It’s crazy to think one year ago, when we were starting with the SRT Viper program, we were four seconds off the pace at Road America, which was to be expected as we took our first steps. Our win last weekend really shows how far we’ve come and what an achievement it is to have gone this far when you might expect it to take two or three years to break through to Victory Lane.
It had been since 2000 that a factory Viper won, and the whole SRT group was waiting for it to happen and we’re so happy to finally get this great result. For me, it’s also my first win as a factory driver, and to be able to give back to the SRT team is so important. Overall, I think everyone was just very appreciative of the opportunity we’ve received and to record the newest win for this famous brand.
In the race, our Vipers were very fast, and if you go back one race to Mosport, I really think you could see that the developments with the car were beginning to show through. The Corvettes maybe had a little bit over us on the straights, but in the corners, all of the damper work and everything the Riley Technologies team has been doing with the Viper’s suspension was working.
At Road America, our cars handled amazingly well, and it was really the consistency we had during a full fuel stint that made the difference. Our cars were strong every lap, even when we’d been on the same tires for a while, and this helped us to keep pushing like mad. The rear tires usually take the most punishment, but they never fell off last weekend.
The weather was something that became part of the story at Road America for everyone, and managing the rain, the drying track and whether you should be on wet weather tires or slicks was an important factor in how the race was decided. I started the race in the No. 91 Viper and did my best with the wet track and tires, but a dry line started to come pretty quickly and Bill Riley was on the radio to me very early to ask what I thought about going to slicks. I could see it was possible to go to slicks before other GT cars did so, but I didn’t know what the forecast was for the rest of the race.
I said to Bill, “Do you see anything on the radar, do you see any rain coming right away?” He said no, so I pitted and we went to slicks. I also had some body damage that needed to be repaired, so that took a little bit of extra time. When we went back out it was very difficult because the track wasn’t completely dry, but thankfully, there was a safety car period and it stayed out for a while, which allowed me to warm the tires. Then when the green came out, a lot of guys pitted and moved me to the front. When the safety car came out again, that showed we were on the right pace and had the right setup because we’d been a half-second faster than anyone. You really love days like that where you gamble and get it right.
Then I pitted and gave the car over to my teammate Marc Goossens and we lost some time to the Corvettes. They got ahead of us in the pits, and it was partially because they took on less fuel. We came in earlier to go to slicks and burned more fuel, so it took longer to fill up the next time when we pitted together on that yellow. Marc got up to speed right away and eventually got by the Corvettes to take the lead. I think they might have been trying to save more fuel, and it would have helped them if the race stayed green until the end.
We took another gamble by running as hard as we could and hoping another yellow would come out to help us save fuel behind the safety car. We would need to make a quick stop for a splash of fuel otherwise.
I was so nervous toward the end of the race that I had to leave the pits and go to the trailer to calm down We were watching the win slip away, then Bill came over the radio and said “YELLOW!” I just couldn’t believe it. A caution happened right when we were about to surrender the lead and pit. A Porsche hit the wall in Turn 1, and I’m glad the driver was unhurt, that’s most important, but the yellow he created was the best present we could have asked for. Marc crossed the finish line to score SRT Viper’s first win, and when he went by, the dash said we had 0.1 gallon of fuel left in the tank!
Like I said at the beginning, what a crazy change of fortunes for us after being in the series for only one year. The end of the race was very emotional for the crew, the drivers and everyone from SRT. It was also very emotional for me because we carry a big sticker in our Viper that’s dedicated to my friend Allan Simonsen, who was taken from us too soon. It was very important to me to carry his name across the finish line with us to victory.
Allan and I had a long partnership in the past as co-drivers, but we were much more than that. We shared the same passion, lived for the sport and Allan became a very close friend of mine. It was a huge loss for me, for all of us, and finishing the race at Le Mans was the hardest thing to do. After Le Mans, I decided that I will dedicate everything I do to him in my racing career, so our first win in the ALMS, on a personal level for me, was for Allan. It’s the best way to honor him.
We go to Baltimore for our next race, which is presented by Drive SRT and we’re a lot closer in the championship after getting maximum points for winning at Road America. There is really good momentum behind the SRT Viper team right now, and Baltimore is a great place to continue that.
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