Beth Paretta, SRT’s marketing director, reflects on the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona in which the Vipers proved extremely fast and, but for a bizarre one-off issue, capable of winning the inaugural round of the TUDOR Championship.
It’s important to all competitors that IMSA’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship is a success. As a factory team, we have made a big investment and we want this series to be even greater than the sum of its parts. We’ve tried to support the officials every step of the way and attended every test session held pre-season and did everything that was asked of us by the series. This posed some challenges as added testing costs money we hadn’t planned to spend, but we see it as investment in the future of the series. There was really no off-season for us as we would have started at Sebring in March, but with the first race now in January, the calendar shifted earlier for all teams coming from ALMS.
At the Balance of Performance tests, there was a lot of scrutiny of every team by IMSA and between teams, as you can imagine. These tests also provide insight for the teams intending to go to 24 Hours of Le Mans in June. Some of the teams we raced against at Daytona we won’t encounter again in North America but we will face at Le Mans if we race there again, so any extra time to measure against them helps. (That was one of the toughest aspects of our Le Mans campaign last year: as a new team we had simulation data but you honestly don’t know how you stack up until you race there. Hopefully, just through experience, we’ll be in a better position in 2014 if we campaign the cars there again.)
The Balance of Performance tests are not just about the Rolex 24 at Daytona but for the whole of the TUDOR Championship. IMSA isn’t just looking at the Rolex race as a one-off, but is instead thinking of the entire season ahead, about getting the power equivalencies right for tracks as diverse as Daytona and Long Beach, Indianapolis GP road course and Circuit of The Americas. Equally, here at SRT Motorsports, we’re looking at how to optimize the Viper GTS-R’s performance for that same breadth of track format.
Coming to the first practice session for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, it was clear the field had been leveled. The lap times in our GTLM class were separated by less than a second, and the SRT Viper GTS-Rs were fast! I think our driver lineup is strong, we have depth to our bench, but it only takes a slight problem like someone getting in your way on your fast lap to make a qualifying result look mediocre. Instead, Marc Goossens and Jonathan Bomarito qualified the Nos. 91 and 93 Vipers first and third, so we were thrilled with that.
Having a GTLM field this tight is also thrilling for the spectators but it certainly adds some tension for us. Any slip-ups are going to be costly, so it comes down to who’s fast and who spends least amount of time in the pits. That’s true of any race, but in the case of the Rolex 24, you’ve got to balance on that high-wire for a full 24 hours. Stay out there, stay clean.
Unfortunately, although we ran 1-2 for a considerable amount of time and both cars had turns in the lead of the GTLM class, each had to go to the garage at some point. The No. 91 Viper of Goossens/Dominik Farnbacher/Ryan Hunter-Reay led but a power-steering fluid line ruptured during the night. The SRT Motorsports team, led by Bill Riley, did a terrific job of repairing the problem in just 15 minutes. Although the 91 emerged from the pits almost 12 laps down, they fought hard, their tactics were perfect, and they came back to finish third and on the podium. I think it’s amazing that they were only four laps down by the checkered flag. Who knows what would have happened if it was the 25 Hours of Daytona…
Just like the No. 91, all three of the drivers in the No. 93 Viper – Bomarito, Kuno Wittmer and Rob Bell – hit the front of the GTLM pack, but unfortunately, Jonathan had a small incident during the night which led to us making some repairs to the car. These things happen. Our crew did a fantastic job and all the drivers drove their tails off so that the 93 was running just ahead of the 91 for a while in fourth place, but a driveshaft flange issue brought it back into the pits for more repairs. Considering all this, a sixth-place finish is a good result.
The other ingredient we had that can’t be celebrated enough when racing at Daytona is Bill Riley and the Riley Technologies crew. They have more experience and wins at this race than anyone else. They know how to read this track and this race, and that expertise is invaluable. So much is made of the drivers’ endurance, but it’s also the endurance of the entire crew that makes it happen. I say it’s a misnomer, we’ve been lying to our fans: this is really the 38 Hours of Daytona!
On Friday afternoon of race weekend we gathered the SRT Motorsports crew in the garages and closed the doors so we could talk to them. And thank them.
Ralph Gilles [SRT president and CEO] and I thanked them for the job they’d done so far. I said, “Look where we are, the eve of the 24 Hours of Daytona and we have one car on pole and the other P3. In the 2013 season we qualified on pole three times, had five podium finishes, including a race win at Road America.” I reminded them why it all matters to us. SRT – Street and Racing Technology – racing is in our name and we build small-volume, high-performance automobiles that enthusiasts love. Viper is unique. Special. It is hand-built and not like everything else out there and not like our competitors.
“We don’t do a lot of conventional advertising on purpose. We don’t have a Super Bowl ad. This – racing in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship – is our Super Bowl ad, and you guys are the stars of it. So, on behalf of all of us at SRT, THANK YOU for all you’ve done and continue to do to show the world who we are.”
We then gave each of them a copy of the bonus SRT issue of RACER [CLICK HERE to read or download free, courtesy of SRT -Ed.]. It’s like a yearbook of our collective achievement and I think they appreciated it. They were spotting themselves in photos in the magazine and suitably making fun of each other as we always do. That’s why I love this team.
Overall, we can be reasonably happy with our race results. It was our first sports car race at Daytona since that glorious day we took the overall win back in 2000, and this time we ended up with a place on the podium and both cars finished the race!
Looking ahead to Sebring, activation and interaction with our loyal customers, supporters and fans is important, and we will have a strong presence there again this year. But we also go to the 12 Hours believing we can fight for victory. We’re in the TUDOR Championship to win races and, ultimately, the title – and we believe we can do that.
See you in Sebring, and thank you all for your heartfelt support. We feel it!
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