A racing series developed by SRT for driver-owners of the Viper might be considered a gentleman's game. Some participants may even be referred to as “gentlemen drivers.” But Kuno Wittmer, who drives for SRT Motorsports in the American Le Mans Series and who will make his first trip to Le Mans to drive a works Viper next month, says the SRT Viper Cup can be anything but gentlemanly. “The racing is pretty tight and there's a lot of contact,” he states. “They don't necessarily give each other much room.”
Now is in its fourth season, the exciting spec series features a race-ready version of the Viper ACR-X competing at familiar road racing circuits across the continent including Road Atlanta, Sebring International Raceway and Watkins Glen International – where young Canadian driver Louis-Philippe Montour earned a pair of wins this past weekend.
Wittmer is a regular at series races, where he coaches several drivers including the 18-year-old Montour and his father, Mark Montour. The pro says the combination of a spec car with a wide range of participants makes for exciting competition weekend after weekend. Montour is 18, while the eldest series regular, Jim Stout, is 70. “Some guys do it as a hobby, but a lot of them are very competitive and want to win the race,” says Wittmer. “There are tight battles.”
The Dodge Viper ACR-X – based on the previous generation of Viper – was unveiled as the manufacturer wound down the vehicle's street production run in 2010. The track racer is designed to combine the best performance of the street-legal Dodge Viper ACR (American Club Racer) and the safety equipment of the championship-winning Dodge Viper Competition Coupe. It produces 640 horsepower from its SRT-developed 8.4-liter V10 engine and 605lb.-ft. of torque. Aerodynamic upgrades enhance stability and improve grip in high-speed cornering, its upgraded suspension is tuned for on-track use, and it boasts a curb weight that's 160lbs lighter than the standard production Viper.
It's a blast to drive, according to Wittmer, who worked as a test driver during the development of the vehicle in 2009. “They're faster than Ferrari Challenge cars but it's not an aggressive car to handle around the track. They've got a ton of grip, great aero, horsepower, and anti-lock brakes. They're really friendly to drive.”
Fields are varied weekend to weekend, but it isn't unusual to see about a dozen entries on the track and SRT is on-hand to support with engineers, parts and Pirelli tire service. “You're not alone when you race in the SRT Viper Cup,” says Wittmer. “You don't just show up at the track and get left by yourself.”
Under 2013 rules, the field is inverted for the second race of the weekend and so, after winning last Saturday's contest, Montour started last. He moved his No. 7 Viper ACR-X to the lead and held it there, unchallenged in the final minutes of the race. The teenager has only been driving the Viper since 2011, when his father gave him a test in his own car, but he doesn't plan to make a change soon.
“The tracks they choose attracted me a lot,” says Montour of his decision to compete in the series. “It's an easy car to drive if I compare it to Porsches. It has the best braking and the power of this car feels like I'm in another world! The downforce makes the difference.”
Montour has said that competing in the SRT Viper Cup Series does a lot to sharpen his craft as a driver. “The discipline is much higher and it is really the driver skills that make the difference,” he observes. “The ACR-X is a big, powerful racecar. Driving this car requires some abilities and I am improving my driving skills every time I touch the steering wheel.”
Seat time is definitely key to nurturing the driving talent. Ben Keating finished runner-up in the series' first year and then won the title in 2011 and '12. As he closed out last season, he described the Viper Cup as a “phenomenal proving ground” and, as if to prove his point, Keating races in the American Le Mans Series this year.
Montour, who drives alongside his father in a two-car campaign on the series, has been making serious progress since his initial test drive. After his first win late in 2012, he's undefeated so far in only his second full season. The young driver, who completes his last exam at CEGEP (the Quebec equivalent of high school) this week, said he hopes to one day become a professional driver, with an aim to move into ALMS competition. “I want to be a part of SRT Motorsports one day,” he says.
The SRT Viper Cup Series season opened last month with two rounds at Road Atlanta. The series next travels to New Jersey Motorsports Park in June. Other venues on the schedule include Pittsburgh International Race Complex in August, Virginia International Raceway in October, and Sebring International Raceway in November. Each venue hosts two races during the weekend and drivers compete for more than $50,000 in cash and prizes during the season.
• Check out all SRT street and race news on Twitter at @teamSRT.
• SRT is an entire brand fueled by passion for street and racing technology. Five hallmarks set SRT apart: awe-inspiring powertrain; outstanding ride, handling and capability; benchmark braking; aggressive and functional exteriors; and race-inspired and high-performance interiors.
For the inside line on everything SRT, there's only one place to go: driveSRT.com. It serves up fresh factory insider stories, gets the facts and figures on every SRT product, and goes inside the race team car haulers and talks directly to the drivers. Then it delivers it all to you fast and first.