I've had this Viper on loan for the weekend. Not the first time I've driven one, but the first time I've taken such a beast home for three days.
As I'm a giver by nature, I let a couple of my closest buddies take it for spins around the block. A few I offered the keys to declined and I understand why. Even though these were red-blooded car guys, the Viper is a lot of motor: 10 cylinders, 8.4 liters, 600bhp and 569lb-ft of torque. And it's just the kind of vehicle our generation is generally unfamiliar with: massive horsepower + rear-wheel drive = snap oversteer, if you make a dumb mistake.
In that sense, the Viper is great for teaching old-school car control-reinforcing such time-honored precepts as accelerating and braking in a straight line, applying smooth throttle as you unwind the steering, and maintaining a healthy respect for WOT.
Another revelation I had over the course of the weekend was when I started noticing the basic instructions I repeated to each new Viper driver:
1. Relax. Take a deep breath.
2. Think carefully before you floor it.
3. Think again.
4. Before flooring it, be sure the wheels are pointing straight ahead.
5. Before flooring it, brace yourself for the noise and wheel spin.
6. Do not become alarmed if you see/smell smoke.
7. You're not breathing, take another deep breath.
I realized there was something fundamentally different about these directions and the advice I give my buddies when I hand them the keys to more familiar sports cars, like the Evo. I find myself egging them on in the Evo in a way that would be grossly irresponsible in the Viper. "Don't shift yet, keep your foot in it," I normally shout from the passenger seat. "You can brake much later than that. Trust the car, it will carry you through."
Two of my buddies admitted, over a shaky sip of water, to being a bit uneasy about driving the Viper. "Was it all the noise and roasted rubber?" I asked. "The potential for trashing an $86,000 car? Or just the possibility that you might burn your calves on the ridiculously hot rocker panels?" After some probing, I finally realized the source of the uneasiness. The root cause was distrust: not of the car's ability, but the driver's.
My less experienced friends also cop to being uneasy about driving the Evo, but it's a different kind of distrust-one born of disbelief. One friend said that the first time he drove an Evo, he didn't believe the car was capable of doing what he asked. That is, until he experimented and found it can do all that and more-with a shocking amount of ease. Problem is, it takes time to grow a pair big enough to ask an Evo some of the really hard questions.
And so, in both situations, the trust rarely comes. And how can it? Unless you're Vitantonio Liuzzi, 15 minutes behind the wheel with me shouting shotgun can't replace the time it takes to get acclimated to a high-performance sports car. No, what's needed are the nights alone on an open stretch of road and the daydreams that accompany a lonely commute in the same car, day after day. This is the time I spend gradually exploring the limits of the different cars I drive.
Oh well. I guess all I can say is: relax, take a deep breath and keep your foot in it.