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Victor Seaber of ODU’s VIPER Lab Bests Professional Driver at VIR’s Ultimate Track Car Challenge

Victor SeaberVictor Seaber in his winning car

It's not every day you get to race a car against a former Formula One and NASCAR driver. You know what's extra cool? Beating him.

That's what Victor Seaber of Old Dominion University's VIPER (Virginia Institute for Performance Engineering and Research) Engine and Drivetrain Lab experienced earlier this month at Virginia International Raceway (VIR).

Seaber drove one of 60 cars competing in the Ultimate Track Car Challenge, presented by Grassroots Motorsports at the Danville-area track. The sixth annual competition allows amateur and professional teams of car designers and racers to compete in time trials, and is frequently used as a publicity tool for the designers, manufacturers and race teams involved in the event.

That was what the team with Wolf Racing Cars' Wolf GB08 was aiming for when they brought their ringer of a driver, former F1, IndyCar and NASCAR driver Max Papis.

What that team members didn't expect was that their car - and their star driver - would be bested by the VIPER vehicle, driven by Seaber himself. "It was a really unique and unexpected experience," Seaber said of racing time trials against Papis. An employee of the ODU Research Foundation and an instructor for the hands-on classes in the motorsports engineering minor offered through ODU's Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology, Seaber has experience in racing at all levels, including working as a professional race engineer and semiprofessional driver.

The VIPER vehicle in the competition was a Stohr, powered by a 1.4-liter, Suzuki motorcycle engine heavily modified to produce 250 horsepower. The car is an example of the application of technology and engineering in motorsports, with features such as a lightweight carbon fiber body and an aerodynamics package that generates enough downforce for the car to race upside down - if such a track existed.

Reidsville, N.C., dentist Dr. Bob Wheless loaned the car to Seaber for the event, and former ODU mechanical engineering technology student Corey Lind worked with him as crew chief.

Seaber said preparing for and participating in the event provided a unique opportunity for two ODU students interning at the lab, Chris Redding and Ryan Parkinson. He added that the success in the Ultimate Track Car Challenge is a sign of the growth of the motorsports program at VIR, and at Old Dominion.

"The university has built the motorsports program to where it's very unique due to its applied nature, made possible by the one-of-a kind facility located at a major racetrack," he said.

In addition to students from ODU's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering located at VIR, VIPER provides opportunities for students through its partnership with the motorsports program at Patrick Henry Community College in Martinsville, offering classes at the New College Institute.

"We're looking to expand that and provide other opportunities for ODU students to work toward careers in the motorsports industry," Seaber said. "At its core, motorsports is all about efficiency, be it maximizing fuel economy, reducing drag or increasing power. These are the principles modern engineers need to be successful - we just are using a particularly exciting means to instill them."

VIPER was created to be a national center for ground vehicle performance testing, engineering and research services specializing in racing, advanced technology and performance vehicles. ODU operates the VIPER Engine and Drivetrain Lab facility located at VIR, which is dedicated to teaching and research supported by commercial activity.