What was meant to be a straight-up Viper vs. Corvette battle for the GT Le Mans title was thrown a curveball earlier this week when SRT Motorsports made a last-minute driver swap between its two cars.
So now, three is now the magic number and buzzword when it comes to determining this year’s driver’s champion.
There are three potential different GTLM champions in the first season of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.
Antonio Garcia is Corvette Racing’s lone title contender, while the Viper pair of Jonathan Bomarito and Kuno Wittmer have been split in an effort to ensure either of them, rather than both, secures the title for Dodge.
On the team side, either Corvette Racing will have a driver capture its third straight driver’s title, the last two coming in American Le Mans Series GT, or SRT’s Dodge Viper will have a champion crowned for the first time in its third season.
Wittmer and Bomarito currently lead with 300 points, while Garcia is currently seven points back.
To overtake that gap, Garcia, in the No. 3 Corvette C7.R he’ll share with Jan Magnussen and Ryan Briscoe, would need a win and have the Vipers finish fourth or worse. Second with the Vipers sixth or worse could also accomplish the trick.
There are other scenarios at play, but it will take the Vipers hitting trouble for Garcia to have a realistic shot.
This is where Dodge is hedging its bets with the driver swap. Essentially if either the No. 91 or 93 finishes ahead of the No. 3 Corvette, one of the Viper drivers will take the title, with Wittmer now moving over to the No. 91 Dodge Viper SRT GTS-R alongside Marc Goossens and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
For Bomarito, this is his third crack at a title at Road Atlanta itself. He won a Formula Ford Zetec championship in 2003, but lost a Formula Atlantic title in 2008, with an early race mechanical failure ending his charge before it even began.
Bomarito’s quest for a title will feature Dominik Farnbacher sliding over to drive alongside, with third driver Rob Bell returning in the No. 93 for the first time since Sebring.
His biggest concern heading into the weekend is traffic, in part of because of the influx of third drivers who may not have raced since Sebring, or are limited in either TUDOR Championship and/or major endurance race experience.
“The flow of this race makes it hard, and that’s probably my biggest concern at the moment for the championship,” Bomarito told Sportscar365. “A big factor this week is that like at Sebring, we have third drivers coming in.
“They may not be starting. They’ll come in mid-race, on cold tires, or catch others at the wrong point on the track. It adds another variable. That’s the biggest thing I’m worried about.”
Garcia said he and the Corvette Racing team will need to rely on strategy and off-sequence opportunities, rather than outright pace, to have any shot.
“There will be way more factors beyond true speed,” he said. “The strategy will be different. There will be way more cautions. You keep adding different factors or scenarios, and it can mix up a lot.
“It’s not a pure pace race. If we are not fast enough, we can just play our game or try to make up positions on that chance. We’ve done it before and we can do it again.”
Garcia mentioned his drive to win at Circuit of the Americas last year, holding off, incidentally, Bomarito’s Viper, as an example where Corvette won without having the strongest car.
But Corvette has been unable to perform at the level it did earlier this season, when it won four straight races, due to Balance of Performance adjustments imposed by the sanctioning body.
Nonetheless, the team and driver’s fighting spirit endures despite the recent setbacks.
“I would have preferred to be behind a few races back, instead of the last one,” Garcia said. “But now, we’re just chasing rather than just trying to avoid the scenarios and avoid contacts and things.
“We don’t have anything to lose. It’s good for us. We can gamble a lot. We just need to put everything on the table and try to take most of it.”
Wittmer, who’s been part of the Viper program since its launch at the 2012 New York Auto Show, described how far SRT has come over three years.
“We look back at 2012, and think that in April at the New York Auto Show unveil, on stage the car was only 90 percent complete,” Wittmer said.
“So we started four seconds off the pace, then Petit the first year was about three seconds off. Then last year, we were in contention for victory. With all that in context, it’s a very nice package right now.”
The Driver’s Championship is one part of the GTLM title chase, and the other is the Manufacturer’s Championship.
Heading into Petit, Dodge and Porsche are tied with 308, while Chevrolet and BMW are tied on 300, some eight points back.
It’s possible Dodge could take the Manufacturer’s title while Garcia wins the Driver’s title; Dodge has a better shot at sweeping both championships.
The Dodge vs. Porsche battle is simplified to whichever manufacturer finishes ahead, and Dodge enters on the strength of a 1-2 at COTA.
To hear Wittmer tell it, that’s all the momentum Viper needs.
“The momentum and streaks just keep coming, so hopefully it won’t stop this weekend,” he said. “It can on Monday morning.”