For close to a decade, the Dodge Viper ruled the road in GT racing. While much of its success came from the factory ORECA squad, which claimed class honors in all of the major enduros, including three consecutive wins at Le Mans from 1998-2000, the Viper's legacy continued in the hands of capable privateer teams. In fact, more than 50 Viper GTS-Rs were produced and raced in all corners of the globe, making it the most successful customer car of its time.
Fast forward nearly 10 years and the iconic American brand is poised to repeat history, but with a new-generation snake that's set to take on the competitive world of GT3 racing. The weapon of choice is the new SRT Viper GT3-R, unveiled last month at Le Mans, which will become the first mass-produced GT3-based car to be designed and manufactured in the U.S.
An evolution of the Riley Technologies-built Viper GTS-R, a GTE-homologated car that competes in the American Le Mans Series' GT category by the factory SRT Motorsports squad, the new GT3-R will be eligible to race in a number of prestigious European championships, including the Blancpain Endurance Series and FIA GT Series, as well as other national and continental GT3 series worldwide.
"The predecessors of this car have been successful through Europe,” explains Beth Paretta, Director of Marketing and Operations for SRT Brand and Motorsports. “We do have a lot of people who have been asking for it [in Europe] and in the U.S. We have such a great foundation, so these kind of extensions are easy to do in a lot of ways. The components of this car are so good, so it's a natural progression for us."
It's been quite an accelerated time frame from the car's conception to production, with the green light only being given on the project a few months ago. However, according to Bill Riley, VP and Chief Engineer of Riley Technologies, more than half of the components from the now tried-and-trusted GTE-spec machine have transferred over to the GT3 car, making for an easier development program.
The carryover from the GTE car includes the same chassis and FIA homologated roll cage. The GT3-R, however, utilizes a closer production-based 8.4-liter V10 powerplant and 6-speed XTrac transmission, instead of the race-prepped 8.0-liter unit seen in the GTS-R. The biggest visual difference comes in the bodywork, with a larger splitter and rear wing, thanks to the relaxed aero rules currently seen in GT3 competition.
"There's a lot of shared development and shared parts from the GTE car,” Riley says. “A lot of the suspension carries over to this car and some of the bodywork tooling is the same. It has the same looks and roughly the same aerodynamic package. You're allowed to do more [aero] in GT3, so we're doing more but we're very close to it.”
In addition to the car receiving FIA GT3 homologation, plans are also in place for the GT3-R to compete in the GT Daytona (Rolex Series GT) category of the United SportsCar Racing series next year, as well as the possibility of the Pirelli World Challenge. The SCCA-sanctioned championship became the first North American sports car series to embrace FIA GT3-spec machinery without major modifications.
With the first car having already been sold to a customer in Texas, Riley hopes to have between 10-20 Viper GT3-Rs on track by next year. And despite the platform's saturation, with nearly two-dozen different GT3 models now on the market, totaling hundreds of cars worldwide, Riley is still confident of the Viper's potential overseas.
Assisting in that process will be the former distributor of the Viper ACR-X, Michel Mac Burnie, who will provide on-site support at many of the European races. He will also serve as the European importer of the GT3-R, acting as SRT Motorsports Europe with a facility based in France.
"I think there is a large customer demand for the Viper as it was such a popular GT car,” Riley says. “The business model was there when they did the Competition Coupe and with some of the series now aligning [in regulations], you can get a basic model of a racecar and go to several different series. It just made sense to do it.”
With the finishing touches being put on the first car, Riley hopes to begin on-track testing next month, with a possible race debut before the end of this year. It will then lead into full-season campaigns by an expected brace of customers, both in the U.S. and in Europe, for 2014.
While SRT Motorsports' primary focus will remain on campaigning its GTS-Rs in the competitive ALMS ranks, with no current plans to make those cars available to customers, Paretta hasn't ruled out anything in regards to the future of the GT3 platform. An evolving set of regulations could see the convergence of GTE and GT3-spec machinery into a single base platform by as early as 2016, leaving the door open for increased involvement from the manufacturer on the GT3 front, depending on how the rules play out.
"Even though the ORECA effort still had a lot of factory influence, the difference now is that we're a complete factory effort,” she says of the ALMS GT program. “Maybe in time, there could be a [GT3] factory effort and privateer effort. The nice thing is that because this car can be sold for GT Daytona, at least in the merged series, you can see more Vipers on track if somebody wants to campaign this.”
And given the new-generation GTS-R's encouraging potential in the early season ALMS races, which included a pole and podium finish, there's no doubt the Viper GT3-R will be a leading option for GT customers wanting to get their ground-pounding American racing fix.
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