Worst to First: Dodge Viper Wins at Watkins Glen
The odds are good that if you are reading this piece, you know that the Chrysler Group opted to remove their financial support of the Dodge Viper endurance racing program after the 2014 season, but Riley Motorsports has teamed up with ViperExchange.com and TI Automotive to campaign a pair of cars in the GT Daytona class of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship series. The team started the season with a class win at the Rolex 24 at Daytona after starting dead last and that win was followed up by a 4th place finish in Sebring.
After a strong start to the season, the ViperExchange.com/TI Automotive/Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper teams struggled to an 8th and 11th place finish at Laguna Seca before heading out to LeMans for the historic 24 hour race. The sole Viper in the LeMans field looked strong all day, but mechanical issues in the final hours of the race forced them to settle for a DNF position (you don’t get an official finishing position unless you are running at the end of the 24th hour).
In short, after starting the season with a bang, the ViperExchange.com teams haven’t had the best luck in the races following, but in an effort to put the disappointing LeMans outing behind them, the #33 and #93 Viper teams headed to Watkins Glen for their 4th event of the TUDOR championship.
Vipers Attack Watkins Glen
The ViperExchange.com/TI Automotive/Riley Motorsports program took two teams and 5 drivers to Watkins Glen, with the #93 Viper being driven by Al Carter, Cameron Lawrence and Marc Goossens and the #33 Viper being driven by Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen. In the first practice, things didn’t go as smoothly as the Viper teams would have liked, with the #33 car turning in just the 6th quickest lap of the 11 car GT Daytona field while the #93 Viper was the slowest car in the class.
Things improved a bit in practice session #2, with the #33 Viper jumping up to the 4th spot in the class, closely followed by the #93 in the 5th spot while a trio of Porsche 911 Americas held the top three spots in the class. Unfortunately, the second practice session would be the last of the clear weather racing at Watkins Glen, as the rains slowed the 3rd practice session and prevented a proper qualifying session from taking place at all. This meant that the field was determined based on season points and with the Viper teams running a shortened schedule, the #93 Viper was forced to start last once again…but it worked out ok last time, right? Right.
Viper is the Class of the Class
Although the #93 Dodge Viper started dead last, the team was among the quicker cars in the GT Daytona class, allowing them to work their way through the thick traffic during the first few hours of the race. Even with steady rain throughout the 6 hour race, the trio of Carter, Lawrence and Goossens pushed to the front of the field, taking the class lead just before the midway point of the race. From there, they team never looked back, fighting off a large group of lead-lap cars late in the race to claim the 2nd win of the season for the #93 Viper. In fact, the #93 Viper was so fast that they were able to set a lap record for the GTD class, even with the awful weather conditions – showing how well the team had the Viper dialed in for the rainy day of racing. In the final minutes of the race, the #93 Viper was challenged by the #44 Porsche 911, but the American supercar was just too much for the German entry.
Things didn’t go quite as well for the #33 Viper, as an off-road incident early in the race pushed them to the back of the field, but the pairing of Keating and Bleekemolen stayed on the lead lap throughout the entire 6 hour race, finishing in the 6th spot in the class.