into the Competition Coupe, wondering just where that sidewalk ends and the tightrope begins.
Now if Dodge would only start production on the street coupe, I would be there!
02-14-2003, 03:00 AM
me like :licker:
02-14-2003, 08:38 AM
daaaammmmnnnn:eek: :eek2: :eek: :eek2: :eek: :eek2: :eek: :eek2: :eek: :eek2:
This was in Autoweek you say?? maybe it's one i haven't gotten yet....
02-16-2003, 01:15 PM
Nevermind, I just got it yesterday, the pics in the magazine are even better than what Viper10 posted.:devil:
03-07-2003, 09:23 AM
That looks really sweat:devil:
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