Comparisons

Great Automotive Rivalries: Viper vs. LFA

Though they may at first not seem like natural competitors, these V10-powered supercars fought it out on the Nurburgring like few others.

The rivalry between the Dodge/SRT Viper and the Lexus LFA is an unlikely one. Apart from both cars being powered by V10 engines, they have very little in common, and the engine alone is hardly the kind of thing which rivalries are usually built on. But a contest would emerge between the two to break one another’s lap times at the Nurburgring. And despite a big disparity in price tags, the contest would actually prove to be quite close.

The Nurburgring is situated outside the town of Nurburg in the Rhineland-Palatinate region of Germany, about 40 or so miles south of Cologne. It was built between 1925 and 1927 as a public works project and served two very important functions. The first was to create jobs as Germany was still deep in recession following the First World War, and the project created some 25,000 jobs during the construction. The second function was to move motorsports off of public roads and onto the relative safety of purpose-built tracks, a move which was only just starting to be made at the time.

There are several different configurations of the track, and these have varied in length over the years. But the most famous, and the one where record-setting efforts have been focused, is the north loop, or Nordschleiffe. This track is currently 12.93 miles long. That’s long, very long. For comparison’s sake, F1 tracks tend to be between 2 and 5 miles, while the Circuit de la Sarthe where the 24 Hours of Le Mans is run, renowned for being an exceptionally long track, is about 8.5 miles. So at nearly 13 miles, the Nordschleiffe is one of the longest tracks in the world.

Not only this, but there is a difference of nearly 1,000 feet in elevation between the track’s highest and lowest points. The total number of fatalities at the track is in no way certain, but the number is generally placed between 73 and 200. Nicknamed "The Green Hell" by legendary racing driver Jackie Stewart, who campaigned tirelessly to make motorsports safer, the Nurburgring Nordscheiffe is one of the most grueling tests for both drivers and vehicles. The all-time record lap time for the track's current configuration was set in 1983 by Stefan Bellof in a Porsche 956 prototype racer.

The track record for production vehicles is somewhat more nebulous, having largely to do with the fact that there are no official records for this, since the definition of a production vehicle is somewhat hard to nail down. The 6:48 lap time set by a Radical SR8 LM could be this record, but there are many countries where the Radical isn’t street legal, and even in those where it is, it's very much stretching the definition of "production vehicle" and is barely street-legal. So in 2008 when a Viper ACR set a time of 7:22.1, it was generally considered to be the new record.

A 2011 run by a Corvette ZR1 set a time of 7:19.63. Oddly, this seemed to set Lexus and Dodge/SRT teams against each other more so than against anyone else. So a Lexus LFA equipped with the "Nurburgring Package" set a time of 7:14.64 a few months after the ZR1, and the folks at Lexus made a big show of having beaten the Americans. Setting a record time at the Ring is a big deal, after all, and the whole purpose of the LFA was to give the Lexus brand a bit more sporting credibility. But the folks at SRT weren’t having it. Beating a car with a price about three times higher also held some important bragging rights.

Just a month after the Lexus record, an ACR went around in 7:12.13. That’s all pretty impressive, but these last two records are bit iffy. The LFA was obviously specially set up for the run, and making the Nurburgring Package available to the public doesn’t mean that it isn’t a loophole. The final ACR had some equally special tires, and all told, the whole Viper-LFA rivalry really just takes away from the fact that the ZR1 made the run with the same equipment it has at the dealership.

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