This past weekend was the running of the 86th annual 24 Hours of Le Mans at the Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France. Known as the ultimate endurance race in the world, Le Mans is the biggest race of the year in endurance racing. While the racing on the track this year has been called “boring” and been criticized by many fans, the event was anything but boring here in Detroit. Yes! Detroit.
Detroit-based car magazine, Autoweek threw a huge Le Mans party in Detroit’s Corktown district. Open to the public, the event was at the newly renovated “The Factory At Corktown”. Nicknamed “The Factory” the building on Michigan Avenue and Rosa Parks Blvd is currently home to Buhl Sport Detroit and Brother’s Tuning Detroit. Recently, Ford Motor Company’s autonomous vehicle and electric vehicle business and strategy teams, including Team Edison of about 200 employees were announced to be occupying space at the building.
What is unique about this party over the weekend, was the fact that several Le Mans winning cars were shown off at the event. The Ford GT that won in 2016 at Le Mans, a Le Mans winning Chevrolet Corvette C6R and most importantly the 1998 Dodge Viper GTS-R that won the race in 1998.
First off, let me say technically the car is a Chrysler Viper since back in the 1990s the Chrysler Corporation marketed the car as a Chrysler outside North America. Thus explains the Chrysler markings all over the car without anything Dodge branded visually seen.
What makes this car so unique is that it was the first American car to win the GT class, since the Shelby Daytona Coupe won the race in 1964. The same car that the Dodge Viper GTS was based on.
The French-based Team Oreca GTS-R was driving by Justin Bell, David Donohue, and Luca Drudi. The team ran 317 laps over the 24 hour period at Le Mans in 1998. That was 5 more laps than their closest competition, which was the other Team Oreca GTS-R driven by Tommy Archer, Pedro Lamy and Olivier Beretta.
The GTS-R was the car to beat in the late-1990s in endurance racing. Out of the 262 events the car was entered, the car won 163 of them. It was this legacy that put the Viper on the worldwide stage as a proper American super car, and put the Chrysler Corporation back on top as a competitive worldwide automaker; which until then has been stained with the memory of the company that had to have a loan guarantee from the government in order to stay alive.
Only 57 Viper GTS-R models were built, five of which were prototypes. In order to run the car in competition in Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), homologation rules stated that road cars would have to be sold that were similar to the race car. After winning the 1997 FIA GT2 class championship, 100 modified Viper GT2 Championship Edition road cars were produced.
These cars wore a similar paint scheme to the 1997 Viper GTS-R with GTS-R painted livery on the sides of the vehicle. The GT2 borrowed the rear wing and front splitter from the GTS-R, as well as dive planes and a deeper fascia. Replicas of the BBS racing wheels were also used on the GT2. Power output was raised from 450 horsepower to 460 horsepower from the 8.0-liter VIPER V10 engine.
In 2017, Dodge announced that Viper would be ending production. Five special editions were released for the 2017 model year. One of those special editions was the GTS-R Commemorative Edition ACR. The car was designed to pay tribute to one of the most distinguishable and iconic Viper paint schemes of all time. The car featured Pearl White exterior paint with Blue Pearl GTS stripes, Extreme Aero Package, Carbon Ceramic brakes, Exterior Carbon Package, unique red Stryker badge decal, GTS-R exterior sill decals, USA flag B-pillar decals, ACR interior with red accent stitching, Header Red seat belts, serialized instrument panel GTS-R badge and a custom car cover that matches the exterior paint scheme and showcases the customer name above the driver’s side door.
Like the GT2, only 100 of these cars were built. It was in fact, two of these GTS-R Commemorative Edition cars that were sent to Germany to try to break the Nürburgring Nordschleife record thanks to a crowdfunding effort as a farewell to the Viper.
The 1998 Le Mans winning Viper GTS-R, was undoubtedly the most important race car in Chrysler’s history. It is great to see that one of the most important pieces of that history is still being enjoyed with fans of motorsports.
We’d like to thank Gabriel Shensky for allowing us the use of his photos. Make sure to check out his Instagram page at racecarsdontneedheadlights.