Russ Ruedisueli, head of SRT and Motorsports Engineering, takes stock of the first full year of racing for the SRT Viper heading into the Petit Le Mans finale.
An amazing year for the SRT Viper racing team is about to end, and with all we’ve learned during our first complete season in the American Le Mans Series, we’re about to find out how far we’ve come at Petit Le Mans.
The year had a great start at the Sebring 12-hour race, which showed all of the fine tuning that had been done over the winter had been on the right track. Since then, the rules say we can’t make giant changes to the car, or even medium-sized changes, honestly, so refining the SRT Vipers has been where all of our energy has been concentrated.
One of the greatest influences on performance each weekend is with the tires, and we certainly have a better handle on how the car responds to different Michelin tire compounds. With this being our first full year, we’ve gone to a lot tracks for the first time, which you’ve probably read about, and because of this, we didn’t have a lot of background data on the right tire pressures, chassis setup, aerodynamic starting point and other areas that really require a team to have circuit knowledge.
Petit is a great example of how we’ll be able to use circuit knowledge to our advantage because this is a track where we finally have previous data to rely upon. At the same time, our SRT Vipers have come so far since we raced at Petit a year ago; we expect to have final setups that have evolved quite heavily since then.
Last year we had a short year and we had a few durability issues at Petit, and then we had a rough run at Sebring with one of the cars, but the team’s worked really, really hard to make the cars durable. And that’s showing up at the end of the season here and how the cars are performing. Getting over that hurdle, which every new racing car experiences, is incredibly important, and once you’ve achieved reliability, you can concentrate on getting the most speed and performance from the cars. We’d like to see that demonstrated on our return to Petit.
It has nothing to do with the cars themselves, but another part of the SRT Viper program making headway has been in the area of dependability. We worked really hard to get a group of drivers together that works as a unit and support each other. We didn’t want a bunch of rock stars. What we wanted was a group of folks that would work together and were willing to pull their weight, sweep the floor, whatever they needed to do. And they all signed up for that up front. You see that in the way they interface with the team, the fans and the employees. We know they can be relied on, and you might be surprised to know how much that affects the rest of the team.
It starts there and filters down to the pit crews, the mechanics, and everyone else within the organization. It’s been really rewarding for me to watch how they’re starting to jell together, how they back each other up. If we have an incident in the pits, the guy that’s next to whoever’s having a problem is right there to back him up. It’s the same with when we take the cars under the tent and the guys are going through the cars and their checklist. Everybody’s helping each other out.
We didn’t necessarily see that last year because our folks hadn’t worked together for very long. That team environment, in that sense, has really gotten strong over the last three or four races, and I think that’s going to be our secret weapon at Petit.
We’re probably no different than any other team when it comes to setting expectations for the race. It’s a long one at 10 hours, and we won’t be satisfied with anything less than a win, but first love to get the cars on the podium.
There’s nothing better than finishing the season in a good place like that to build momentum for next year. It leaves everybody on a high note, a positive note and it sets the tone for the off-season ahead. I would like to have one of those magic weekends where we roll off the truck fast, we put our driver plan together, our tire choices and we execute with no mistakes, no flaws.
That means having great and consistent pit stops, getting the driver changes down, making sure that the car is ready and execute all weekend. No matter where we finish, if we run our plan perfectly, we can high-five each other and walk away feeling proud as we get ready for next season.
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