Let's look at the Viper now, then. How do you handle the expectations of SRT heading to Le Mans, especially after such a strong performance at Sebring?
RG: I think our outlook has always been based on the fact that we have such a sound base; the car really is solid. And even though we've only been back in it for less than a year, remember we're with a really good team. Riley Technologies is absolutely one of the best, and so we benefited from Bill Riley having been in the sport for 34 years. That gave us a hugely advantageous starting point.
So I'm confident in the soundness of the car and the strength of the team. Where I'm tentative is simply with the unknowns that are a fact of life in racing. And it was one of those unknowns that caught us out at Sebring. There was a solenoid problem that cost us second place at Sebring. And then there was a very unique problem with the collar on the center mount that wasn't processed properly and was keeping the wheel from torquing and that caused one car to shear its drivepins. Both of those were problems you never see anywhere else but racing – and you won't see again on our car! – but in a way, you have to go through them because you only learn they can happen through on-track competition.
But other than that, we were pleasantly surprised at how we did; we were better than we expected. The speed was good, we were very consistent, our drivers were exceptional. So now I look at you and say with regards to Le Mans….well, we're not going there to finish last. I wouldn't be so cocky as to say we can win it on our first trip back, but I think we can be contenders.
It must give you a lot of confidence to see how you stacked up against the Porsches and Ferraris, for instance, although I guess beating Corvette will always be one of your priorities.
RG: I have a lot of respect for all the teams. And don't forget, Aston Martin looked strong for a while there, too, but then ran into some issues like us – teething problems. And that's the point; we were always at some point going to hit niggly little problems that only track time can find.
Every manufacturer justifies their competition spend by talking about what can be taken from their racecar and applied to the road car. I'd guess there's more truth to that with ALMS cars than any others. But, honestly, how much race-to-road transfer is there between the GTS-R and the GTS… and vice versa?
RG: Well, braking, for example. Everyone was asking, “Why don't you use carbon fiber brakes on the Viper?” and the answer is because we use steel brakes on the ALMS car and it can run hours and hours and hours on the same set of pads and rotors. And we use some of that technology for a road car upgrade package that we're producing. There's plenty of life left in the steel brake package, which is something people underestimate.
There's the traction control system allowed in ALMS and that went the opposite way, from the road car to the GTS-R. There's body bracing that we transferred from the racecar to the street car – the two were developed simultaneously, remember – and, actually, the racecar was finished first because obviously there was less Federal regulations stuff to do! But yeah, the X-brace, and a certain little gusseting that you can't see, went from the GTS-R to the GTS.
And then there were the aerodynamics. There were huge lessons learned from the road car to the racecar and then a little bit back again, too. The design team that did the base car actually helped the race team with the aero package. We were still sculpting the body of the street car while they were developing the ALMS car, so the hood features on the road car are where they work best for cooling and downforce. So that flows back and forth; there is genuine synergy.
If you look at the fundamentals of the Viper – where the driver sits, where the engine is located, the center of gravity, the size of the tires – the GTS and GTS-R are remarkably close.
How much of an annoyance to you is it when sanctioning bodies of multi-car classes have to bring in equalization measures?
RG: Meh…we're used to it. The race Vipers have been tranquilized for years. Seriously, we're all right with that; we expect it and anticipate it. When the GTS-R was just an idea, we went to the ALMS and said, “Here's the plan. We can't shrink our motor any more than it is, so tell us how you're going to restrict us.” And they were very transparent on what they'd do…and the racecar now produces a scintillating 450 horsepower or whatever, compared with the 640hp of the road car. But what the ALMS does is pretty remarkable. If you look at the lap times at Sebring, the GT cars were within half a second, despite the vast differences – front-engined, mid-engined, rear-engined, with six, eight, 10 and 12 cylinders, all in one melting pot.
Yeah, and I was surprised when Tommy Kendall said that the characteristics of the Viper's engine still shine through, that you still get that big wedge of torque that you wouldn't get in a more peaky engine.
RG: Well, yeah…for a while. The way the restrictor works is that you have enough manifold volume that you get a nice pull out of the corners – kinda like the diesel prototypes! – but eventually you hit the supersonic speed of the restrictors and the car figuratively hits a wall. And actually it's a little bit inefficient because of its size running that way. The torque is only relevant while the manifold is full of air.
And TK says that torque is great from the practical point of view in that the team's not having to mess with the gearing all the time…
RG: …And also, just like with the street car, the level of stress on the engine is low. It's a large engine so it's relatively unstressed and that's what has been one of the legendary factors in the Viper's 21-year history. That V10 is so uncomplicated, but it can get the job done performance-wise and the current GTS gets 22mpg from an 8.4-liter V10!
So what's the situation regarding customer racecars in the future?
RG: That question's come up quite a bit, as you can imagine. Very few customers could afford the ALMS-level of GT car. But the GT3 class, yes, that's something we're very definitely interested in. At Sebring, I was getting accosted by several wealthy men who want a GT3-class car, like… yesterday! There's an interesting pull there, and I'm very encouraged by that interest, and it's global. We've sold over 120 competition coupes to World Challenge spec and we made a GT3-spec version of that car, and they're in action all over the world, and those guys want the new-shape car now, so we're looking at it. The good news is that the GT3 rules are attractive because there's a lot of transfer, a lot of bodywork that's common to the road car, so we're working with sanctioning bodies to see what it will take to make that happen.
Just to clarify, that would be a customer-funded philosophy – we'd build to order, a true private deal. We'd sell engines and parts, but running the team is 100 percent on the customer.
The unification of U.S. sports car racing: how big a deal is that for you?
RG: That is a huge deal, and the fact that the ACO are involved along with Grand-Am and ALMS means that we should have a true globalization of motorsports. That's music to OEMs' ears, the fact that we can have one spec usable worldwide, and it's a big help to the engineers who previously would have found it impossible to manage competitive cars for all three sanctioning bodies. We're really excited at the thought that our car can work in any country, so once we've decided what the GT3 package is, it can be turn-key and we can ship them all over the world.
Finally, how's the brand activation going in relation to the ALMS program?
RG: Very good, although we learned a lesson as far as the car corral at Sebring was concerned, in that we need to give owners a better heads-up. We had space for maybe 150 cars, and we had owners coming up and saying that they'd only known about it happening for about four weeks in advance. So that's been noted and we will make sure we give more advance notice. The other problem with Sebring is that you can't get a room there, and the track's a fair old trip from say, Miami. So that's logistically challenging for SRT owners.
As far as Long Beach is concerned, there's just no room to hold a corral there, simply because of the geographical limitations. But I think that now the word is out, we can do good car corrals at Road America, Mid-Ohio and so on. And as an SRT owner, you'll get taken care of at the races; you'll get a VIP card on your lanyard, you can use the hospitality area, and you will get treated like gold.
And that's part of the community aspect we talked about at the start. It doesn't matter if you have a 2004 Neon or a Viper: as an SRT owner, you're one of us.
You can follow on Twitter… Ralph Gilles at @RalphGilles, the SRT Viper GTS-R team at @teamSRT, and check out all SRT street and race news at @teamSRT.
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