The American Le Mans Series GT class just got thermonuclear.
All along, the sports car/prototype racing series attracted some serious racing teams. On the occasion of Sebring and Petit Le Mans, ALMS is joined by the FIA's World Endurance Series and their high end prototypes and GT teams. Even the stalwarts of the ALMS cross over the Atlantic to run at Le Mans – hence the name of the series.
The story of this season has been the GT class. Normally, the spotlight is reserved for the prototypes. Yet, one such race team has grabbed the gold all season long – the Muscle Milk sponsored and Honda powered HPD ARX. This year, all comers in the GT class created some of the best motorsports moments in North America this year. The drama got thick when the Flying Lizard Porsche 911 RSR took the checkered flag at Mosport two weekends ago only to be disqualified due to failing a "stall test."
All eyes will be focused on the GT teams this coming weekend at Mid-Ohio – especially the newest entrant in the class.
Chrysler's performance and racing brand had been eyeing a return to sports car racing during the development of the new Viper. To do so, SRT had to simultaneously create both the road car and its track-bound brother, The result wowed everyone at this year’s New York Auto Show in April.
The Viper has a reputation to uphold. In its first iteration, the snake racked up plenty of class wins for Chrysler since its first appearance in the 1996 Rolex 24 Hours ay Daytona. It has won its class at Le Mans, the overall title in the GT Class and took the overall top podium in 2000 at Daytona.
Now, it is SRT's turn. The new GTR-S is a mean machine – you could say that it needs to be in a class by itself. The overall design reminded us of a time gone by when the Ford GT and Ferrari 250 GTO ruled the track. Instead, the snake will go up against the likes of privateer Porsche 911 RSRs, Corvette C6.Rs and BMW M3s. The field may seem crowded, but wait until race day.
Brand CEO Ralph Gilles and the team at SRT wanted to do this right. Chrysler enlisted Riley Motorsports to manage the team while SRT becomes the primary sponsor of the effort. In turn, they hired veteran endurance drivers Kuno Witmer, Dominik Farnbacher and Marc Goosens to be the core of the team's efforts. One of the most recognizable names in American endurance racing, Tommy Kendall, was added to the SRT effort. Kendall alone would be worth the price of admission.
To prepare the Viper for battle, plenty of modifications were made to placate the series’ requirements. The big V10 was reduced to 8.0litres with a restrictor to placate the horsepower rules employed by the ALMS. It will be the first Viper to run on E-85 ethanol, as mandated by the series. An Xtrac transmission will supplant SRT's gearbox – and moved to the rear axle. Overall, the racer will weigh 2745 pounds dry.
This was how serious Gilles and SRT was about taking the Viper back to the track.
The big question remains – can they do well in the series? Better still, how will they run at Mid-Ohio this weekend? It is tough to say, but the possibilities are endless considering how the competition in the GT class has transpired since the series kicked off earlier this year. Taking the finish at Mosport in consideration, anything is truly possible.
Not to mention, there is a risk factor bringing in a new competitor in the middle of the season – especially one that had to conform to series rules. SRT and Chrysler are keenly aware of the risks involved in inserting the Viper now as opposed to waiting until the 2013 season’s opening race. Do you think they know something we might not consider – such as extensive testing, in house knowledge of endurance racing, the right components and consulting necessary to pull this off?
You do not simply develop a racecar alongside a road car without a desired set of results and an understanding of the rules involved in fielding such an entrant. SRT, Chrysler and Gilles knew this – and did it anyway.
This weekend's race at Mid-Ohio should be watched by anyone who had a keen interest in the development of the SRT Viper – let alone any form of racing. It might change the landscape of ALMS, or at least the GT class. Others have done so and found themselves out of the series before they knew it. I doubt this will be the case.
SRT is playing for keeps.