GTS-R -Le Mans 2013

The rich history of the SRT® Viper GTS-R in the 24

Hours of Le Mans.

The rich history of the SRT<sup>®</sup> Viper GTS-R in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Posted on Jun 07, 2013
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the ultimate proving grounds for man and machine. Manufacturers spend decades trying to master the grueling twice-around-the-clock event, while drivers have been known to try their hand year-after-year seeking to stand on the podium at the famed Circuit de la Sarthe.

Many are never able to master the fickle track or taste the sweet champagne that accompanies a win at Le Mans no matter how many times they try. The SRT® Motorsports teams, on the other hand, were quick studies with Viper, claiming a class win at Le Mans in just their third start in 1998.20120221082303_00038

As an encore, Team Viper won again at Le Mans in 1999 and made it a three-peat in 2000, which ironically marked the last time a factory-backed Viper raced at Le Mans. With SRT Motorsports returning to full-time sports car racing competition this season in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS), the 24 Hours of Le Mans will again see the Viper GTS-R on track, as both the No. 53 and No. 93 will take the green flag.20120221092048_00013

Jeff Reece was part of the original Viper GTS-R race team that made the trek to Le Mans in 1996. He went back for five consecutive years and was part of three winning programs from 1998-2000. Reece, a Viper Vehicle Integration Engineer, will return again this year as will Dick Winkles, an SRT Powertrain Engineer, who has made a pair of trips to Le Mans, and has been part of two winning efforts in 1999 and 2000.

“We built up quite a reputation at Le Mans in the late 1990s,” said Reece. “Going back this year, everyone wants to have a good showing. We are putting that reputation on the line, so to speak with everything we have accomplished there in the past.”

The Viper GTS-R made its debut at Le Mans in 1996 in the GT1 class and completed all 24 hours of that race, finishing eighth in class and 10th overall. A total of four Vipers were in the field that year. In 1997, the team returned with another four-car contingent, this time competing in the GT2 class.20120221082303_00014

“We had some of the fastest cars on the track in 1997, but we had problems,” shared Reece. “Two different cars crashed so we lost a lot of time, and two other cars didn’t finish. That was disappointing to say the least, because that same year we were dominating the FIA GT Series and winning most of the races.”

A total of five Viper GTS-R race cars took to the grid in 1998 at Le Mans, scoring a class win in GT2, which marked the first win for the car in sport car racing’s biggest event. Vipers also placed second, fifth and seventh in class that year.

“Winning Le Mans was the one last big hurdle we had left to clear with the GTS-R program in 1998 and we were able to do it,” noted Reece. “It was a fantastic feeling. I’ll never forget what it feels like to be up for 40 hours straight after being sleep-deprived for most of the week to begin with and having a glass of champagne.”20120221082303_00025

Victory would again be taken by the Viper GTS-R in 1999 at Le Mans in the GTS class, to the tune of a 10th-place overall finish. Vipers would also cross the line second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth in class. Along with scoring a third consecutive class win in 2000, the Viper GTS-R scored its best-ever overall finish at Le Mans, taking seventh in the field of 48 cars. In the GTS class, Vipers also came home second, fifth and sixth.

Returning to Le Mans for the first time in over a decade, the team has been diligently preparing for the endurance race. The pair of Viper GTS-R race cars will hit the famed Circuit de la Sarthe for the first time on Sunday, June 9, for a test day. A second practice day is scheduled for Wednesday, June 19, with a night session of qualifying to follow that evening and a pair of qualifying rounds on Thursday, June 20. The final time the cars will hit the track prior to the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be on race morning, Saturday, June 22, for a warm-up session.20120221085326_00014

“A lot has changed since the last time we were there,” noted Winkles. “We obviously have a new car this year and the aerodynamics are very different and that’s very important over there. One of the disadvantages that we’ll have is that all of the cars we are competing against have been there the last couple of years, so they know the set-ups for their chassis, suspension and aero, while we’ll still be learning. That’s going to be tough for us, but anything can happen as long as you stay out there on the track.”

A field of 56 cars in four classes is entered for this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, representing 16 countries from around the world. The SRT Motorsports team will be one of six squads from the United States competing and will take to the track in the LMGTE Pro class. A number of teams that regularly race against the Viper GTS-R in the ALMS GT class will be in attendance.20120221082303_00024

“The competition is so tight right now,” noted Reece. “The cars are more evenly matched than ever. Part of that is the way the sanctioning body is running the race. They are trying to make everyone evenly matched and that makes for some exciting racing. It means you really have to optimize everything to stand a chance.”

That chance will come for the pair of SRT Viper GTS-R race cars on June 22 as the 81st edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans takes the green flag.

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