I’d say overall we’re really pleased with SRT Viper’s first effort at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Whatever our goals were before the race, we were thrilled with having both cars finish on our debut. None of us took that for granted. Having our cars cross the line to take the checkered flag is something we won’t soon forget, and with that big challenge behind us, it’s easy to reflect on what tangibles came from our first participation at the great endurance race.
Brand-wise, as much as we say it’s the return of the Viper, this really is a new effort to expose people to our cars. Although the Viper name has a rich heritage at Le Mans, there are some fans that weren’t there to see it and don’t remember because it was 13 years ago. So for many younger fans, it’s the first time they’re seeing the Viper and being introduced to SRT, now that it is a brand unto itself. It was definitely the start of something new for many people and we hope we gained a lot of new fans.
We also revealed the GT3 version of the Viper while we were there and that was a successful launch. And then in the coming weeks we’ll be gauging who might be interested in purchasing the cars, but the reveal as a whole was very positive and generated a lot of coverage.
It’s important that we’re competing on the world stage at a place like Le Mans, and there’s two parts to that initiative. One is because of the fact that we’re racing the Viper, and secondly because SRT is going to be growing internationally in the coming years and having more cars for the global market.
Right now, it’s really just the Grand Cherokee on sale in Europe and the 300 SRT in the UK, but they don’t have Dodge. As we add more models – right now we’re evaluating Viper and what we can do with Viper in Europe – the long-term plan will be to have them be sold globally. So the more that we can introduce people to SRT as a brand through racing and the promotions that go with it in Europe, the more it’s helping us lay the groundwork for the future.
There were also some good lessons we’ve taken away from the Le Mans race itself. One thing that was a challenge was that we were running a different motor, because we used different fuel there, E10, instead of the E85 we use in the ALMS. We had done a bunch of testing with it but you never do as much as you like, so that was one thing we knew going in that could be a limitation. We’ve had a great relationship with the ACO, working with them hand-to-hand since the car was in the design phase, and they did help us out with some Balance of Performance items leading up to the race, but we knew we were probably going to have some challenges the first year.
It was the first time for the SRT Viper at Le Mans, and we’ve been developing the car as quickly as we can in the ALMS, but there’s only so much you can expect as a first-timer when the rest of the cars have so much more experience at that track and in the race itself. Given a year to continue building on what we’ve learned with the Viper, our expectations will be higher when we return.
I got a bunch of texts and e-mails from people the week after the race who felt bad, saying it probably wasn’t the result that we would’ve liked. The truth is, we were all high-fiving each other and hugging each other when it was over because, literally, that’s what we were going for – to finish. We weren’t coming away with disappointment. I know the racers in all of us have a little tinge of regret because no matter what the car, the race or the situation, you always want to win. That’s only natural. But if you’re realistic about it, it’s our first year at Le Mans. We’re happy.
We got the cars back from Le Mans last week and our amazing SRT Viper crew has continued to work tirelessly…yet they are certainly tired. They went from Monterey in May, prepped the cars for Le Mans, flew to Le Mans at the beginning of June and returned home to jump straight on getting everything ready for Lime Rock this weekend. They might have had one day off in the past few months.
They’ve essentially been working straight through since the race ended. With the logistics of packing up to send everything home by air or by sea, that’s a job in and of itself.
Once they got the cars back from the Orlando airport and took them back to the Riley Technologies shop in North Carolina, the first assignment was to switch the motors back. They were going to do it in France and then put the cars on a plane but they decided against it and saved the motor swap for when they got back to our base.
It would be great for everyone to have some downtime after Lime Rock, but the season actually starts to pick up from this point. I don’t know that we’re going to exhale until the end of the season because other than Petit Le Mans, VIR and Road America this year, every other track is new for this team. Almost everywhere we go or are preparing to go has a big learning aspect to it, so we’re going to really be nose-to-the-grindstone the whole time.
And since we had our first podium at Long Beach, our expectations in the ALMS will only continue to increase. For Lime Rock and every race after, we want to start putting some good numbers. And if we don’t, we’ll figure out how to accelerate our improvement curve.
Le Mans was tough and rewarding, and we’re all so proud of everything the SRT Viper team achieved. But now we’re back to the ALMS championship and ready to push ourselves harder than ever.
Beth Paretta was speaking to Marshall Pruett.
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