By Patrick Rall
This past Saturday brought us the 2013 running of the 12 Hours of Sebring and while the 2013 SRT Viper GTS-R teams looked fantastic early on, mechanical issues hit both teams hard during the legendary endurance race. Because of those problems, the best finishing Viper in the 12 Hours of Sebring was the #91 Viper in 5th place but this race shows a great deal of promise for the rest of the 2013 American LeMans Series season.
While both of the 2013 SRT Viper GTS-R teams were in the top of the timing list during the week long practice sessions, both teams posted unimpressive qualifying results. The #93 Viper driven by Jonathan Bomarito, Tommy Kendall and Kumo Wittmer started in the 6th spot in the GT Class (25th overall) while the #91 Viper driven by Marc Goossens, Dominik Farnbacher and Ryan Dalziel started in the 10th spot in the class (29th overall). Luckily, as the race got underway, the #93 Viper GTS-R remained in the middle of the GT Class field while the #91 Viper quickly climbed to the front of the field. In fact, the around the 3 and a half hour mark, Dominik Farnbacher pulled around the BMW driven by Joey Hand on the 96th lap. From there, the drivers of the #91 Fast and the Furious 6-sponsored Viper found themselves either in the lead or battling for the lead.
Unfortunately, while the #91 Viper spent the middle of the race competing for the lead in the GT Class, the #93 Pennzoil Ultra Viper headed behind the wall. Unlike many of the ALMS race cars that use one large, single lugnut to hold each wheel on, the Vipers use a traditional multi-lug wheel hub assembly. During a pit stop in the middle of the race, the #93 car somehow sheered off all of the wheel studs on the driver’s side rear wheel hub assembly. This sent the Pennzoil Viper behind the wall where the team had to replace the rear wheel hub assembly and that time spent in the garage area put silver and yellow Viper well off of the lead lap pace. The #93 car would later return by the trio of drivers were forced to settle for a 10th place finish in the GT Class – 34th overall.
While the #93 Viper GTS-R was in the garage area and later fighting its way through the field, the #91 Viper continued to battle for the lead. While Ryan Dalziel was in the cockpit with roughly 3 hours left, the #91 Viper was running in the 2nd spot in the GT Class when the silver Viper GTS-R came onto pit road for a routine pit stop. Unfortunately, while on pit road, the car stalled and would not restart. Unlike NASCAR, where the teams can push start the car to get it off of pit road, the ALMS cars are required to start and drive away under its own power. Without being able to fire up, the team of the #91 Viper had to push the car behind the wall to address the issue. The team was able to get the car running but it took over 8 minutes – putting the #91 Viper 3 laps down to the leader. That electrical gremlin effectively ended the #91 Viper’s run for the lead…leaving the Fast and the Furious 6 Viper GTS-R to settle for a disappointing 5th place GT Class finish, 19th overall.
After spending the day in the first few spots, it comes as a painful blow to the SRT Viper GTS-R race teams to miss a spot on the podium for the GT Class. However, there is no question that the SRT Viper GTS-R is 100% competitive with the best of the GT Class – a fact which was very clear during the middle of the race when the #91 Viper was able to pull away from the #62 Ferrari that led much of the day and the #4 Corvette that ended up winning the GT Class.
The 12 Hours of Sebring is the longest race of the ALMS season and with many of the other races being considerably shorter – attrition shouldn’t be a problem for the SRT Viper GTS-R race teams going forward. The other cars in the GT Class couldn’t keep the #91 Viper out of the top spot until the car failed to start on pit road so if the teams can keep the Vipers up and running – the rest of the 2013 season could see Viper drivers on the podium with some regularity.