Story and Photos by Maurice Q. Liang
The bright red #51 Viper GTS/R thundered around the track at Infineon Raceway, re-living its days of glory. Ten years ago, this car dominated the tracks around the world as the #91 car at American Le Mans Series (ALMS) races and the #51 car at FIA races, winning the GTS class at the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans in France and 12 hours of Sebring. It was part of a 3-car factory-backed team in 2000, fielded by Team ORECA. This car posted ten class victories, two second-place finishes and one fourth-place finish, winning the 2000 ALMS GTS championship along with the driver’s and factory championships as well. The car also posted class wins against Aston Martin, Ferrari and Porsche in the international FIA series.
After Dodge ended their Viper racing program, the #51 Viper was sold off to a race team in the UK, which continued to campaign the car at various FIA and ALMS races for a few more years. After that, it was sold to a private owner in France, who had it restored to #91 ALMS livery. A few years ago, the car was sent to California to be sold, but when there didn’t seem to be any interest, it was almost returned to France. That’s when current owner, Victor Preisler came to the rescue.
Victor Preisler loves race cars, especially ones with significant race history. He’s owned the Sebring and Daytona-winning 1962 Gulf Oil Corvette, a 1960 Corvette Sebring winner, and a 1957 Ferrari that won at Nassau, Bahamas. Victor tells us, “My friend Richard Freshman, historian and proprietor of Fossil Motorsports Inc., was at a consignment dealer inspecting a Ferrari for another client and noticed the GTS/R nearby. He was told that the Viper belonged to a European friend of the dealer and had been sent here to be sold. Since there was no significant interest in the car, it was going to be sent back the next day. Richard quickly called me, and after we confirmed the history of the car, and arranged for an inspection, I flew up the next day and bought it.”
The GTS/R was in its red-with-white-stripes #91 ALMS livery at the time, but Vic chose to restore it back to its Le Mans-winning livery, adding, “In my opinion, in the race car world, the most important worldwide race is Le Mans. It was a no-brainer to change it to that livery.” But even though only a few years had passed since it was racing at Le Mans, restoring a ?car to original race specifications is difficult, with its many one-off parts. But fate smiled upon Vic when Richard contacted Terry Scarborough of TSR Enterprises for the inspection and discovered that Florent Boisseau, a former 2000 ORECA team member was a current employee. Florent was intimately familiar with this car. Victor recalls, “When Florent first saw it, it was like seeing a long lost brother to him. He was very excited, and still is, every time he sees it!”
Florent was extremely excited to lead the restoration team to bring back his long lost brother to race-ready glory again. Florent proved to be extremely resourceful with his connections at ORECA, securing many New Old Stock parts necessary for the project. Florent recalls, “We found the original race seat. They don’t make it anymore, but one ?of the ORECA guys was using it for his PlayStation® video game seat. Vic was able to purchase that seat from him.” Florent also points out how they had to change the third brake light back from a rectangular light to the original Viper GTS Sneaky Pete light. Florent continues, “The windshield is unique for the race cars. If you look closely, you’ll see a defroster grid. That’s not something you can just order from Chrysler.” Inside the car, the Motec electronics are all there. Tucked inside the door is a track map, a list of emergency phone numbers, and a vintage cell phone, like they used when they raced. “With some of the big tracks, we had to have a cell phone just in case the car got in trouble and the driver had to call for help,” says Florent.
The original Viper engine was rebuilt to 24-hour race-ready specifications, including the original restrictor plates that were levied against the car when it proved to be too fast. Even with these restrictor plates, Viper was still able to beat Corvette that year, when the C5R debuted.
It’s gratifying to know that this historically-significant Viper is in the hands of a certified car-nut caretaker. Like most of us, Vic has been a car nut most of his life. Vic, President of a wholesale sporting goods company, laughs when he says, “I’ve been a car nut ever since I saw my first muscle car during my freshman year in high school. I own or have owned a lot of different cars, from Ferrari to Maserati, to Porsches and Corvettes, mostly from the ‘60s and ‘70s.” But the GTS/R is his first Viper. Vic says, “The next Viper in my garage will probably be an ACR!”
Vic had planned to run his GTS/R in some vintage events, but due to a back injury, he has put those plans on hold. So for now, he has been showing the GTS/R at concours events like The Quail in Carmel, and Avila Beach. Vic explains, “I am going to continue to display it at appropriate venues for all to see. I would love to drive it on the track someday, provided I heal up soon.”
The GTS/R’s exhaust echoed off the walls of Infineon Raceway as Florent took his old friend for some laps. Perhaps for the first time, I could hear the singular voice of the Viper GTS/R, not mixed in with a choir of other cars racing. Its voice was still strong. The warrior lives.