We are thrilled to announce our development partnership for the Gen-V Dodge Viper with 2015 Rolex-24 At Daytona GTD Class Winner and 2015 24 Hours At Le Mans GTE Class Competitor, Ben Keating. Ben is among the top contenders in IMSA/Tudor United SportsCar Championship with victories piloting the Viper GT3-R as well as hard fought wins in the Porsche GT3 Cup in the highly competitive former IMSA GTC Class. Here is the development story by Ben. The product is for a different brand of car but the same enthusiasm for performance achievement and technology applies. Hope you enjoy the read.
My Damper Development story - Ben Keating
Back in 2013, when the Gen V Viper first came out, I wanted to move up into the top levels of Sportscar Racing, and there wasn’t really a good option for me to race a Viper. Therefore, I raced a Porsche GT3 Cup car in the GTC class of the American Le Mans Series. And in order to learn more about driving a Porsche and to learn many of the tracks I had never been to before, I did several races in the IMSA GT3 Cup with TPC Racing.
Michael Levitas is the owner, racer, and head tech guy for TPC racing. TPC Racing is one of the premier Porsche aftermarket companies in the Nation. If you want to make your Porsche go fast, then TPC Racing is the place you go. One of TPC’s best-selling items is their DSC damper controller for the Bilstein dual mode damper system. This unit is a simple plug and play replacement of the factory damper controller, which takes it from being basically an on/off switch to being a fully active suspension.
As Michael and I were talking at the track about how awesome the new Gen V was going to be, I was describing the new dual mode Bilstein dampers as being one of my favorite developments on the new car. I have always really loved the Viper, but I’ve never been happy with the ride quality that you have to put up with in order for the Viper to keep its track performance. I was extremely excited about the new Bilstein system, because I hoped this would finally give me the best of both worlds. During our discussion, Michael was saying that the electronic damper controller that he has had so much success with on the Porsche is for a Bilstein system, and that we might be able to plug in the same DSC system on the Viper. And that was how it all started. It was literally born at the track.
I went home and promptly put a new Viper into demo service to test the DSC controller. Amazingly, it literally plugged straight into the same plug as the factory unit, and it looked like exactly the same box. The buttons on the dash still functioned the exact same way. The indicator lights showing Street Mode or Race mode were all still exactly the same. I was excited!
I went straight from the install to a Viper gathering in the Texas Hill Country and the opportunity to drive at Circuit Of The Americas in Austin. My reaction to the system was just kind of “blah”. It was good and it was better, but not what I was hoping for. In fact, when I drove over the rumble strips at COTA (which you really need to do in a few areas), I was disappointed in the performance of the suspension. The car really did not like the rumble strips. So, I called Michael to discuss.
Michael was shocked (no pun intended). He had high hopes as well. He asked me to ship him the entire suspension, and I did. After testing everything and measuring what the stock Bilstein damper was capable of, he said that he totally understood why I responded that way. He said that the Bilstein damper on the Viper does not have the same dynamic range as the Bilstein damper on the Porsche. Therefore, the stock dampers on the Viper were not capable of handling everything the DSC was asking them to do. So because I was still so determined to find was I was looking for, Michael and I game planned on what the next move would be if we were going to be able to really take advantage of the DSC. He asked for some time to work through an idea he had.
Several weeks later Michael called back all excited. He had worked out an arrangement with Tractive Suspension to build a damper for the Viper. His exact words were, “Why go with an upgraded Bilstein of the Porsche, when you can go even better?” Everything about the Tractive dampers was better. They responded faster to the communication from the DSC. The quality of the construction was “top shelf”. They were fully ride height adjustable. And, they had a far superior dynamic range, which would allow us to customize the DSC controller to our needs and desires. We ordered 2 sets for testing.
When I received the first set of dampers, I was very impressed. They were a very good looking piece of equipment. Michael had already pre-set the ride heights on them to compare with where my car was before with the lowering caps I had on my Bilsteins. So, they were literally an easy, bolt on replacement.
The moment I drove my car with the Tractive Dampers I could tell a significant difference. It was much better than it had been before, but still not where I was hoping we could achieve. I called Michael to talk about it and he was not concerned in the least. He said we would need to write a program for the DSC to match the Tractive Damper, the Spring rates we decided to go with, and the specific characteristics of the Viper. So, we immediately went to our calendars and scheduled test days.
Michael flew to Texas, and we spent the first 2 days working on the street set up. We started by me driving around while Michael sat in the passenger seat looking at his laptop until he found something he didn’t like, and he would change the program. We did this for quite a while until he was happy. We then went out to drive a stock Viper to compare what it “used to” feel like, because we were having trouble remembering. While I was skeptical at first, the comparison to the stock car was extremely impressive. The difference was enormous.
But for me, I still didn’t like the way the car felt over railroad tracks or over the rough and wavy streets in my neighborhood. We spent quite a bit of time trying to dial it in. I was having a hard time describing it other than to say that the Corvette ZR1 felt more comfortable. This prompted us to get into the Corvette and do a half day of side by side tests. In my opinion, when it comes to the track, nothing even comes close to the Viper. But when it comes to the street, the Corvette is one of the best riding sportscars. One of my biggest measurements is the “wife test”. My wife, Kathleen, loves to drive a manual transmission car. She enjoys driving the Corvette, but doesn’t even want to ride passenger in the stock Viper because of how rough it is.
I was now amazed. Michael was able to spend 2 days on the laptop programing the DSC while I described what I didn’t like, and customized the ride on the Viper to ride better than the Corvette. I am picky when it comes to ride quality. In fact, I have piles of dampers back in my shop where I had tried everything to get a better ride in my 2002 GTS ACR, but to no avail. A smooth, but performance oriented feel in a Viper seemed like the Holy Grail. I knew we had just found something special and Kathleen was going to be excited too.
The next day Michael and I took the Viper to the track at Motorsports Ranch South of Houston to see what the track performance was like. MSR Houston has unfortunately fallen victim to the typical soil around the Gulf Coast, and is pretty bumpy for a race track, but a good place to test suspension. It didn’t take long for me to start exploring the limits of the car.
The first issue I noticed was under extreme heavy braking. The front-end seemed to lose all dampening and it would cause the ABS to kick in, which would eliminate any ability for me to modulate the brakes going into a corner. What we quickly realized was that we had set up the dampers in a similar fashion to the stock Bilsteins, and that under extreme braking the front end was riding on the bump rubbers and causing exactly what I was feeling – effectively no suspension. It was so incredible to be able to remove the bump rubbers to give a little additional room for movement and also reprogram into the DSC the ability to support the front end under that condition without bottoming out. HUGE difference! There was much less ABS. I could brake deeper into the corner and modulate the brakes throughout. The suspension even got rid on the rear-end wiggle I was feeling under heavy braking. The stability and grip level under braking compared to the stock suspension was astounding.
The next thing that really impressed me was the overall grip level. When driving the stock suspension around the track, you almost have to turn off the Electronic Stability Control and traction control, because it comes in all the time and really slows you down. I realized how big the improvement was when I hopped in the car to do a session and realized afterwards that I had forgotten to switch the ESC out of its fully active mode. The grip level was so much higher with the Tractive dampers combined with the active controller that the ESC didn’t come in and interrupt my driving. It is hard to explain how significant this is. The suspension system has such a large dynamic range that it is able to control the car without overloading the tire’s grip level.
I realized I had even gotten used to the ESC coming in here and there while driving on the street as the tires slid around just a small amount. It had become just one of the characteristics of the car. But as a result of the track experience, I realized this had gone away on the street as well. The Dynamic Controller was able to react to my inputs and change the dampers fast enough to maintain the grip. And you have to remember I was driving on the exact same Pirelli street tires the car was delivered with and they had 1,100 miles of hard driving on them over the course of 4 months.
Another neat thing was to go around the Carousel turn at MSR. This is not a smooth track and there is no camber in the road. But with the software from the DSC, we were able to record a consistent 1.3G’s all the way around the Carousel. This is HUGE! The same old street tires, no Wing or splitter, much less than ideal track conditions, and I was able to drive through that turn faster than I can remember driving it in my ACRX. I mean just imagine how incredible it would be on the track if I had a stickier tire or if I had a little more Aero downforce. This difference this overall system made on the handling was incredible.
Even coming out of the slow turns where you want to get the best launch that you can, I was able to leave the full traction control system on without interruption and was able to really get around the track well. Furthermore, the stability difference through the S-turns, where the DSC is able to react specifically to what is going on at that exact moment, gives you the perfect package for each specific situation without compromise. I was not driving for a specific lap time, but I would be shocked if this system didn’t cut at least 2 full seconds off my time at MSR. In fact, with a little Aero and a decent set of track tires, I would put my stock Gen V Viper up against any other race car.
In summary, the end result was even better than I could have dreamed of. I believe if there is only one thing someone can afford to add to their Gen V Viper, this is it. It makes the car a much better daily driver, a much better cruiser, a much better track car, and even a much better garage queen because the slightly lowered look is so sexy. It makes the Viper truly the ultimate sportscar I always wanted.
When Michael and I started discussing prices of all this stuff, my goal was to be able to keep it all below $10,000. But with the highest quality electronic dampers, and the technology of an active damper controller, and the springs, I wasn’t sure we could get there. As it turned out, we were able to sell all of this Ultra-Premium hardware and technology at a price that is cheaper than a set of 3-way Motons!
I know this sounds crazy, but I believe this suspension could revolutionize the Viper. I am THAT excited about it. - Ben Keating
If you are interested in following the discussion for the Gen-V Viper DSC Sport/Tractive development here's the link for another forum-