Past glories well-remembered, Viper heads for Le Mans

The midnight oil is burning at the Chrysler Group’s performance-minded SRT division, as the motorsports team preps a pair of Viper GTS-R racing cars for a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The race — the 81st edition of which is set for 22 to 23 June at Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France — will mark Chrysler’s first factory-backed racing effort since 2000, the Viper’s third consecutive year of one-two finishes in the famed endurance race.

Powered by a racing version of the road-legal Viper’s 8.4-litre V10, the new SRT Viper GTS-R made its track debut last August, running in the American Le Mans Series at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. And it has some very big shoes to fill: the original Viper GTS-R racing car — campaigned as a Dodge in the United States and a Chrysler elsewhere — debuted in 1996, and went on to earn five international GT championships, the 1997 to 1999 FIA GT championships, and a trio of one-two finishes at Le Mans.

“It means a lot to our customers because the racing pedigree of the car can largely be determined with this one annual race,” said Russ Ruedisueli, SRT’s head of motorsports engineering. “It’s the ultimate endurance test to see how well we’ve developed the cars and seeing how they perform over 24 hours.”

The SRT team plans to document the new Viper’s first full season on the racetrack in a series of web videos, set to debut this month. In the mean time, a teaser for Beyond the Checkered Flag should whet the appetites of race fans and the Viper faithful.