Almost exactly four months after it was announced at the New York auto show, the new SRT Viper GTS-R race car will make its debut this weekend at the American Le Mans Series race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. While this is the race debut for the new Viper GTS-R, the snake-inspired nameplate has a long history of success in road racing.Will the new Viper GTS-R be able to live up to its racing namesake from 16 years earlier?
The debut of the all-new SRT Viper GTS-R prompted us to look back at the first Viper race car — the Dodge Viper GTS-R that debuted in 1996. That car quickly made its name on the international stage, finishing one-two at the 24 Hours of Le Mans GTS class in 1998, 1999, and 2000. The race car also grabbed the overall win at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in 2000, as well as multiple wins in the American Le Mans Series.
The Viper initially was entered in the GT1 racing series, and didn’t have much success. Dodge switched its focus to the GT2 division and quickly won far more races — including Europe’s famous endurance race. Because the 24 Hours of Le Mans cars were campaigned by French team Oreca, they were actually known as Chrysler Vipers, in keeping with the fact that the sports car was labeled a Chrysler outside North America. The car, like its road-going equivalent, had an 8.0-liter V-10, although the GTS-R was said to have around 700 hp. There were 57 GTS-R coupes built, of which five were used for testing and the remaining 52 were used by racing teams or independent buyers.
The Viper GTS-R was eventually replaced by the Viper Competition Coupe. Unveiled in August 2001, the Competition Coupe took over race duties when the GTS-R was phased out in 2003-2004. Like the GTS-R, the Competition Coupe was roughly based on a production Viper, albeit with an 8.3-liter V-10 engine producing 520 hp. Dodge was very picky about selling the cars — potential customers had to prove intent to race the Competition Coupe, show racing licenses, and so on. More than 150 copies were produced, many of which were raced internationally.
The modern-day Viper GTS-R, based on the all-new 2013 SRT Viper street car, will be competing in the American Le Mans Series GT class, against models based on production cars like the BMW M3 GT, Ferrari 458 Italia, Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, and Chevrolet Corvette C6.R.The new GTS-R has an 8.4-liter V-10 engine that produces between 450 and 500 hp, with a claimed top speed of about 180 mph. Per series rules, the car must have a minimum weight of 2745 pounds. The pair of cars will each use Michelin GT racing tires.
After the race at Mid-Ohio this weekend, SRT Motorsports will decide whether to enter the Viper GTS-R in any other races this season. Regardless, the pair of race cars is scheduled to compete in the entire 2013 ALMS series that starts next spring. Time will tell whether the new race cars can live up to their predecessors.
Sources: SRT, Proving Ground: A History of Dodge, Chrysler, and Plymouth Racing