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SRT Hellcats Everywhere: The Book of Bondurant Adds A New Chapter

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 6/14/2016 Chris Walton
SRT Hellcats Everywhere: The Book of Bondurant Adds A New Chapter

Bob Bondurant and the Official High-Performance Driving School of Dodge

His name is synonymous with racing and an eponymous high-performance driving school in Chandler, Arizona. Bob Bondurant, a former motorcycle, sports car, Can-Am, Formula 1, Baja 1000, and NASCAR race car driver, was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2003. You name it, he's driven it, and he probably has the trophy. Had it not been for a race-career-ending 150-mph crash in a McLaren at Watkins Glen in 1967, his racing career would have lasted decades and rivaled the greats—such as Dan Gurney, with whom he won the GT class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1964 in the then-new Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe. After his crash, he was told he'd never walk again. Wrong answer.

While recuperating from his '67 crash, Bondurant literally began writing the book on high-performance driving. Reflecting on his coaching of James Garner for John Frankenheimer's film "Grand Prix," he drew up plans and a curriculum for the first iteration of a driving school. A year later, he opened his school at Orange County International Raceway (OCIR) in Irvine, California. In the second week of classes, he had just two student drivers: Robert Wagner and Paul Newman, both prepping for their roles in the movie "Winning." Speaking of winning, among the estimated 300,000 drivers who proudly hang a certificate of completion on their walls, there have been dozens of race winners and champions who graduated from Bondurant, as most people call it.

Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat and Charger SRT Hellcat Viper SRT Hellcat front three quarter© Provided by MotorTrend Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat and Charger SRT Hellcat Viper SRT Hellcat front three quarter Over the years, his school grew and moved (Ontario and Sonoma, California, Phoenix, and finally, Chandler, Arizona). The school's past partners have included Datsun, Porsche, Ford, and General Motors, and this year, Dodge has become the official supplier of vehicles for the four-wheeled classroom. A sprawling facility with four track configurations, an 8-acre asphalt "black lake" skills pad, access to Wild Horse Motorsports park (next door), and three of Firebird Raceway's tracks (outside Phoenix), the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving now teaches, above all else, car control, as well as accident avoidance, auto-cross, lead-and-follow, competitive solo driving (including super karts), police pursuit, evasive techniques for chauffeurs and bodyguards, and stunt driving. The school's new partnership with Dodge is ever-expanding and will include a fleet, some 200 cars deep, of brand-new 707-hp Charger SRT Hellcat sedans and Challenger SRT Hellcat coupes, 645-hp Viper SRT (TA 2.0) coupes, and Viper ACR coupes. And that's it. You won't find a single inline-four, V-6, front-wheel-drive anything for instruction. You want thrills? They got 'em. Plus, with the Viper being discontinued, this might be the only place to see (and drive) one in captivity in the years to come. It might become a sort of wildlife refuge of sorts.

As an introduction to the new fleet in Chandler, we were treated to several exercises typical to first-time students throughout the day. In Chargers with hydraulically jacked outriggers, we learned the time-honored and invaluable first steps of car control at very low speeds. With the instructor sitting beside the student driver, he could induce varying amounts of under- or oversteer to the car, which can be, as any person who grew up driving in icy/snowy conditions, either the most terrifying or gratifying experience of your life, depending on your training and muscle memory. It's at these low speeds and with repetition that the basics are learned and hopefully become reflexes for when you get to the big-boy cars on the circuit. These are the very skills any driver will take with him or her and be a safer driver out in the real world where there aren't do-overs.

One might not think a Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat sedan, tipping the scales at 4,500 pounds, would be a good track car, but you'd be mistaken. After a brief lead-follow exercise to learn the track, it's amazing what a special red key, 700-hp, track-tuned suspension, and sticky tires can do. Certainly, the car's weight limits its progress around corners but not on the straight bits where it inhales tarmac at super-legal speeds with that unmistakable whine 'n' rumble coming from the supercharged, 6.2-liter V-8. The Challenger Hellcat coupes crank it up a notch, and they build confidence for the main event. What felt like an impossible corner or chicane in the previous cars feels like a 1-plus-g roller coaster ride in the V-10-powered Viper SRT. And where any of the Hellcats struggle to use a half or two-thirds of their power, the Viper puts down all of it, out of the corners and down the straights. What makes this Bondurant-SRT combination such a potent teaching tool is that all of the cars offer multilevel electronic traction/stability control. A student can start out in the most conservative setting and work his or her way up to Track mode, which allows a generous amount of sliding and wheelspin before intruding on fun or correcting your mistake. Although there are literally dozens of Hellcats and more Viper SRTs than you will probably see at in a lifetime, the handful of Viper ACR coupes are reserved for advances classes. We were, however, treated to a hot lap ride-along with our friend, Justin Bell, who coincidentally won the GT class at Le Mans (like Bondurant), but in a Viper. The bloke knows how to drive a Viper. This very special Viper can be easily configured for any track (suspension and downforce are adjustable), and because of this, it is currently the lap record holder for a street-legal production car (barely) at 13 tracks, including our local favorite, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca at the hands of our hired hot shoe, Randy Pobst.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIqbm0Dzzv0&list=PLf6xEkPrQwBUuY3PI7R-d-ZQFVNs0HLuP&index=1

Dodge Viper SRT at Bondurant School front end on track© Provided by MotorTrend Dodge Viper SRT at Bondurant School front end on track Yeah, we've seen been to some pretty dodgy high-performance driving schools, but this one is filthy with them. Their new fleet of Dodge SRT cars is the perfect beginning the next chapter in the Book of Bondurant. They're good people who are patient and knowledgeable with every level of driver, from first-time teens to aspiring racers to Granny (really, they told us the story). In fact, if you own or bought a 2015-2016 Dodge SRT car, you get a specialized one-day program free with your purchase. Go here to see if your VIN is valid. For goodness sake, and for the sake of those drivers and families with whom you share the road, take advantage of the offer. Even if you don't own a Dodge SRT and have always wanted to drive a Viper or Hellcat, learn how thrilling it is to drive one at their limit or yours. Just don't be that person on YouTube leaving Cars and Coffee with impulse, traction, and car control disabled. Get schooled at Bondurant, and tell them Motor Trend sent ya.

Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat at Bondurant School front end© Provided by MotorTrend Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat at Bondurant School front end
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