Tom O’Dell is something of a snake charmer. But we’re not talking about cobras and wicker baskets. As a tenured member of the prestigious Build & Development team at SRT® headquarters, O’Dell is the man Dodge appoints to coax every last iota of performance out of the 2016 Dodge Viper ACR.
In 2015 Dodge paired O’Dell with driver Chris “The Wolf” Winkler (with a few runs by Randy Pobst) to lead a campaign to establish the 2016 Dodge Viper ACR as the ultimate street-legal race car. The team knocked down 13 single-lap records at a murderer’s row of tracks from Virginia International Raceway to Laguna Seca. The fully customizable nature of the Viper ACR — from the massive carbon fiber wing to the suspension — allowed O’Dell to dial in the perfect setup for each track. Redline caught up with O’Dell to find out what goes into getting the fastest serpent on four wheels track-ready.
Redline: What was the process for getting the Viper ACR track-ready for each attempt?
TOM O’DELL: We spent two days at every track. We would set the car up on day one and try a few things. The day gets hot and running laps develops water and oil temperature, which is not ideal for optimal track times. So we would wait until late afternoon on the first day, after the car cooled off, and would see if adjustments were where we wanted them. On day two we came in early, set the tire pressures and looked at the track to make sure it was clean. Chris would show up with his gameface on and he would get after it. We wanted to break a record right off the bat, and 90% of the time we were spot on.
With a car like the 2016 Viper ACR, was it tempting to take a few more laps to try and shave a little more time at certain tracks?
Drivers know they have to get it done in a certain period of time. And most drivers will reach a peak. The tires start going away and you start losing time. You just take a look at the stopwatch. If it starts falling off, pack it in. After that you’re running unnecessary risks.
Can you rank the top three tracks in terms of difficulty when it came to dialing in the right set up?
Virginia International Raceway, the Grand Course is a lot like Nürburgring. Laguna is another tough one. You have to get the car around the corners without a lot of roll and pitch. Going down the corkscrew, if the car unloads it gets light and will start to push. Turns 9 and 10 coming down the hill at Laguna, for lack of better words, are some of those “suck it up” kinds of turns. But if your car is really set up you can come through there flat-out. Road Atlanta has had a lot of character taken out of the track, but it’s still fun. If the car is done right you can run it like it’s almost flat.
What’s the best way to tell if you have the car dialed in?
When the driver gets out of the car and spikes his helmet, it’s a good sign something was wrong. When Chris would get out and give you a hug before he takes his helmet off, you know you did your job.
What level of technical skill do you need to make adjustments on the Viper ACR?
The way the car is developed, it should be pretty easy. You can call someone if you have a problem, but basically the way it is, it’s good. The springs, shocks, tire combination, the front — for turn-in I might go down one click on the front shock. The car … you’re going to have to have seat time to really feel what the car would do for you. It’s such a package that, I mean, a non-experienced driver can get in there and say, “Oh my God.” Once you get a feeling of where it is, then you can start experimenting. You can always call someone and get professional advice. The only thing that scares me is that someone might go out there and try to put something better on it, and I don’t think you can do it.
In your opinion, what makes the ACR so unique — even within the Viper range of cars?
I have worked on Viper since 1995 and the original Comp Coupe. Out of all the Vipers I’ve built, next to the original GTS-R racecar and the GTX, this is the ultimate Viper. This car is unreal.