With the American Le Mans Series touching down at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (nee Mosport) this weekend, it's a particularly meaningful opportunity for the SRT Viper team's Kuno Wittmer.
The native of Montreal has been a key element of the team literally since the wraps came off the SRT Viper GTS-R at the New York Auto Show last year, having already earned himself a place in Viper lore in 2012 by setting a single-lap record for a production vehicle at Miller Motorsports Park with a Viper ACR. Now he's looking forward to demonstrating at the ALMS's sole Canadian round of 2013 the progress he and the SRT Motorsports team have made with their V10-powered GT racer.
“It's one of those circuits that were built a long time ago along the lines of Mont-Tremblant, the Nurburgring and Le Mans – very fast, high-speed and challenging corners,” he says of Mosport. “It's definitely one of my top-three circuits.”
Although still relatively new to the ALMS, 30-year-old Wittmer's steadily been building his reputation as one of North America's top sports car racers, although he didn't start out in that direction. As a teenager, Wittmer was a prodigy in open-wheelers at the Jim Russell International race school based at Mont-Tremblant in Quebec. Chosen to represent Canada in the Russell School's international finals at Donington Park, UK, at age 16, he came through the field from last on the grid to finish second. The following year he became the youngest driver to compete in the Atlantic series but, like many of his generation, Wittmer found the grass was greener in sports cars.
After winning the Michelin Challenge and Canadian Honda national series in 2005, Wittmer moved on to SCCA World Challenge and Grand-Am's Koni (now Continental Tire) Challenge competition. He scored six World Challenge GT class wins from 2008 through '10 and, along the way, got plenty of running on one of his favorite tracks.
“I've driven at Mosport since '99, at least three or four times a year – I've done over a thousand laps there!” he relates, although he's quick to dismiss that as an advantage: “At this [ALMS] level, with the caliber of drivers we have, it probably doesn't matter that much.”
Wittmer made his endurance racing debut with the newly formed Viper squad at the end of last year, but he was clearly a quick study for the unique demands of long-distance racing. The Canadian was Viper's ironman at Le Mans last month, putting in more laps than any of his teammates, and he's confident the lessons he and the SRT team took away from their first visits to La Sarthe will pay off, both in future visits to the 24 Hours and for the balance of the American Le Mans Series.
“I drove just a tick over 11 hours total, three hours at a time – it wasn't double-stinting, it was triple-stinting,” he relates. “It was tough, very demanding, but you just focus on the goal ahead of you and that's it.
“It was my first time there and just to learn the circuit was daunting. It's really fast – we were doing 180mph-plus on three different parts of the course per lap – and I feel that I learned a lot as a driver there, just from being so long in the car during the race. And for the team, we learned so much, collected a lot of data, so we're definitely going to make the car better for when we go back with the Viper.”
Wittmer admits that the learning curve remains steep: “There's so much to learn on these machines with all the technology we have now, and especially with the Viper we're still learning about the way chassis is working and making improvements,” he notes. “One of the biggest things about these GT cars in the Pro class is the electronic systems – they're so advanced that we're constantly learning how to make things better.
“So, we're ticking ahead – you keep learning, suggesting, improving the aerodynamics and everything, and make it better for the next one.”
With a top-five finish last time out at Lime Rock for Wittmer and company validating that progress, he could be in for his biggest tick ahead yet on home turf.
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