When Porsche won Petit-Le-Mans in 2015 with the 911 RSR GTE against a host of prototypes, it was a tribute to another great giant-killing of 15 years earlier.

Porsche’s feat was achieved during a rain-shortened event – just 7h51 of the originally scheduled 10h was completed at Road Atlanta – in terrible weather that allowed its Michelins to shine above the faster prototype Continentals. But when the Dodge Viper GTS-R won the Daytona 24 Hours in 2000, it ran the full distance, and the fluke couldn’t be questioned.

PLUS: When Porsche became a giant killer

However, a report by Autosport magazine called it “one of the biggest upsets” in the event’s history, as the faster SR-class prototypes dropped like flies with an “unprecedented catalog of problems and incidents”. But the fact that three driven ORECA Vipers finished in the top five (there were five US-made cars in the top seven in total) told its own personal story.

Olivier Berret, Karl Wendlinger and Dominique Dupuy’s victory by 31 seconds over the leading factory Corvette, also in the minor GTO class, was a highlight of Berret’s long spell with the car he chose as the favorite of his long career that graced the Larrousse F1 in 1994.

He was instrumental in the “completely unexpected” result, despite the fact that he was suffering from chicken pox; Beretta’s double whammy gave the winning #91 a pit stop advantage over its GT rivals after 10 hours and meant it was in a position to capitalize when the leading Dyson Racing Riley & Scott MKIII’s engine began to lose power in the final four hours.

But that was far from the only high point, as the Monegasque also claimed two of the six 24 Hours of Le Mans class wins (in 1999 and 2000), two American Le Mans Series titles (1999 and 2000) and two titles in the FIA ​​GT class. (born in 1998 and 1999) in the car that was “born with me”. Beretta has been involved in its development since the beginning and made it fit him like a glove.

“We started with something that was unreliable and very difficult to drive,” Beretta, now part of the Ferrari Competizione GT roster, recalls of the 8.0-liter V10 brute. “We had the money at the time, the ORECA team did a great job and I was there from day one, so the car was designed to suit my driving style. In the end, it wasn’t that difficult because the car was born with me.”

Beretta (right) took his first of six Le Mans class wins in the Viper in 1999

Photo: Sutton Images

At a time when there was no balance of performance, where the best trained crew and the fastest car prevailed, the Viper was the best. Beretta has vivid memories of how ORECA boss Hughes de Schoenck organized tests of 30 hours or more “every month, from January to April” before Le Mans, “and for Daytona we did it before Christmas.”

“At the time, it was the thing to do if you wanted to make sure you had reliability,” he says. “In the beginning, we stopped after eight o’clock, after 3 o’clock. But at the end of the test, we managed to work for 32 hours without stops, and we realized that all the parts of the car are reliable. And so the Viper was invincible in the end.

“We had so much endurance testing before the race and it was ORECA’s strength to plan and spend a lot of time and money testing in the winter. We were at Polly Ricard in February in zero, two degrees, running, running, running for 32 or 35 hours, and it paid off.

“When you race Le Mans, you do some endurance [tests], but you’re not doing what we did 20 years ago. I don’t see any team doing that today!”

“We managed to run 32 hours without stopping, and we knew that all the parts of the car were reliable. And that’s why the Viper was invincible in the end” Olivier Beretta

Beretta’s association with the car did not begin on the brightest notes. After four straight BPR Endurance races in 1996, he finished third in class at the 1997 24 Hours of Daytona, but completed a whopping 35 laps in the GTS-1 winning Porsche. He and Philippe Gasch were the fastest GT2 pair in that year’s FIA GT Championship, but a series of minor mistakes saw the title go down to the wire at Laguna Seca, where their season was marred by an erroneous pit lane speeding penalty issued Take it.

The penalty gave the lead to the Roock Porsche, which Stefan Ortelli shared with title challenger Bruno Eichmann, who was set to wrest the crown, and forced ORECA to switch the order of the two cars. Justin Bell’s #52 Viper finished second to take the title, but it was a bitter pill to swallow for Beretta.

“They had a speed gun at the time and the marshal made a mess between #51 and #52,” he recalls. “The team said to me, ‘You have to stop, you have a lot of speed in the pit lane.’ And I say: “No way, no way.” I knew I couldn’t do it because I was leading the race, so I didn’t have any pressure to overdo it in the pit lane and I was super focused not to do it.

“At the end of the race we looked at the telemetry and the sister car did it. So I lost the championship for something I didn’t do…”

After ignominiously losing the FIA ​​GT2 title in 1997, Beretta held sway over the series in 1998 and 1999, never finishing second in an ORECA Viper.

After ignominiously losing the FIA ​​GT2 title in 1997, Beretta held sway over the series in 1998 and 1999, never finishing second in an ORECA Viper.

Photo: Images of motor sports

But teaming up with Pedro Lamy in 1998, the Franco-Portuguese pair were beaten just twice all year, finishing as runners-up both times. Then in 1999, with Wendlinger, he successfully defended the title, finishing first or second in every race. When ORECA joined the nascent ALMS, the Beretta was as unstoppable as the steamroller Viper.

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Beretta puts its Le Mans GTS class triumphs – both times with Wendlinger and Dupuis – “on the same level” as their outright win at Daytona, although problems with the Viper’s fifth gear in the latter stages gave that result an extra edge.

“Daytona was a total surprise at the time, and to win with GT was huge, especially against Corvette at the time with two major American manufacturers,” he says. “This race was green for a long time towards the end, so it wasn’t like a race where you have safety cars and restart the race every hour.

“We were very nervous because we didn’t know until the end whether the gearbox was OK. Sometimes we need luck, and at that time and that day, luck was on our side.”

However, luck had little to do with most of his success. After ORECA switched its focus to prototypes in 2001 from Chrysler, the Viper continued to win, with Christophe Buschu and Larbre taking the FIA ​​GT titles in 2001 and 2002, sweeping the 24 Hours of Spa in both years. The Nürburgring 24 Hours was another lucky hunting ground for the Viper, with Zakspeed winning in 1999, 2001 and 2002 – the last two with Lammy at the wheel, the Portuguese headed for a record five wins that he still holds today.

However, it was not the easiest car to drive. Beretta says the Viper was “physically quite difficult” to operate, especially since ergonomics can hardly be considered a priority. With no traction control to help manage wheel spin and thus extend tire life, plus an H-shaped gearbox that required careful downshifts to avoid rear-end lockup, the Beretta is a lot of fun to drive car quirks.

“It was very hot inside the cockpit because there were no regulations like today that if you overheat you get stop and go,” he says. “Before, no one was interested! I remember we had the exhaust next to the seat, engine in the front when we were driving to Texas it was 43 degrees in the car at 8pm. It was amazing how hot it was.

High temperatures in the cockpit were one of the Viper's downfalls, but that didn't stop Berrett, Wendlinger and Dupuy from taking the honors in the ALMS class at Surfers Paradise on New Year's Eve 2000.

High temperatures in the cockpit were one of the Viper’s downfalls, but that didn’t stop Berrett, Wendlinger and Dupuy from taking the honors in the ALMS class at Surfers Paradise on New Year’s Eve 2000.

Photo: Images of motor sports

“We had to drive a lot more in the cockpit than we do today. Today, you don’t care about the gearbox, you just need to press the pedal, and you switch, switch, look at the light and drive. Before, you had to manage the H-gearbox, you had to manage wheel spin, a lot of tires because we didn’t have traction control, we had to manage the inside of the cockpit because it was so hot.”

Beretta won Le Mans four times with a Corvette between 2004 and 2011 before he switched to Ferrari, including three in a row with Oliver Gavin and Jan Magnussen from 2004 to 2006. But it’s the Viper that burrows into his brain like a perfect match.

“When I went to another car, like a Corvette, the car was already designed, so I have to adapt to it,” he says. “So it was much easier for me to drive the Viper.”

Read also:
Beretta won Le Mans four times with the Corvette, but says the Viper he designed best suited his driving style

Beretta won Le Mans four times with the Corvette, but says the Viper he designed best suited his driving style

Photo: Images of motor sports


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