With great power comes great responsibility. At least that seems to be the theme running through Dodge SRT’s latest driver instruction program at the Bob Bondurant School of Performance Driving. Dodge has partnered with Bob Bondurant to offer advanced driver training to anyone new to the 707 horsepower in the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat and Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat or the 640 horses from the Dodge Viper. It’s only natural that FCA should step up and offer a free single-day racing school to those who buy a SRT vehicle from the 2015 or 2016 model year, and we think it’s a superb idea and essential for new drivers of these high-octane machines.
Bondurant’s legend as a sports car champion casts a long shadow over the motorsports world, one that’s matched by his reputation as soothsayer to championship-winning racers, black-suited G-men, and track-happy weekend warriors alike. At the school located just outside of Phoenix, Arizona, the Bondurant crew’s ability to get inside the heads of drivers seeking to up their games behind the wheel makes it one of the premier destinations for gearhead matriculation.
Of course, a partnership with SRT has brought more than just a new logo on the sign at the front gate of the Bob Bondurant facility. FCA stepped up in a big way when it came to providing Bondurant with matériel de guerre, including an entire fleet of Hellcats, Challenger, and Charger SRT 392s, and Dodge Viper T/A 2.0s. When I visited Bondurant’s rapidly expanding motorsports complex in late April, I was immediately struck by the ocean of Mopar metal arrayed before me on the tarmac, parked in row after row of gleaming, Bondurant-stickered splendor or being shepherded in and out of repair and maintenance bays in-between sessions.
You need to walk before you can run — or in this case prove you can handle low-speed maneuvers before graduation to the big track, where consequences are amplified by triple-digit speeds. The preliminaries at the SRT program focus on the basics of car control and how to predict and then react to things not going according to plan.
The first such exercise saw our group of would-be track stars hitting the skidpad — not with 707 Hellcat horsepower at our disposal but instead with a Charger SRT 392 and its slightly less intimidating 485 horsepower. Also along for the ride was a hydraulic lift system that consisted of smaller roller wheels attached to a framework. As it shuttled alongside the sedan, it was commanded by an instructor to raise or lower either end of the car and thus simulate various scenarios of traction loss.
With the instructor sitting in the right seat, control box in hand, I was subjected to a gradual tilting of the Charger to the point where even the slightest of inputs around the figure-eight skidpad would elicit a loss of rear-wheel traction, forcing me to turn the vehicle into the slide and add only so much throttle as to straighten the car and not over-correct into a spin. Fortunately, I had years of winter driving experience to call upon — and a misspent youth blazing down icy back roads in a rear-wheel-drive pickup — which helped me master the friction circle within a relatively short space of time.
The next step was somewhat more challenging — or should I say ‘Challenger,’ as our group shifted to the two-door variety of the LX platform for a tight autocross run. Still sticking with SRT 392 power and the multiple suspension and transmission settings that come with this particular muscle car package from Dodge, we were given three passes through the pylons to try and keep the heavy (4,400 pounds) beast on course and shave off as many seconds as possible between each run. Key takeaways from the autocross session included managing traction during very short bursts of acceleration, and learning how to keep the front end planted for a corner entry by tapping the brakes and thus transferring the car’s weight forward. This last point was reinforced via an emergency lane-change exercise immediately after the autocross exercise.
Fully exposed to the skills required to make the transition to a track environment, it was time to sample the Bondurant School’s road course. Designed to offer as many teachable elements as possible, the track includes tight, sequential curves, a long sweeper, several short and long straights, as well as aggressive curbing that you can use to bounce the car into proper exit position.
Arrayed before us on pit road was a fleet of Hellcats of the two-door and four-door variety, as well as the Viper T/A 2.0, Dodge’s competition-bred and downforce-equipped version of its flagship coupe. Beginning with a lead-follow session, we headed out in small packs of two and three behind Bondurant instructors setting the pace in Challenger SRT Hellcats. After each session — which lasted roughly ten minutes in total — we were encouraged to swap cars to sample the complete spectrum of various SRT models’ on-track capabilities. I also took the opportunity to have an instructor ride along with me and critique my driving, which is always a welcome perspective to have no matter how many years you’ve been a track rat.
Throw in some hair-raising, tire-smoking hot laps at the end of the day with a few of Bondurant’s more effusive personnel, and it’s easy to see the appeal of SRT’s new driver training program. Who would turn down the opportunity to not only get to know their brand-new car that much better but also significantly improve their own driving skills in the process? Especially considering that aside from airfare you won’t pay a dime for the entirety of the single-day course? Gone are the days when buying the hottest car in the line-up got you a keychain and maybe a t-shirt from your local dealer. FCA has seriously upped the ante with the Bob Bondurant SRT School.
Photo Credit: FCA / Richard Prince