SRT Motorsports came to race in Austin - and race they did - finishing second and fifth in the ALMS GT class contest held at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) International Sports Car Weekend on Sept.21.
During a pre-race briefing by Gary Johnson - SRT Motorsports Racing Manager in the SRT Motorsports Paddock to SRT VIP guests, the subject of tire compounds and the right tires for the changing weather conditions was raised. Johnson expressed that choosing the right tires for the race and making appropriate adjustments at each change would be a key to winning the race.
As it turned out, for the No. 93 Viper, one tire change ultimately made the difference between being on the top step on the podium or the runner-up at the end of the race.
The No. 93 Pennzoil Ultra SRT Viper GTS-R piloted by Jonathan Bomarito and Kuno Wittmer started sixth in the race and ran strongly in the top five for the duration of the two hour and 45 minute event.
The race was only 19 minutes old when the Viper with Bomarito at the wheel took the lead on lap nine raising loud cheers from the SRT faithful gathered at the SRT VIP viewing area trackside at the end of pit row.
Leading for the next for 17 circuits, the No. 93 car pitted at 55 minutes into the race for, what turned out to be, a fateful tire change and a new driver (Wittmer).
During the circuits following that pit stop, the No. 93 Viper fell off to fifth place as Wittmer struggled with the set up of the car.
With an hour remaining in the race, the No. 93 Pennzoil Ultra SRT Viper GTS-R pitted again and Bomarito replaced Wittmer (along with another tire change) and, returning to the course, was more than 17 seconds behind the leader.
By the time the GT Class took the white flag in the caution-free race at the 3.4-mile road course, Bomarito had closed the gap to just over a second.
When the checkered flag appeared, the No. 4 Compuware Corvette C6 ZR1, piloted by Antonio Garcia, barely escaped with a scant .854-second margin of victory over of the No. 93 Viper piloted by Bomarito.
"I think we just needed one more lap to be honest," said Bomarito. "I mean, it's absolutely amazing. It's a testament to how close the GT category is. No cautions in a two hour and 45 minute race and it comes down right to the end."
Since American Le Mans racing is a timed endurance contest, at the end on this day, it was all about the strategy of what tires to use at what points in the race given the COTA track had experienced a torrential rain on the Friday before the race causing teams to re-evaluate the tire compounds they were going to use based on changing track condition resulting from the weather.
The No. 93 Viper started sixth in the American Le Mans Series event with Bomarito at the helm. He picked up four spots on the first lap and was challenging for the lead by the fourth circuit.
Taking the first spot, Bomarito led for 17 circuits before pitting at the 55-minute mark for a driver change, fuel and the fateful tire change to a different tire compound. When the fateful pit cycle ended, Wittmer was running second but the tires fell short of performance expectations and Wittmer had dropped to fifth by the time the team made that final pit stop with the hour remaining.
Once the team went back to the original tire compound and Bomarito returned to the seat, the charge was on.
"We made a tire choice on the No. 93 that was probably not correct when Kuno (Wittmer) got in the car for his stint," said SRT Motorsports Racing Manager Gary Johnson. "He obviously struggled with that setup. When we went back to the original tire compound and Jonathan went back in the car, the car was awesome. Jonathan (Bomarito) did everything he could to get it to the front and with just a few more minutes, he could have done it. It was an awesome effort."
Wittmer had his hands full during his stint just keeping the No. 93 on the racing surface and out of trouble. "The day was up and down for me," he said. "We opted for a different strategy on tires and it just didn't work out the way we expected. Once we changed back to our original tire compound, the car was amazing and Jonathan did a great job. We had great pit stops; it was a total team effort."
It was the best finish of the season for the No. 93 which also has a pair of poles.
"What an amazing run by this team," said Bomarito. "The car was fast all day. To make up 17 seconds in one hour and nearly pull off a win is just amazing. Everybody on this team is amazing. The crew did and incredible job in the pits with great stops. We fought all day. The Viper was fantastic. For us to be that fast at the end is just awesome."
Riley, vice president and chief engineer - Riley Technologies, described the No. 93 as "lighting fast."
"It was a great run by the SRT Viper GTS-Rs today for sure," Riley said. The benefit of running two cars is that you can try two different setups. Matt Bejnarowicz's (lead engineer) crew worked on a different setup than the 91 car and it worked today. Kuno (Wittmer) and Jonathan (Bomarito) both drove great races. Kuno drove the middle stint and tried some things that didn't work out so when Jonathan got back in, they had it all tuned up for him. He was lightning fast and almost won the race."
Bejnarowicz inspired his driver to dig deep and give it everything he had during the final hour. "We were almost 20 seconds down from the leaders at the time and I figured the only chance we had to get back to the front was a yellow flag," he said. "Jonathan kept going faster and faster. The way he managed traffic was amazing.
"If you would have told me before the race that we would have been able to do that, I would not have believed you. I know the cars were good, but that was all Jonathan Bomarito. In this type of racing, you need a really smart racer who knows when to let a faster prototype go by and when to pass a slower car so it doesn't mess with the driver's momentum, and today Jonathan proved to be a master of that."
The No. 91 Rush SRT Viper GTS-R piloted by Marc Goossens and Dominik Farnbacher ran in the top five throughout the second half of the race and finished a solid fifth in the two hour and 45 minute event.
Still there was something missing with the handling that could have opened the door for an even better finish.
"We drove as hard as we could and that was as much as we could get out of it today," said Goossens. "The No. 91 was a handful to drive. We're not sure what the problem is but the team will get it back in the shop and give it a good once-over to diagnose the problem. Realizing the car wasn't as fast as the No. 93, I ran my own pace and made sure we brought the car home safely."