Driving the Hellcats and the Viper at Bondurant Racing School
Bondurant Racing School in Chandler, Arizona, recently switched from the Chevrolet Corvette and the Chevrolet Camaro to the Dodge Viper, the Dodge Challenger and the Dodge Charger. With the announcement that Bondurant had moved to Dodge products came the news that the SRT Experience – which had previously been offered at a variety of tracks around the U.S. – would now be offered strictly at the Bondurant facility in Arizona.
For those who have to travel much further than before for the SRT Experience at Bondurant, this move from multiple locations to a single location might seem like bad news, but in speaking with people who have participated in the SRT Experience in the past few years and in going through the Bondurant SRT Experience, I can safely say that the move to Arizona is worth the effort of getting to that part of the country.
Over the past few years, I have spoken with a handful of people who have purchased a new SRT product, so they were entitled to a free one-day session at the SRT Experience held at a variety of locations around the U.S. Unfortunately, none of them had very good things to say about those events, explaining that they drove faster getting there than they actually drove on the tracks.
There were no Hellcat cars and no Vipers, even in the case that the attendee was coming to the SRT Experience after buying a Hellcat Challenger, a Hellcat Charger or a new Viper. So it seemed that for many buyers, the trip wasn’t any more exciting than driving their own car on the open road and in some cases, I’ve spoken with folks who have purchased a new SRT vehicle in the past year, but since they have heard unpleasant things about the SRT Experience, they haven’t bothered redeeming their voucher for a one-day session at the track.
Now that I have experienced the SRT Experience at Bondurant Racing School, I can comfortably say that this day at the track is well worth the cost of getting to Arizona and staying overnight at a hotel. Also, even if you haven’t purchased a new SRT product, you can buy a ticket to the one-day SRT Experience for $699 – and it is well worth that price to push Dodge’s highest performance cars to the driver’s limit in a safe environment.
The SRT Experience at Bondurant begins as you would expect a day at racing school to begin – with a classroom session where the instructors will explain what they will be teaching you and why these aspects of driving are so crucial to becoming a better driver on the track and on the road. While Bob Bondurant himself doesn’t teach any classes these days, every instructor on the grounds has studied as an intern for at least two years before getting to teach students, so everyone teaching at Bondurant is on the same page in terms of guiding students in the Bondurant way.
After the classroom session, you head out to the cars – but not the Hellcat cars or Vipers, just yet. Before you can get the keys to the 645 hp Viper or either of the 707 hp Hellcat twins, you have to prove to your instructor that you can handle and correct an extreme oversteer or understeer condition. To do this, you are strapped into a Dodge Charger Scat Pack with a unique hydraulic lift system, which is mated to an extra set of small wheels located on the outside of the car.
As you make your way around the small skid pad track, the instructor uses the hydraulic cradle system to lift the front and rear wheels. Lifting the front wheels causes understeer and lifting the rear wheels causes oversteer, and as you tear around the track with the 485 hp rear wheel drive sport sedan, the instructor changes how the car handles and you are required to correct the car and keep moving forward on the track. The video below shows someone in my group attempting to deal with extreme oversteer with some difficulty.
After we had proven our ability to keep a high powered rear wheel drive car straight in the worst situations, we were permitted to take to the 1.6 mile Bondurant Road Course with one of three cars – the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat with the 6-speed manual transmission, the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat with the 8-speed automatic transmission and the Dodge Viper TA2.0 with the 6-speed manual transmission. My day began in the Viper TA2.0 and after each of the first three sessions, I would move to a new vehicle before each time we headed out onto the track.
Unlike some racing schools where you head onto the track with no traffic around you and an instructor in the car, Bondurant has small groups of students in their cars following an instructor in a lead car. With each lap, the instructor will pick up the pace provided that the students keep up in their vehicles. Basically, the stronger the group of students is in keeping pace with the lead car, the quicker the lead car will go. After each session, the instructor offers input to each of the students on how to get around the track quicker and when we changed cars and headed back onto the track, we were to use that information to improve our on-track experience.
Mind you, this isn’t a traditional lead-and-follow exercise where the front car is keeping everyone else from going very fast and it ends up being more of a leisurely cruise than a blast around the track. In fact, a mistake as simple as spinning the tires coming out of a turn or locking the brakes up going into a turn will allow the instructor and the cars in front of you to quickly pull away from you. At times, the lead car and the quicker student cars will get far enough away from the rest of the field that the instructor will turn on the emergency lights and slow the field down until the cars at the rear catch back up – then everyone takes off once again.
The lead car prevents you from getting too deep into a turn and plowing into the tire barrier, but provided that the cars following the lead car are keeping up, the pace continues to improve on each lap. With the exception of sessions where I was stuck behind a slower student car, I found that the instructor did a great job of letting me drive the Hellcat cars and the new Viper as hard as I could and I loved every second that I spent on the Bondurant track.
After spending a few hours on the big road course, we headed over to the slick surface of the autocross course for some timed practice in tight cornering with the Challenger SRT 392. We were given a schooling lap followed by a solo practice lap before tearing into our two timed autocross passes. Before each run, we were offered some pointers by the instructors and we were told that anything in the 24 second range was very good. I ran a 24.12, good enough to finish second in our group of 17 professional journalists – trailing the winner by just 1 hundredth of a second.
After the quick trip to the autocross course, we headed back out to the big road course for our final – and most enjoyable – session of the day. For this last group of trips around the track, we were invited to pick whichever car we wanted and having had plenty of seat time in the Hellcat cars over the past year, I happily accepted a bunch more seat time in the Viper TA2.0. These later sessions were longer and thanks to the instruction received all day (and the fact that the weaker students had headed away from the track), these final sessions were out fastest and hardest-charging of the day.
The SRT Experience at Bondurant is free to anyone who buys a new SRT product, but those who haven’t gotten the free voucher for buying a new car can buy into the program for just $699. For that price, you receive the instruction to thrash the Hellcat Challenger, the Hellcat Charger and the Viper TA2.0 in a safe, closed environment with constant input from the Bondurant team. It is a remarkable experience for anyone who wants to experience the modern high performance Dodge products on the race track.
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