It was announced earlier today that the newly crowned GTLM champions are jumping ship.
It was easy to see the writing on the wall long before Chrysler Group LLC announced the discontinuation of its factory-backed road racing campaign on Monday, October 6th. This announcement came shortly after SRT Motorsports’ two-car effort won both team and driver championships in the inaugural TUDOR United Sports Car Championship season, which ended last Saturday with the 17th annual Petit Le Mans at iconic Road Atlanta.
We could see the signs
The first sign came in springtime, when SRT announced it would not return to The Sarthe for this year’s 24 Heures du Mans, after having a good showing the year prior and inaugurating its GT3 program on-site. The Le Mans program yielded a respectable eighth and ninth in class result for a first try and it was expected they’d return this year. The decision to decline an ACO invitation was a bit of a shock initially, but other clues followed. Difficulties within Chrysler’s sales arm in moving units of its halo Viper car meant it would be difficult to market a product you’re not really selling. Despite the signs, the drivers were all shocked to learn the news just before the rest of us did.
“Our company has made a business decision to discontinue the SRT Motorsports Dodge Viper GTS-R racing program,” notes Ralph Gilles, senior vice president of product design for Chrysler Group LLC. He voiced pride in the achievements of “our fantastic teams, drivers and partners. We thank them for their hard work, effort and commitment to SRT Motorsports.”
The SRT Viper GTS-R program broke ground late in the 2012 season at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and had some pretty severe initial growth pangs, from both the engine and chassis side. It became a very much more effective program in the final American Le Mans Series season and did challenge stalwart champions Ferrari and Corvette on a regular basis. This year the program came of age, delivering a team championship for the two-car entry and earning Kuno Wittmer the driver’s title at Petit, giving SRT two of the three available titles in what is now their GTLM swan song.
The team’s engineering department springs from Chrysler’s roots, led by Richard “Dick” Winkles; its chassis development has been on the thoroughly capable shoulders of Bill Riley, who helped to develop the Viper into a world challenger on every front. Led by team manager Gary Johnson and lead engineer Matt Bejnarowicz, the team has prospered on the track throughout the current inaugural TUSCC season.
As announced at the beginning of May this year, SRT is aligning with Chrysler’s Dodge brand. It’s uncertain what effect, if any, the decision has on the GTD Viper run by Ben Keating in TUSCC.