By Patrick Rall
The 2014 12 Hours of Sebring race was this past weekend and for the second time in as many races – the SRT Viper GTS-R has beaten the Chevrolet Corvette C7R in the GT LeMans (GTLM) class.
The SRT Viper GTS-R race team only sent one car to the Sebring Winter test sessions but it was among the faster cars in that early testing among GTLM cars. Unfortunately, the “balance of performance adjustments” that required the SRT teams to add weight and cut power seemed to have a big impact during the four Sebring practice sessions late last week as the Vipers’ best lap times put them towards the bottom of the GTLM class while he Corvette C7R teams were among the quickest cars in the class. That trend continued into the qualifying round for the 12 Hours of Sebring race as the #91 could only muster the 8th best GTLM time while the #93 Viper qualified a disappointing 10th in the 11 car field. After being among the fastest cars in Rolex 24 qualifying, the Rolex 24 race itself and the Sebring Winter Testing, the Viper didn’t appear to be quite as dominant heading into the 12 hour Sebring race.
Fortunately, all of those lap times ceased to matter when the 12 Hours of Sebring race started on Saturday. Dominic Farnbacher spent time leading the GTLM field in the #91 Viper GTS-R and all three of the drivers in the #93 Viper – Jonathan Bomarito, Kuno Wittmer and Rob Bell – all took turns leading the GTLM class while doing battle with the Corvette C7R teams. The #91 chances were dashed when the blue and silver Viper spun hard into the tire wall, doing a significant amount of damage to the rear end of the car and forcing the 3rd place team from the Rolex 24 GTLM class into the pits for repairs. The #91 Viper lost four laps on the leader while in the pits and while they hit the track in good enough shape to turn some very fast laps – Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marc Goossens and Dominic Farnbacher were forced to settle for a 7th place finish in the class, 18th overall.
On the other hand, the #93 SRT Viper GTS-R piloted by Bomarito, Wittmer and Bell continued to be among the fastest cars in the GTLM field. Late in the race, Bomarito was sitting in the top spot with an eye on the win until a caution flag with about 50 minutes left sent nearly the entire GTLM class into the pits for their final stop. Unfortunately, when the majority of the GTLM field hit the pits – including the #93 Viper – the lead was handed to the #912 Porsche 911 RSR which had pitted a short time before the caution. Since the Viper pitted and the Porsche did not, the #912 car had a huge head lead when the green flag dropped for the final segment of the 12 hour race. Although the Viper was shaving better than a second a lap, Bomarito ran out of time and had to settle for second as the Porsche team won its second race in a row.
On the other hand, both the #3 and #4 Chevrolet Corvette C7R teams ran into mechanical troubles that took them out of contention after being frontrunners early in the race. The #3 car ran into mechanical issues first when the fuel delivery system failed and forced the bright yellow Corvette into the pits for a new fuel pump. The team would get the car back on the track but it was far too many laps down to really be a factor. The #4 Corvette continued to be one of the GTLM cars setting the pace for the field until engine problems hit in the final hour of the race. Once those engine problems occurred, the #4 car quickly dropped well back into the GTLM field. In the end, the #4 Corvette finished 6th in the class while the #3 Vette finished 8th.
The SRT Viper GTS-R and Chevrolet Corvette C7R will be back in action on April 14th at the Long Beach Grand Prix. The Viper was third in Daytona and second in Sebring – so a win seems like it is well within the reach of the mighty Vipers when they hit the Cali coast.