Ralph Gilles, Chrysler Group president and CEO of the SRT (Street and Racing Technology) Brand and Motorsports, writes exclusively for RACER.com about the Viper GTS-R's potential, its Le Mans debut and spreading the SRT word.
At the halfway point of our first full season with the SRT Viper GTS-R, it seems like a good time to reflect on what we've accomplished so far, and maybe adjust our goals given our recent experience. Well, to be honest, I think we're right on track. In the American Le Mans Series, we've scored two pole positions, we're fighting for podium finishes and we've also made our return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I think the potential of this car is pretty clear.
When the invitation arrived for Le Mans back in February, the entire team was immediately consumed by it because, given our history there, we certainly wanted to throw our resources into this opportunity. But to run at Le Mans requires a different spec of engine, slightly different setup, different transmission and gear ratios, and so on. It's really quite different from a three- or four-hour sprint race, so there was a lot of work to do.
Getting both cars to the finish and in the top 10 in the GTS-R's first 24-hour race was very satisfying. Fellow competitors and motorsport fans – people who know what it takes to succeed at this level – were very complimentary about how we performed. What made the result bittersweet was that the issues we had were very small. There were no powertrain problems at all, for instance. We had two tire punctures, some stones flew into our alternator belt which had us puzzled for a bit, and we had some broken hood pins. They're the kind of minor things that leave you thinking, “Without those issues where might we have finished?”
But, I have to say, I am especially pleased with the way Le Mans crowd welcomed us back. I did a lot of walking among the fans, wearing my SRT gear, and people immediately made the connection between SRT, the Viper and Chrysler Group. I could also tell by the fans' interactions during the pit walk that they were massively enthusiastic about our return, recalling the Vipers' victories more than a decade ago. They love the so-called “Yankee” element in the race, it's part of Le Mans tradition, and we were made to feel very welcome.
After Le Mans wrapped up, we barely had time to catch our breath before Lime Rock was up next, and so we felt a top-five finish was good in the circumstances. But the recent race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park was where we felt the season really restarted. Going in, we felt it would be a strong track for the Viper – downforce heavy and running three of four drivers who had substantial experience at this the track – but it was great to get confirmation of that. We got our second pole position of the season (from Jonathan Bomarito who was racing there for the first time!) and then our first double-podium finish, after one of the most thrilling GT class battles I've ever seen.
We're 100 percent focused on these next races, and I feel the team is going to put on a good show. And yes, it would be a dream to score a win at the Baltimore Grand Prix, as SRT is the presenting sponsor.
Certainly, we've had some challenges this season but the potential of the Viper GTS-R is there for all to see. I also love what I'm hearing consistently from our drivers – that the car is a pleasure to drive. They're not struggling with it, it's not beating them up and that's important: a physically- or mentally tired driver won't be able to give his best throughout a stint.
This has been an amazing year for the all-new 2013 SRT Viper. Production is off and running and we have sold 300 out of the 400 vehicles shipped. Many of the unsold vehicles are the limited-build Launch Edition models that are designated as display vehicles in dealer showrooms. Conner Avenue Assembly Plant in Detroit is humming along building 12 Vipers per day.
For 2014 we will have the Viper TA (Time Attack), a limited-run model that launches this September primarily for track work, and as you've read here on RACER.com, the Viper GT3-R we introduced at Le Mans. We expect the first of those will be delivered at the end of summer.
Riley Technologies, which builds our GTS-R, will build the GT3-R to order. We plan to produce replacement and service parts as well as lend our expertise. We'll even be at the races, listening to what the customers like and want, but it will still be a true customer car rather than a works effort.
The SRT brand is becoming more and more recognized and we launched our advertising campaign just last month (see video, BELOW). And at the races where we typically host a large marketing activation that includes vehicle displays and product information specialists, we continue to see that the number of SRT owners and enthusiasts who come to join us is growing. Whether you own a Viper or an old Neon SRT4, we treat everyone like family.
We've built this umbrella, as it were, over the SRT brand, using the ALMS Vipers as the handle. That sort of environment, when combined with strong products, fosters a brand loyalty that also gets passed down to the next generation.
Thank you for reading. Come and see us at the next ALMS races!
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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