And I wasn't alone in my thinking. On the last half of day three we were given unrestricted seat time until the class was over. The rules were simple: keep the Viper under 4,000 rpm (in any gear you like), and you had to have an instructor with you in the Viper. Four of the school's six Vipers were available for the exercise, and there were also five Neons, which we could take out on the track and practice with. Now, for the most part, there were only two Vipers on the track at any given time, while there was a waiting line for the Neons. That's right, our class let two Vipers sit there idling while we stood around waiting for our turn in a Neon!
Are we crazy? No. The fact is, the Neon is a killer little car that handles unbelievably well. As a point of reference, we were taking corners on the track at 60 mph that would be labeled 25 mph if they were freeway off ramps. And you should see what the instructors could make them do! We were told that a Neon will actually hold its own on a track against a Viper, given equal drivers. The Neons can brake much later going into a corner, and they can actually go through the curves and corners faster than a Viper. Sure, the Viper blows by them on a straight, but in the corners, the Neons rule. And with the exception of the roll bar and five point racing harness, the school's Neon ACRs are the same as the one sitting on your dealer's lot, right down to the air conditioning.
The final surprise came at the end of day three; we lost the last 35 minutes of track time due to an infamous Florida deluge. That wasn't the surprise. The surprise was that not one of us in the class was disappointed. In fact, I think we were all a little relieved. None of us wanted to stop voluntarily, but the driving and concentration was beginning to take its toll, and we were getting exhausted. Every one of us walked away with a tremendous amount of respect for the pros who spend hour after hour concentrating on every single corner, gear selection, and brake depression. It may not look like it, but it's a lot of work.
So, how fast did I actually go? Well, I came off the long straight and went into the corner at a tick over 111 mph. I know that because all the Vipers are equipped with complete on-board telemetry, which monitors mph, rpm, braking, and a host of other things. That may seem fast, but another guy in the class hit 162 mph on the same stretch, which is hauling. However, his rpm was also way over 5,500, which blew away Justin's imposed 4,000 rpm class limit. Now, to put this all in perspective, Justin covered that exact same piece of real estate at 174 mph, and he never went above the 4,000 rpm limit. We were all given the opportunity to compare our telemetry readings against Justin's, and by observing where he shifted coming out of a corner or hit the brakes going into it, we could see where the times vary. Compared to the 162 mph run, we could see that the student shifted into Fourth coming out of the corner, while Justin hit Fourth in the middle of the turn, giving him more speed coming out of the corner. Going into the turn at the end of the straight, Justin stayed on the gas long after the student had taken his foot off of it, and then Justin went right from the gas to the brake, with no coast time, whereas we all had a tendency to take our foot of the gas, coast a second, then hit the brakes.
Now in the Neon, though not equipped with telemetry, a quick glance at the speedo showed me I was hitting around 95 mph on that stretch, with the A/C on, and wasn't worried about losing it, screwing up a shift, or coming out of the turn wrong.