American sports car racing is set for significant change next year with the consolidation of the American Le Mans Series and Grand-Am Rolex Series into the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, but that spirit is even more pronounced for the SRT Viper program. The new GT3-R version of the V10-powered supercar – the first mass-produced GT3-based car designed and manufactured in the U.S. – will join its works GTS-R stablemate in USCC competition, representing the marque in the new GT Daytona class.
The first GT3-R entrant to be confirmed is itching to get started. Houston native Ben Keating, who won the SRT Viper Cup championships in 2011 and 2012 with a Viper ACR-X (BELOW RIGHT), made the jump to the pro ranks this year in the ALMS with a GTC-class Porsche, but he leapt at the chance to return to a Viper cockpit with backing from ViperExchange.com and Client Command.
“In the last six years – basically my entire racing career – I've raced the Viper,” Keating explains. “The last three years I did Chrysler's spec racing program, the Viper Cup. I got second my first year and I won the championship the last couple years, so I knew I wanted to move up and there wasn't really a place for me to race the Viper. So this year I did a full season in the ALMS in the GTC class, to learn about the tracks, drivers and cars. It turned out to be a great move because the GTC class is already a pro-am structure and I got to learn a lot more than I anticipated in terms of strategy. And, every race I've gone to, the SRT folks are there, Riley is there, so it's allowed me to stick close to those relationships.”
Those relationships helped forge an arrangement under which Keating's Viper will be jointly managed by the owner-driver and Bill Riley, vice president of Riley Technologies, and maintained at the Riley Technologies shop in Mooresville, N.C.
“The Viper GT3-R is a good progression from a customer-based Viper,” says Riley. “The parts are now available worldwide. We're talking to a lot of different customers here in the U.S. and worldwide about 2014.”
The first of those customers exemplifies the thinking behind the car, as well as the GT Daytona category.
“I'm a car dealer by trade – I've got a bunch of dealerships around Texas and I'm the number one volume Viper dealer in the nation,” Keating (LEFT) explains. “My goal was to get back into racing what I'm selling. And I'm excited about the fact that the new GT Daytona class is going to be a pro-am-type setup, because I've proven that I can compete very well against other bronze and silver drivers, and I think the whole class is really set up for our success.
“On top of that, even though it's a privateer program, I am working with Riley to run the car and the program. If we were starting from scratch on a brand-new car at this level of competition, I would say it would take us a year before we're competitive, but with all this knowledge, I'm expecting to find success a lot sooner than I would on my own.”
“Sooner” is especially significant in this case: “The first time that we will put the car on a track will be mid-October,” says Keating. “We expect to publicly debut the car at the USCC official test in November.”
Riley (LEFT) acknowledges that the additional effort of conducting the GT3 program in addition to the SRT cars in GTLM will boost an already heavy workload, but reckons that's a net positive.
“It'll be more work, of course, but that's what we do,” he says. “I think it's a big advantage for our GT3 car that we're running one – having a heavily supported team from Riley Tech helps out the whole program because if we see something we want to change or updates we want to make, we can make them right away.”
Riley notes that close association with a privateer team has worked well for the company in the past: “It's pretty much the same business model we did with the Daytona Prototype when we ran the SunTrust Racing team for Wayne Taylor back in 2004-'06.”