The year was 2000. Bill Clinton was President of the United States and a gallon of gasoline cost $1.26. Yet, history was made at Daytona International Speedway when the an ORECA-run Dodge Viper GTS-R became the first American production-based car to win the Rolex 24 overall.
Fast forward 14 years and the Viper has returned to the “World Center of Racing” for the first time as a factory outfit, with SRT Motorsports seeking to become the inaugural GT Le Mans class winners of the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.
The Bill Riley-run operation, which is on the heels of its first full season of competition, has continued to make steady progress with the V10-powered beasts, finishing third in the ALMS GT championship last year with a breakthrough class victory at Road America and three poles.
This weekend, the pair of snakes have gotten off to a strong start, with Marc Goossens putting the No. 91 entry on pole and teammate Jonathan Bomarito set to roll off third in class. Additionally, the Vipers have atop the time charts in half of the practice sessions.
Could history be repeating itself for the Detroit manufacturer, nearly a decade-and-a-half after arguably the brand’s biggest racing triumph?
“This race is a big deal for us,” said Beth Paretta, director, SRT Brand and Motorsports Marketing and Operations. “We certainly have quite a legacy to live up to.
“In fact, the car that won overall we still have in our collection. It’s never been cleaned so it has all of its 14-year old race wear on it, so we’re reminded of it all of the time. We know that the Viper, in particular, has quite a legacy. That is not lost on any of us.”
The SRT squad has gone about the week quietly optimistic about its chances. With off-season developments to the Riley-built cars, primarily in the differential and traction control, and more off-season public testing on the Florida high banks than any other manufacturer, hopes are high heading into the opening round of the season.
One of the Viper’s main competitors will be Chevrolet, which debuts its new Corvette C7.R this weekend. The American muscle cars went head-to-head for victory in 2000, with the winning margin just 30 seconds at the checkered flag. Corvette went on to score overall honors the following year.