Chrysler Viper GTS-R
The Chrysler Viper GTS-R (also known as the Dodge Viper GTS-R when raced in North America) was a successful racing variant of the Dodge Viper developed in conjunction with Chrysler of North America, Oreca of France, and Reynard Motorsport of the United Kingdom. Officially unveiled at the 1995 Pebble Beach Concours, it has won numerous championships and famous events in its history. Some chassis are still in use today.
- For the development of the road car, see Dodge Viper.
In the early 1990s, first generation Dodge Viper RT/10s had been modified by racing teams for use in GT racing in North America and Europe without much success. Although its V10 engine was powerful, the car was not adapted to racing and teams lacked the funding to build a car that could compete with factory efforts. One key issue was the fact that the Viper was a roadster, therefore lacking the rigidity that a coupe bodystyle would have. However, following the sales success of the first generation Viper, Dodge began redesigning the car in 1995, upgrading the roadster while at the same time adding a new coupe, known as the Viper GTS.
Although the first generation Vipers had sold well, Dodge wished to showcase the potential capabilities of the new car, mostly in the realm of handling. At the same time, Dodge also hoped to increase sales in Europe where importation of the Viper had struggled. Dodge's parent, Chrysler, therefore approved the development of a racing program centering around the Viper GTS which was still in development at the time. This co-development would allow for elements of the racing car to be adapted to the road car, and vice-versa, for each car's mutual improvement.
Chrysler believed that in order to adapt their car not only for North American but also European circuits, they would require outside assistance. An agreement was made with the French racing and engineering firm Oreca, who had many years of experience in sports car racing as well as assistance in the Mazda 787B's win in the 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans. Oreca would construct and maintain the racing cars in their shops, as well as run Chrysler's official factory teams in Europe. For North America, Chrysler would recruit the Canaska/Southwind Team as their factory effort.
Although Oreca would construct the cars, key elements would come from British engineering firm Reynard Motorsport. This would mainly consist of the construction of the car's basic chassis and other integral parts before they were shipped to Oreca for assembly. As for the Viper's engine, it was ideally suited for competition at the time due to limits of 8000 cc being just beyond the Viper's 7998.5 cc. Modifications were therefore light for the 356-T6 V10, with concentration on redesigned intakes for horsepower and reinforcements for endurance.
In terms of design much of the bodywork of the Viper GTS was retained on the race car. Mandatory elements such as a rear wing, rear diffuser, and front splitter were added for aerodynamics, while initial cars had their fog lights covered over before being put back for increased visibility at night. To aid in lighting, optional lights were able to be placed in square notches above the grill. The exhaust would also be routed out the side of the car, just under the doors, about halfway between the front and rear wheel wells. Side exhausts had been a feature of the first generation American-market RT/10s, but were no longer used on the GTS. Vents were also added to the hood for cooling the engine, while intakes were placed on the roof and rear fenders.
In total, 57 Viper GTS-Rs would be built. After the production of an initial five prototypes for testing and early usage by Oreca and Canaska/Southwind, 52 more cars would be built. Although some would be used by the factory teams, most would be sold directly to customers for use in whatever series would allow them. Viper GTS-Rs continued to be built into 2005, after which Oreca concentrated on maintaining and supporting the existing Viper GTS-R fleet.
Although the production cars have mostly been known as Dodge Vipers, the Dodge brand did not sell the Viper in Europe. Because the new cars, named GTS-R, were built in Europe, they were mostly known as Chrysler Viper GTS-R. However cars racing in North America usually ran under the Dodge banner, making them Dodge Viper GTS-Rs. This naming difference therefore depends on location and region. The cars themselves actually carried no badging for either Chrysler or Dodge, with only the Viper GTS-R name appearing on the side of the bonnet.
In order to meet requirements laid out in the rules of certain racing series that the Viper GTS-Rs planned to run, road cars similar to the race cars would have to be sold to the public. Although the GTS-R was already similar to the GTS, a closer replica was needed to meet homologation requirements. Chrysler commissioned the construction of 100 road cars in 1998 that would use elements of the race car.
Named the Viper GT2 for the GT2 class which the Viper would participate in across Europe, they borrowed the rear wing and front splitter from the GTS-R, as well as dive planes and a deeper fascia. Replicas of the BBS racing wheels would also be used. Power on the production engine would be increased to 460 hp (340 kW). All 100 cars would feature white paint schemes with dual blue stripes, identical to the scheme used by Oreca.
Debuting in 1996, Oreca would run a limited schedule, concentrating on the GT1 class of the European and Asian BPR Global GT Series as well as the 24 Hours of Le Mans; Canaska Southwind would also run a short schedule, but instead the GTS-1 class in the North American IMSA GT Championship. The Viper GTS-R made its first competition debut at the 24 Hours of Daytona in the hands of the Canaska Southwind crew, with one entry finishing in 29th place. The team would improve at the 12 Hours of Sebring with a 12th place finish before Oreca would make their competition debut in BPR in April, ending in a failure to finish.
Both teams would appear at Le Mans with two entries each. Three of those four cars managing to finish as Canaska Southwind would earn the highest finishing spot with tenth place. The two teams returned to their respective series afterwards, with Canaska Southwind making a final appearance at Mosport and earning a sixth place finish and second in their class. Oreca appeared next at the 1000 km Suzuka and took an eleventh place finish, before finishing out the season with an eighth place finish at Brands Hatch, ninth at Spa, and sixth at Nogaro.
For 1997, the Canaska Southwind team would end their involvement in the Viper program. This meant Oreca would make the only appearance for a Viper in IMSA GT with a lone car entered at Daytona, finishing in 12th place. After Daytona, the team returned to Europe to concentrate on the new FIA GT Championship which had replaced the BPR series. The team would switch to the less powerful GT2 class due to the strength of the Porsche and Mercedes-Benz teams which were entering GT1, while at the same time being joined by the customer Chamberlain Engineering team. Oreca began the season strong with a 1-2 finish in their class ahead of the Roock Racing Porsches, and would go on to take six more victories in the eleven race season and winning the GT2 championship. The team also returned to Le Mans with three cars, although they would only finish in 14th place, fifth in their class. Another customer Viper would also appear in the All Japan Grand Touring Car Championship for Team Taisan, making two appearances with a best finish of eighth.
The Oreca team would strengthen their dominance in FIA GT in 1998, as the team managed to win all but one event in the ten race schedule. Oreca would also take their first class victory at Le Mans with an eleventh place overall finish. Chamberlain continued as a privateer in FIA GT earning several points, as well as earning a 14th place finish at Daytona. Meanwhile, the Oftedahl Motorsport would purchase a Viper GTS-R and go on to score six class wins in the British GT Championship, including an overall race win at Silverstone and earning Kurt Luby and Richard Dean the drivers' championship.
For 1999, Oreca's efforts were expanded further, as the team now operated in two championships: A two-car team in the new American Le Mans Series and the existing two car team already competing in FIA GT. FIA GT saw the Vipers once again sweep the series with nine wins for Oreca, and a lone win for the Paul Belmondo Viper. Chamberlain improved their team to finish second in the championship, while GLPK Carsport would be the fourth Viper squad to compete. A similar story occurred in the ALMS, with Oreca winning six races and taking that championship as well. Oreca would also earn their second straight win at Le Mans, with various Vipers finishing in the top six positions in their class. The FFSA GT Championship would see the appearance of Belmondo's Vipers, earning two victories over the season, and the 24 Hours Nürburgring would see Zakspeed claiming overall victory.
For 2000, Oreca chose to concentrate on North America, leaving the FIA GT Championship to privateers. The team opened the season with one of their most notable victories, winning the 24 Hours of Daytona by a small margin over the new Chevrolet Corvette factory team. Oreca went on to win ten races in the American Le Mans Series, eventually falling to Corvette in two rounds late in the season but once again securing the championship. Oreca would also outperform Corvette at Le Mans, winning their third straight class victory with a seventh place finish. In FIA GT, the Paul Belmondo and new Carsport Holland teams would run strong and win a collective four races, but would not be able to overcome the five victories by the Lister Storm, forcing the two teams to settle for second and third in the championship. In French GT, the DDO, ART, and MMI squads would combine for a total of eight Viper victories.
The backing by Chrysler officially ended in 2001, as Chrysler and Oreca had begun work the previous year on developing a Le Mans Prototype, forcing Oreca to abandon their Viper teams. The American Viperacing squad would be the sole contender in the American Le Mans Series, scoring no victories and finishing the season in third for the championship. FIA GT would however see a blossoming of teams, as eight different Viper squads competed over the season. Larbre Compétition would win three events (including the Spa 24 Hours) and win the championship, while Carsport Holland won two races and finished second. Hayles Racing would win four races in British GT to win that championship by two points over Lister, while the DDO team would win five French GT events, and Zakspeed would manage to win the 24 Hours Nürburgring for the second time. Le Mans however would not see the Vipers repeat their past success, as the factory Corvette squad won the class and only a lone Viper finished.
Larbre was able to defend their FIA GT championship in 2002, but were only able to win one race in the process. Carsport Holland and Paul Belmondo also managed single victories, while the new Ferrari 550s showed their potential with four wins. The only other victories for Vipers that season came in French GT, with four earned by DDO, and a third victory at the Nürburgring for Zakspeed. An Oreca-backed entry at Le Mans would manage to finish on the class podium, although several laps behind the two factory Corvettes.
In 2003, the dominance of the Prodrive-built Ferraris began. Vipers were unable to win any races in FIA GT, leaving Larbre as the best finishing Viper in the championship, a distant seventh. Some victories were still scored by Vipers however, as Larbre took six wins in French GT and Force One Racing a further two. The Team Taisan Viper in JGTC would also manage its first class victory in an event at Fuji Speedway. Vipers would compete for the first time in Italian GT, winning all but three races during the season. However at the same time, Vipers would make their final appearance at Le Mans, with Larbre finishing fourth in their class.
2004 would see the Viper GTS-Rs begin to be phased out. Only Zwaan's Racing would be entered in the full FIA GT season, earning ninth in the championship. Vipers would remain dominant in FFSA GT and Italian GT, winning eleven and five races respectively. For 2005, the only Viper entry in FIA GT would be a single entry at the Spa 24 Hours, finishing 12th, while Italian GT would see only three teams competing and unable to score any victories. French GT became the only series in which Vipers were competitive, which lured former Formula One champion Alain Prost to run Viper GTS-R chassis #C50 in the series as part of his 50th birthday, eventually winning one race as part of the Vipers nine victories that season.
In 2006, Viper GTS-Rs continue in French GT and Italian GT, although their victories continued to diminish. By 2007, the homologation of the Viper GTS-Rs would come to an end as the Viper GTS bodystyle had been replaced nearly seven years prior. Few privateers entered Vipers in French and Italian GT, while Red Racing would enter a lone car in select rounds of the FIA GT Championship as part of the amateur Citation Cup but would be unable to even finish any of its events. In 2008 Italian team Lanza Motorsport entered a GTS-R in the Italian round of the FIA GT Championship, but the car did not finish the race.
In 2007 a Viper GTS-R was first raced during a historic event at Magny-Cours by Florent Moulin. The new GT90s serial accepts former FIA GT racers from 1990 to 2000. The car was chassis C23, the FIA GT Championship-winning car from 1999 driven as by Karl Wendlinger and Olivier Beretta, completely restored into original 1999 Oreca specifications. The same car was invited at Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2008 and driven by its period driver Justin Bell in its Le Mans 1999 livery when Justin drove this very car to 2nd place in GTS. In November 2008 Florent Moulin entered it again in GT90's Revival race at Le Castellet, co-driven by another of its period driver from Le Mans 1999 Marc Duez. In 2010, chassis 27 participated in the Goodwood Festival of Speed to celebrate the 10th Anniversary 24 Hours of Daytona victory.
Since its racing debut in 1996, the Viper GTS-R has achieved many victories or class wins in competition, as well as many series championships. This is a list of some of the more notable victories by the Viper GTS-Rs.
- 24 Hours of Le Mans - 1998, 1999, 2000
- 12 Hours of Sebring - 2000
- Petit Le Mans - 1999
- Fuji 1000 km - 2001
- Mil Milhas Brasileiras - 2004
- 24 Hours of Nurburgring - 2005, 2006, 2007
- FIA GT Championship - 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002
- American Le Mans Series - 1999, 2000
- FFSA GT Championship - 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005
- Belgian GT Championship - 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2009
- Italian GT Championship - 2003, 2004
- Swedish GTR Championship - 2001, 2002, 2003
- VLN Championship - 1999
- Euro GT Series - 2003
Following Dodge's official end of their factory-backed racing program in 2001, as well as the redesigning of the Viper once again in 2003, the GTS-Rs have slowly been retired. However Dodge believed that the new Viper was just as capable of being of motorsports contender that they backed another racing program with the new car. However unlike before, there would be no factory teams. These new cars, known as Dodge Viper Competition Coupes, would be sold strictly to customers who wanted a ready-made race car. These cars currently comply with the FIA GT3 regulations, making them much less advanced and slower from the Viper GTS-Rs which run in GT1. Oreca once again runs the Viper Competition Coupe program, building the cars for Dodge.
Recently, attempts have been made by Oreca as well as privateers Racing Box and Woodhouse Performance to modify Viper Competition Coupes to run in the faster GT2 class. Although this has not received official support from Dodge, they have expressed interest in exploring the idea.
With the unveiling of the fifth generation Viper road car, Chrysler announced a return to the American LeMans Series with an all new Viper GTS-R race car based on the latest road car.
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