When one manufacturer builds a model to compete directly with a competitor’s model, we call it business. When this all happens in the context of racing, we call it the very best kind of business. It was Ford’s great beef with Ferrari that brought us the immutable GT40. Porsche’s 917 was developed to beat that. If nobody cared about the fight for the fastest, we wouldn’t have the McLaren F1, the Koenigsegg CCX, or the SSC Ultimate Aero.
But these days, money’s tight. Manufacturers are more likely to share ideas than fight each other. And while this all sounds like a Care Bear’s fifth birthday party, it’s not building us better sports cars. This is why we’re glad the big budget magazines like Motor Trend are around to pit the executives against each other.
Here’s the story: Last December, Motor Trend festered a fight between the Corvette ZR1 and the Viper GTS. The battleground was Laguna Seca. The Viper finished its lap in 1:35.77, but the ZR1 smoked it at 1:33.7. Motor Trend mentioned something about the tires, as the Viper’s Pirelli P Zeros didn’t perform as well as the ZR1’s semi-slick Michelin Cup tires. But Ralph Giles, the president of SRT, blamed pro-racing driver Randy Pobst, who ran both laps, claiming he was hesitant behind the wheel of the Viper, that he could have pushed it further.
Thankfully, those words did nothing, so Giles designed a new Viper variant.
It’s the car he says Motor Trend forced him to build, and it’s so serious that the hood and trunk Viper badges have been replaced with decals to reduce drag and save weight. They’re calling it the Viper TA, and Motor Trend says this stands for Totally Awesome, while others claim it’s just something boring like Time Attack. We’ll stick with Totally Awesome. Because this is America, and that’s how we do things.
The TA now produces 640 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque- the most of any production naturally aspirated sports car sold today. But it’s not the 8.4 liter V10 that makes the TA such a champion. It’s the suspension. Bilstein cooked it up, a version of their Damptronic system (which, frankly sounds like a comedic line used by a soggy robot in a poorly written cartoon), featuring two modes – rough track or soft track. There’s no street mode. Along with the dampers, there’s new stabilizer bars, new tires, and even new wheels.
Nor did they skimp on the brakes. They worked closely with Brembo to develop a system that dissipates heat more quickly, specifically on the TA. They worked to shed weight, too, replacing the aluminum x-brace with a carbon fiber one, and making the new aero add-ons, the front splitters and the rear spoiler, out of the same magical weave.
Outside, the TA has been dipped in an exclusive new paint, which SRT calls “Crusher Orange,” and though that only makes us think of Orange Crush, it also looks extremely hot.
So did it work? Yes. Pobst took the TA around Laguna Seca again and scored a 1:33.62, .08 seconds faster than the ZR1. Admittedly, that isn’t much. But the original 2.07 second gap between the cars was, so to have beaten Chevy, even by such a shred of a second, is quite the feather in SRT’s cap.
Until Chevy comes out with something else. Hopefully this battle has just begun.