The good news: Kuno Wittmer is a champion. The bad news: He's unemployed.
Wittmer wins TUDOR Championship title in Dodge SRT Viper, but the program has been axed.
Monday night, the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship will hold a gala season-ending banquet at New York City’s trendy Cipriani. It’s called the TUDOR Night of Champions.
Said David Pettit, IMSA vice-president of marketing: “This has been a tremendous season filled with historic moments and it’s only fitting that we close it out in style for our championship-winning competitors.”
“Close it out,” has a rather harsh meaning for one championship team, per last Monday’s announcement that the Dodge SRT Viper two-car factory team would not be back in 2015. That news came less than 48 hours after the SRT Viper won the team championship in the tough GT-Le Mans class, and driver Kuno Wittmer won the driver’s championship.
Any celebrating Monday night by the SRT team will likely be bittersweet; a lot of people are suddenly looking for work, in a very short off-season, as the Roar before the Rolex 24 at Daytona test starts next January 9.
Wittmer isn't worried
While Montreal’s Wittmer, 31, is sad his ride in the SRT Viper is over, he knows that’s the nature of racing: Often you technically become unemployed at the end of the season, and apply for a new job for next year, even if you have a contract, which in racing, often isn’t worth much.
Still, “The season was amazing,” he said. “To win a championship like this is an honor.”
The way Wittmer won the title involved some interesting strategy. All year Wittmer partnered with teammate Jonathan Bomarito, and they came to last Saturday’s Petit Le Mans 10-hour season finale at Road Atlanta tied for the driver’s championship, with Antonio Garcia, driver of the factory Chevrolet Corvette C7.R close behind. Whoever finished best at Petit would likely win the title.
So SRT split Wittmer and Bomarito between the number 91 and number 93 Vipers, giving the team two chances to finish ahead of Garcia. It worked: Wittmer’s team finished third in the class, enough to win the championship for him and for SRT.
A little bittersweet
Even that celebration was a little bittersweet, as Wittmer and Bomarito shared a car all year, and Wittmer would have liked to share the championship with him. “It’s hard to argue with the strategy, because it worked. You have to split emotions with professionalism. Emotionally, I would have loved to stand side by side with him on top step of the podium – that was our goal from day one. But it was an extremely smart decision. It was the best way to cover all the angles, to not have all our eggs in one basket.”
It was emotional after the checkered flag fell, though. “I think chewed my fingernails off the last 10 minutes,” Wittmer said.
Finally I’m a North American champion. But it took years and years.
While 2013 was largely a development year, the Vipers were ready for 2014, from Daytona and beyond. “We made a lot of changes,” Wittmer said, even in the brief period between the 2014 Roar and the Daytona race. “There is not a lot we could do with aerodynamics,” he said, given the rules. “But we worked hard on the brakes. We noticed some of our competitors could brake quite a bit deeper into the turns than us, so we really upped our game there.”
No Le Mans
The team also worked hard on damper packages, especially during the lengthy off time for the GT-Le Mans class, as the TUDOR series doesn’t schedule any races for the class that conflict with the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But the team didn’t go to Le Mans, “which still stings a bit,” Wittmer said, but it did give the team time to test for the balance on the season. Testing instead of racing at Le Mans “was worth it,” Wittmer said, “because here we are with the championship”
Wittmer said he isn’t that worried about finding a ride for next year. He fought for rides coming up, mostly in open-wheel series, and often he had to take rides that were less than optimum.
And he said that gave him experience that now, sets him apart from many of his colleagues, who have always had the best equipment and have never had to make do with what was available. Wittmer did, and he's a better driver for it.
“I honestly believe the way I came up could be somewhat of a model for younger drivers.” Often, he says, “I had to race with half-eaten-up tires, brake pads with two or three races on them that really should have been changed after one race.”
And you know what? That’s exactly what endurance racing is about – going as fast as you can on worn tires, with fading brakes, “maybe a broken splitter, or the front end alignment knocked off. I have a lot of experience to dig into in trying to go fast with less-than-perfect cars. I have 300-plus races, but finally I’m a North American champion. But it took years and years.”
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