Although it didn’t exactly dominate its competition, the 2013 SRT Viper GTS-R’s first outing in the American Le Mans Series’ GT class can still be considered commendable. Both cars not only finished the race at Mid-Ohio, but the #91 car, piloted by Kuno Wittmer and Dominik Farnbacher, managed to finish tenth in its class.
According to Gary Johnson, Chrysler SRT’s road racing manager, having both Viper GTS-R cars finish is a feat in and of itself. “Our first goal was to get through the race without any major problems,” Johnson tells Chrysler’s media blog. “We accomplished that. In fact, we were making progress throughout the race. The cars were getting better. The race gives us an opportunity to know where the issues are and where we need to focus.”
Though both Vipers trailed many of their GT-class competitors – including the renowned Pratt & Miller Chevrolet Corvette C6Rs – by a sizable two seconds, the finish is still impressive for a first outing, especially considering SRT’s race program was essentially assembled in less than six months.
It’s also impressive, considering the #91 car encountered some teething issues were shaking out during practice sessions earlier in the week. According to Torque News, the #91 Viper encountered an engine sputter during Saturday’s first practice round, forcing it out of both the second practice round and the qualifying session. As a result, Wittmer and Farnbacher were forced to start at the back of the 32-car field, down six spots from the second-to-last GT class entrant. The #93 Viper, driven by Marc Goosens and Tommy Kendall, posted a 1:22:158 lap time, earning it a 10th-in-class starting position.
Those positions seemed to change as the race dragged on. Wittmer and Farnbacher chipped away at their six-car disadvantage, while the #93 car was sent spinning into a tire wall after a run-in with a competitor. Fortunately, both car and driver emerged unscathed, save for some cracks in the left front bodywork. That hit did knock the car towards the back of the pack, as it finished 12th-in-class, just ahead of a C6R that was crippled after making contact with a Porsche.
“It wasn’t pretty but both cars finished,” said Bill Riley, owner of Riley Technologies, which campaigned both GTS-Rs with Chrysler’s backing. “We’ve got a lot to build on. We’re about two seconds off where we need to be and that showed in the race. Now we need to build on that and go from there. We were consistent but there are things we have to work on. There are gains to make with the car. We’ll keep chipping away on it. I think we’ll get about half of the gap taken care of pretty quickly.”
“Six months ago, the car was literally a digital drawing, and here it is performing,” said Ralph Gilles, CEO of Chrysler’s SRT brand. “The top-10 [finish], I’m really pleased, but more importantly, I’m really impressed with the dynamics of the team. The camaraderie already [exists]: the owners, the race team, everybody involved from the engine builders to the suspension guys, they’re all pulling in the same direction.”
Expect them to continue pulling in that direction this season, albeit not at every race. SRT has pledged to compete in a “limited schedule” this year, allowing it to further hone and tune the GTS-R in the confines of a race environment before competing in the complete 2013 ALMS season.