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SEBRING REPORT: Vipers roll to Victory at Sebring in GTS

19 March 2000

By David Treffer
Contributing Editor, The Auto Channel
SEBRING, FL: The Dodge Viper GTS Team Oreca was not expected to take the over-all victory at Sebring like they did at Daytona just six weeks ago. Nope, at Sebring the "true prototypes" were going to be present. However, many expected that the showing by the Corvettes at Daytona might be the precursor of a "Bowtie" victory in the GTS class of the American Le Mans Series (ALMS). That last hour of racing at Daytona, in spite of critics of the Grand-Am series, was one of the most exciting last hour of racing in recent memory.

After 36 hours of endurance racing in Florida the question might now be "Can anyone stop the Viper juggernaut?" The answer for Chevrolet and Porsche may be painfully rendered race by race for the rest of the season. This could be a form of Dodge water-torture. The biggest question for the Vipers at Sebring was determining who was going to come home first among the three Dodge entries.

The pre-race optimism by the Chevrolet team that Sebring might be their race was obvious when Ron Fellows reeled off a blistering qualifying lap to take the top position in the GTS class. For Fellows and teammates Chris Kniefel and Justin Bell their optimism had to be tempered knowing that their rearview mirror was going to filled with Vipers. For Porsche with three 911 GT2s the corporate logic was that the Porsches superior fuel mileage might be just the ticket to the victory podium. As we were to find out neither scenario worked out.

The classic 12 Hour Endurance race is known for returning unexpected results. Strange things happen at Sebring. There are so many heart-break stories over the 40 year history of Sebring that nothing is taken for granted until the checkered flag has flown. However, a quick check with any bookie would have been whispering "look at the obvious." For their part the two Corvettes and three Porsches did put up a fight for a few hours, but when all was said and done the Vipers rolled to a 1-2-3 victory in class and 7th, 8th and 9th over-all. In football terms "this game was over at halftime."

The green flag had barely dropped when the Vipers began their charge to the front. It was a good battle between the three manufacturers. However, by the three hour mark, one could feel the beginnings of a Viper rout. The first inkling of problems for the Corvette came from comments offered by Ron Fellows in the #3 Corvette who described that the car "was loose." Not exactly the news one wants to hear. Seemingly correcting the handling situation the #3 and #4 Corvettes fought to stay within sight of the Viper trio. Just when it appeared that a fight might be in store for the Vipers the #3 Corvette developed terminal engine problems at about the eight hour mark. Their race for victory was over. That left the #4 Corvette to carry the "Bowtie Banner." The #4 car went through its share of racing pain as well. During the second hour of racing the car suffered some body damage when the car contacted another competitor. From that point on the cars handling was never on. The team would come home a respectable 16th over-all.

For Porsche the pain of Daytona was just barely rubbing off. The new water cooled engines kept the Porsche mechanics so busy replacing water pumps at Daytona that some folks were trying to find the right company to purchase stock in the supplier. While that may be a bit of an exaggeration it was indicative of the learning curve that Porsche is currently undergoing.

None the less, what both Porsche and Chevrolet learned from Sebring is that the Vipers are going to difficult to defeat. What goes on between now and Charlotte (two weeks) will be interesting to watch. For the Viper Team Oreca another chance to show their dominance

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