By Mark Giannotta
If you’re one of those who think the Viper’s glory days in international racing are behind it, you need to think again. The Dodge Viper—especially the Viper Competition Coupe—is not only vying for top honors on some of the most legendary tracks around the world; it’s actually blowing the doors off the more expensive race cars.
From Sebring and Watkins Glen to Nurburgring and Monza (and even some tracks in Brazil) the Viper is still running against—and beating—the top marques in the world.
Fly your Viper flag proudly, race fans. Around the world, we’re still kicking ass and taking names.
British GT3 Series
No country has a longer or more distinguished record in road racing than Great Britain. With legendary drivers such as Jim Clark, Nigel Mansell and Justin Bell setting the standard, to win the British GT3 series championship requires not only a fast and reliable car, but also a highly skilled race team. So it’s no small accomplishment that, even before the season ended in the United Kingdom, the Viper Competition Coupe clinched the British GT3 series championship for the second year in a row.
Comp Coupe drivers Jon Barnes and James Gornall were crowned the 2008 Avon Tyres British GT Champions at Brands Hatch in Kent, after taking an emphatic fourth win of the season, bringing their wounded Dodge Viper across the finish line in 7th position. Barnes said, “It is fantastic to have won the 2008 Avon Tyres British GT3 Championship, although I must admit that it hasn’t sunk in at all yet!”
Showing that some of it may have actually sunk in, he continued, “It feels a little strange to have the championship sealed up already; we still have two races remaining at Silverstone and Donington. I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone that has worked so hard to make this championship win possible, all of my family, friends, supporters and sponsors. This year has been tough and we have had problems both on and off the race track, but that makes me even more proud of what we have achieved.”
Making the Championship Run
The championship-clinching race had its share of drama. Team Trimite Brookspeed woke at Brands Hatch to find clear sunny skies and warm temperatures. Barnes was especially eager to get behind the wheel of the Viper, as the Team Trimite car’s ABS problems that were encountered at the last race had been fully cured and the car had also been fitted with a new 6-speed sequential gearbox on loan from fellow Viper runners, Team RPM (See? Viper owners stick together no matter where they’re from.).
Gornall took the Team Trimite Dodge Viper out onto the circuit for the first part of the hour long free practice session. James reported that the car felt good and that the new sequential box felt great and was extremely easy to use compared to the car’s old 6-speed manual, road car derived gearbox.
Barnes added, “Wow, the new gearbox has totally transformed the car! Instead of just using 2nd, 3rd and 4th gears like in our old manual gearbox, the closer ratios in the new sequential box allow us to make use of every gear from 2nd to 6th and we can change up through the gears in the blink of an eye!”
Bright sunshine arrived just in time for the start of Race One on Saturday. As the packed field of cars made their way along the Start/Finish Straight, Paddy Shovlin began to squeeze Gornall up towards the edge of the circuit. He held his nerve as the start lights went out, but he dropped back to third position to avoid being punted off the track into the first corner. Gornall then retook second place from the #14 CR Scuderia Ferrari down Pilgrims Drop on the opening lap and then on lap 4 he took the lead after a daring maneuver down the inside of Paddy Shovlin at Paddock Hill Bend. From there on in, Gornall commanded the race for the duration of his stint, leading the chasing pack of Ferraris around lap after lap.
Despite a spongy brake pedal in the closing stages of the race and a misfire caused by low fuel, Barnes crossed the finish line with more than seven seconds in hand over the chasing pack and took a fantastic fourth victory of the season for Brookspeed Team Trimite.
Vipers Vs. Vipers
Trimite is not the only team racing Vipers in the British GT3 series. There are several others who have opted for V10 power including Team RPM and ABG Motorsports. Craig Wilkens who, along with Aaron Scott, drives for the ABG team, explained why they wanted to go into the 2008 season with the Dodge Viper.
“We chose the Viper based on two main factors,” Wilkens said. “First, the team who ran the car before us had won the British GT championship with a Viper. The second and possibly main factor was budget. With thestrength of the pound at the time, the Viper was very attractive both from a purchase point of view and a running cost.”
There was another rationale Wilkens admitted, and it was a reason that most Viper owners can understand. “The final factor involved wanting to drive a car with a clutch! There are a number of race cars with hydraulic pedal shift gearboxes which I really feel take away an element of driving.”
Overall, Wilkens praised the car for its traditional strengths. “The obvious advantages are its brute force and its reliability. It wasn’t until the last round of the season that we experienced any real mechanical issues.” He did point out that the Viper does not have every edge over the competition. “Although the brakes on the car are superb, I think it is fair to say that some of the Italian machinery can pull up a little shorter than the Viper.”
He continued, “The start of this year was a bit of a nightmare for us and getting the car competitive took longer than we anticipated. We have, however, enjoyed five podium finishes and one pole position, although the pole time was achieved by the team professional, Aaron Scott.”
Finally, there is one advantage the Viper has that Wilkens has good reason to appreciate. “A few years back, during a driver change, my predecessor—without realizing it— managed to pull the key from the ignition of the Porsche we were driving. I then sat there shouting for the key to be found! We still managed to win our class on that occasion, but I was happy to discover the Viper doesn’t have any keys to lose!”
Wilkens believes there may be bigger things on the horizon for the Viper. “In addition to the full British GT 2009 season, we are considering options to compete in rounds of FIA GT3 Championship, subject to additional sponsorship being found.”
He added, “We are working on a strict winter testing plan which will see exploration of a number of set up ideas to ensure we start 2009 with the best possible package. After all, a Dodge Viper has won the British GT Championship for the last two years. If we can maintain our relative performance, there is no reason we can’t make it three.”
SPEED World Challenge GT Series
The season started off on a good note for Woodhouse Performance when the announcement came that Jeff Courtney would be in the driver’s seat of the #99 car for the 2008 season and Tommy Archer would fill in for at least part of the season. Claudio Burtin contacted Woodhouse Performance wanting to sponsor the team and drive in tandem with Tommy Archer. It was a huge day for the Woodhouse team. Having Foametix sponsor the team would be a huge help.
With the assistance of Foametix, Tommy Archer went on to win three races—flag-to-flag—at Miller, Mid-Ohio, and Road America. As team owner Bob Woodhouse put it, “Tommy doesn’t just win, he dominates.”
Woodhouse had some unfortunate luck at The Glen when both motors blew up during the race. But the rest of the season went on without a glitch and the team was able to add a few more top 10 finishes.
Overall, Woodhouse was pleased with the team’s progress in 2008. “All in all it was, by far, the best year Woodhouse Performance has ever had. Now we just have to build on this for the 2009 season.”
For more information, visit woodhouseperformance.com.
Schaldach wins Rookie of the Year
In another example of how you never forget your first time, Aspen, Colorado, native Gunter Schaldach won the SPEED World Challenge GT Rookie of the Year in 2008, competing in his #9 Dodge Viper Competition Coupe. The 35-year-old driver first started racing just three years ago and moved into the pro series at the beginning of this season.
Accepting the award at the SCCA World Challenge banquet in Atlanta, Gunter thanked his Lala Motorsports crew for their hard work and was looking forward to the 2009 season. “Gunter embodies the perfect customer for the Viper Competition Coupe,” stated Lead Engineer, Jeff Roselli. “The car is sold ready to race so the younger teams and drivers can focus on their own development rather than spending resources on the car.”
Currently, 124 customers have taken delivery worldwide of the Viper Competition Coupe. In SPEED World Challenge GT, the Viper competes against eight other manufacturers, including Porsche, Aston Martin, Ford, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Pontiac, Mitsubishi and Lexus.
American Le Mans Series
Given the state of the racing in the American Le Mans Series today, with increased funding and competition from a number of different auto manufacturers, it would be extremely difficult for Viper to reproduce the championship results from almost a decade ago. But the Primetime Race Group is looking to recapture some of that past glory by campaigning a Dodge Viper in the GT2 class of the ALMS.
In Primetime’s first full season competing in the ALMS, the team brought home 8th place in team Championship Points and 4th place in Manufacturer Points for the series. Primetime was second in qualifying four times between the 2007 to the 2008 Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.
The Primetime camp began with a Competition Coupe Dodge Viper and turned the Snake into an American Le Mans Series legal GT2 Viper. Team owner and driver Joel Feinberg explained some of the challenges of racing in the ALMS today. “Due to the Viper’s torque, weight distribution and speed, we faced the challenge of breaking parts and mechanical issues that a lot of manufacturers don’t. For instance, the Primetime Viper carries an unbelievable amount of torque through the corners. That has caused the driveshaft to break three times throughout the racing season.”
Still, Feinberg is looking optimistically toward the future. “I’m excited to continue the development of the Viper throughout the 2009 ALMS racing season. I think a reasonable goal is to finish in the top five of team Championship Points.” For more information, check out www.primetimeracegroup.com.
FIA GT3 Series
A European racing publication summed up the Viper’s participation in the FIA GT3 Series this way: “The Dodge Viper may be the less expensive of the GT3 front-runners however it can create a few surprises!”
One of these came at historic Monza, where the big V10-powered American muscle car would have won, but suffered a costly time penalty because of a slight mistake in the pit stop timing. Another came in Germany where Team La Torre from Italy succeeded to place two Vipers on the podium in the second Oschersleben race, with De Pasquale-Sabatini from Italy and Lunardi-Vannelet from France taking the checkered flag on the heels of the winning Corvette.
As a GT3 series observer wrote, “The mighty Viper was not the fastest GT3 car on the twisty German circuit, but its overall consistency and good balance make it a competitive contender on nearly every occasion.”
At the Oschersleben race, La Torre driver Gilles Vannelet, the reigning GT3 champion, added a piece of motor racing history to his credit with an unbelievable sequence of overtaking maneuvers at the start of the race. From the 16th position on the grid, he emerged in 3rd place as the cars emerged from the first corner of the race!
Brazil GT3 Championship
Ever wonder what happened to Emerson Fittipaldi? He’s alive and well and racing in the Brazil GT3 Championship series. Fittipaldi’s involvement shows how far the series has come over the past few years as accomplished drivers from around the world have journeyed to South America to test their racing skills.
And featured among the competing marques is the Dodge Viper Competition Coupe. In fact, there are six Vipers going head-to-head with Ferraris, Aston Martins, Corvettes, Lamborghinis and Porsches—and doing very well.
The Vipers finished near the top of the overall standings in the series this year, with the #20 Viper driven by Wagner and Fabio Ebrahim finishing in third and the #63 Comp Coupe of Alceu Feldmann and Paulo Bonifacio in fourth.
For more info, check out gt3.com.br.