Starting To Shine
Turns 16, 15, and 14 are a difficult complex made tougher by the heavy braking required after screaming down the front straight. It's where the Durango's 5,500 pounds and occasionally loose steering are most apparent, with the side-to-side rolling testing the stiffer rear sway bar.
I have the Dodge's active dampers in their firmest setting—Track—which helps keep things poised. Still, this is the most demanding part of the track for such a large vehicle.
Clear the first three turns, and the track begins to open up. Turn 14 lets the driver use the overactive throttle and standard all-wheel drive to call up all 475 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque with little concern for the amount of traction. Aim purposefully wide at the end of the short chute that leads into turn 13, because it positions the vehicle better for the short few straight leading into 12.
The next sequence is something of a neck bender and gives an idea of just how good a job Dodge did tuning the Durango's suspension—the long turn 11 has an apex that feels like it will never come, demanding the driver stay wide, wide, wide until finally turning in at the last minute. The suspension rolls progressively here, restoring some of the confidence the confusing Turns 16 through 14 took away.
It's also easy to interpret feedback from the big, 295/45/20 Pirelli tires, and through the steering. The latter is too light and too slow for a 5,500-pound vehicle, but there's at least as much feedback here as there is in a Challenger.
Up until this point, the transmission stays in the lower gears, executing single upshifts or downshifts as the situation necessitates. But properly negotiate turn 10 by getting on the throttle much earlier than you think you need to, and it's time for the engine and transmission to stretch their legs.
The Hulman Straight is the second longest on the Indy road course, making it the natural home for the Durango's 6.4-liter V-8. Exiting turn 10, torque arrives by the bucketful, even lower in the rev range. Dodge quotes a torque peak of 4,300 rpm, but it feels like all 470 lb-ft are willing to arrive much earlier if you squeeze the throttle in just the right way. But while low-end performance is striking, it's the relentless acceleration from the Hemi that's most addicting.