Team SRT's American ace Jonathan Bomarito assesses the season so far and explains why he thinks the Viper GTS-R should be the car to have at this weekend's ALMS race at Circuit of The Americas
I think Team SRT has had a fairly stellar year so far, considering 1) this is the Viper GTS-R's first complete season and 2) the tough competition in the American Le Mans Series GT field. But I've got to say, I'm not that surprised. The Viper is made for this kind of racing, and that's become apparent more and more as the year's gone on.
Actually, the first time that hits you is in the first test with your co-driver. I came from a background of open-wheel racing, where you tune your car specifically for your requirements: it's not something you have to share with others so every change you make is to suit you. Well, in sports cars, you can't be that selfish, because you've got someone else to think about – your co-driver. But Kuno Wittmer and myself find it quite easy to get the Viper to the point where we're both happy with it, and no compromises are needed, and that's a tribute to the car, I think. When we get out, we're always asking for the same thing, and that's despite us and the car being new to the series. That means our message to the engineers is consistent, and that's got to be helpful.
I got involved with the SRT Viper program at the tail-end of last year, driving at Petit Le Mans, and the progress through the off-season was just great. Yes, the team was very new, the car was very new, and SRT racing at this level was something that hadn't been done for over a decade. But we had the right people involved throughout, and the result of their hard work was tangible; I could see it and feel it every time we went testing.
So while there may have been those outside the team who didn't predict our progress, we as a team actually did expect a lot of ourselves, and I think two of the cool things in 2013 have been justifying our self belief and surprising the opposition! Three poles and a victory shows we have pace, durability, good tactics, and smooth pit work.
I'm pleased that Team SRT has had poles at both a rough street circuit (Long Beach) and then also smoother, natural road courses like Mosport and Road America; but there's no magic to racing, no substitute for hard work, and no two tracks are identical. We're reminded of that all the time. Just because, for example, we were quick at Long Beach didn't mean that we were going to be fastest at Baltimore, which has more low-speed corners and hairpins.
Our greatest strengths so far have been the Viper's pace and stability on medium- to high-speed turns. But the way I look at is that we actually learn more from the difficult weekends, so after a so-so weekend in Baltimore, Team SRT and Riley Technologies now have yet more info to work with. Our gains in experience from event to event have to be greater than any of the more established teams.
Transferring the huge amount of torque from the eight-liter V10 to the road is a challenge for the traction control system. The car can spin its rears in first gear of course, but also second and even third sometimes …but there's not a driver out there who'd complain about having too much torque! Therefore, fine-tuning that traction control system and matching it with the gear ratios is always going to be our preferred answer. What you want for qualifying is not necessarily what you want for the race. In qualifying, for instance, you want to work the tires hard to get them up to temperature, and fuel economy doesn't matter. On race day, you want to be more economical in terms of both gas mileage and tire life.
The test day at Circuit of The Americas went well. We showed strong pace and made a lot of good gains and the car is nicely balanced around there. The track is new to me, and I admit that it has more medium- and low-speed corners than I thought, but it's smooth and it has some nice high-speed turns and a good long straightaway.
I'm pleased to say its surface is not too abrasive, either, we had very good tire durability on long runs, and it's actually quite a low-grip track. Having said that, this was the test, and over the course of the day, it gripped up. Once the ALMS cars and the FIA World Endurance Championship cars have been out for several sessions, it should be even more rubbered in, and therefore faster. But whether it picks up a lot of grip or reaches a certain level and then stops, I don't mind: either way, I think it's fair to say we have big hopes for this weekend's race.
Another thing I like about Circuit of The Americas is that there are some wide places where we can lap the GTC cars without losing too much time, and the prototypes can lap us without messing us up. Learning how and where to make passes and allow others to make get through is very much down to experience which drivers gain throughout the year. You have to learn to think ahead and you're very much in control of your own destiny in that regard.
Sometimes it's better to breathe off the throttle on the straightaway so the prototypes pass you sooner and don't put you off-line at corner entry. Other times, it's better to compromise your corner exit by taking a wider line but without lifting off the gas. Sometimes you get lucky and hit the GTC traffic at the right spot where you pass them before a twisty section where the car that's chasing you will get trapped behind. It's a constant cycle of looking in your mirrors or looking way on up the road. The important thing is to stay patient, don't force the issue where you risk damaging the car. A pit stop for repairs is way more expensive, time-wise, than losing two or three seconds behind a slower car.
So we'll head into qualifying in positive frame of mind. Whereas we knew we'd be a little bit off the ultimate GT pace in Baltimore, here at COTA, we're very much of the mindset that, yes, we should be contending for pole, and then it comes down to making the right moves, on track and in pit lane, come the race. If we fulfill our potential, I think we can have both SRT Vipers fighting for the win.
I don't think any of the teams could say, “Our car is the best at this or that,” but I think the breadth of the SRT Viper's ability is a match for any other car. There's not one aspect of a track where we make all of our time up and another where we throw it away. Looking at sector times and from what we can judge while following or leading our rivals, I'm pleased to say that the SRT Viper GTS-R is decent-to-good in all aspects, from acceleration to handling, from top speed to stability under braking. To be able to say that when, as a group, we're all so new together, is a major tribute to the work of Team SRT and Riley Technologies.
The only problem is, our pace doesn't catch our rivals by surprise like it used to. The secret's out!
Thanks for reading!
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