With a 15-year gap since his unofficial “retirement” in 1997, Tommy Kendall returns to racing in a big way this weekend with the SRT Viper American Le Mans Series program. Kendall, who's done a wealth of TV work on SPEED (LEFT) and occasional Trans-Am starts in the interim, is probably the highest profile driver in the new SRT Viper GTS-R.
There's only been limited testing but a warm-up act in a Viper Cup race provided a chance to get a taste of what he can expect.
“The Viper Cup outing was in the works before the (ALMS) race deal, and that started last fall at the Nurburgring,” Kendall said Wednesday. “It was already there to set a production record – which it wound up doing. One thing led to another, and it did work out for this year. I locked in that race before the potential (SRT) drive – I'm glad I chose VIR, and it's one track we're potentially going to.
“The Cup car is much closer to production than the GTS-R, and is the prior generation. But it's got more power, and was on slicks. It was good to knock some of the rust off.”
Kendall called this Viper a “quantum leap” forward compared to the cars from Trans-Am. He also discussed his relationship with the Rileys, Bob and son Bill, with Riley Technologies a very active part of the program in building the cars.
“When I was in Charlotte, it was the first time I'd been turned to their facilities in Bob wouldn't toot his own horn, so I will,” he said. “He's taken some quantum leaps forward. There was the first Riley Trans-Am. And his first GTP car, a lot of people said it wouldn't work or it had too much downforce; but what it did, it unleashed a real arms race. There aren't too many teams that could come in here, now, at the level of Riley Technologies. Even though the time schedule is compressed, I have to give Bill a lot of credit.”
For the moment, the Viper is confirmed for just this race, and while there's a tentative plan of races including Petit Le Mans – the team already has its endurance drivers named – the lineups and combination are flexible for the rest of the year. Part of Kendall's adjustment on his return is going through driver changes, swapping out with co-driver Marc Goossens in the No. 93 Viper.
“I'm sure Bill has the idea – that's the idea behind the pairings. But Bill is able to tweak things, as he's not locked into anything,” Kendall explained.
“As far as driver changes, we did practice that at our VIR test. Being a big guy, I was a little worried about that – but I think we're in reasonable shape. It's been a long time since I've shared a car, and we're figuring out how to make that work. Marc's not as big as me but by no means is he a small guy!”
The No. 93 and the sister No. 91, driven by Kuno Wittmer and Dominik Farnbacher, make their debut in the stacked 13-car GT class field this weekend.