There's one constant rule governing my life. As soon as I'm good enough at something to become confident, I crash spectacularly. The 2008 Viper's not a particularly uncomfortable car, but driving it on the track at Virginia International Raceway today I'm in misery. Out of every corner, the fearsome acceleration presses my road rash into the seat. I'm struggling to move the steering wheel accurately; something is out of whack in my left arm, limiting its articulation. Shocks of pain shoot through when I move it too far. Months earlier, I'd bought a fixed gear track bicycle to use as my daily transportation around New York. At first, riding it was hard work. I struggled to crank up over the bridges, and couldn't coast down. Riding through traffic was a constant challenge. After a while, I'd gotten good at it. I was doing 10-20 miles a day, and I was getting fast. You know what comes next.
Flying through the air at more than 20 mph, I didn't have time to think about how landing was going to feel. Subsequently, when my editor called to ask me to drive the Viper, I was in the bathroom armed with tweezers and hydrogen peroxide, slowly removing pieces of road from inside my back. You have plenty of time to reflect on such things when you spin a car at high speed. Once you've pushed the clutch in and put the brakes on full, there's really not much you can do other than think about what you've done. I really need to learn this lesson. I'll be lucky to survive this one unscathed.
Somehow, the car manages to avoid the tire barriers. I don't even stall it.
In the official version, I was going 150 mph down VIR's main straight. In reality, I'm not sure how fast it was. At that point on the track, on my fastest laps, I was hitting 180 mph. Having just returned from lunch, this lap wasn't my fastest, but it wasn't slow either.
Pulling back onto the track - slowly, there could be damage - I'm furious with myself. What an idiotic mistake. My spin wasn't caused by lack of skill or the Viper's overwhelming speed; it was caused by pure stupidity. VIR's main straight is really more of a long, gentle curve to the right. Somehow I'd allowed myself to start daydreaming about three-quarters of the way down it. That's when I drifted toward the edge of the track and clipped the grass, the rest happened too fast to accurately recall.
I'd been having such a good time too. Unlike a lot of its competition, the Viper's made for the track. More comfortable here than any road legal car I've driven since the previous generation 911 GT3 RS - the Viper feels faster and doesn't sacrifice so much comfort. Its half-assed design and basic spec sheet belie its sheer ability. I didn't think I would like this car, I was wrong.
Where a lot of fast cars are tuned for safety, the Viper makes no deliberate concessions to those unskilled enough to exploit it. Throw it into a corner too fast and a computer's not going to save you. Downshift too soon and you're going to spin. Cars haven't relied so much on the driver since the '80s. The Viper takes a significant amount of mental recalibration when you first start driving it. Like it or not, we've become used to inherent understeer and electronic baby sitters. Driving without them is enlightening, all the involvement and excitement that I didn't know I was missing suddenly return. I remember why I like fast cars.
Pulling back into the pits after my spin, I can tell I'm in trouble. All of the smiling faces of the PR people have melted away, leaving instead the engineer in charge of the Viper's development. It's his baby I've almost destroyed and he looks furious. Halfway through telling me what a jackass I am he has to stop and walk away. Still shaken, I'm unable to offer much in the way of an explanation. I'm one of the youngest guys here today and he's convinced I don't know how to drive. I guess I haven't offered much evidence to the contrary.
Luckily, one of his team, the guy in charge of its handling, is standing nearby. "Don't worry, he does that to me too." My burgundy Viper returns from the mechanic's bay, flat-spotted tires replaced. Tomorrow I have to drive it back to New York.