Chrysler design boss taking on Targa Newfoundland in bright green 2009 Dodge Challenger SRT8

When stories began swirling around about the Dodge Challenger Drag Pak model aimed at hard core drag racers, The Garage wondered how long it would be until we see a road racing version to take on the variety of competition Mustangs Ford has on offer. Today Chrysler announced that design guru Ralph Gilles will tackle the 2008 Targa Newfoundland rally in a Snake Skin Green 2009 Dodge Challenger SRT8.

With a Drag Pak car being used as a base, could this be the precursor to a competition model that turns as well as it goes?

Regular readers are familiar with tarmac rallies through the writings of Gary Faules who has taken us to La Carrera Panamericana and back. Targa Newfoundland is our Canadian version, which pits competitors from around the world against each other and some of Newfoundland’s most challenging roads. There are classes for classics and modern equipment, along with overall wins and even a navigational class for those who don’t wish to compete in full attack mode.

This will be Gilles’ 3rd visit to The Rock, where he has DNF’d due to leaving the tarmac and a class win last year in the Dodge Caliber SRT4.

Read Chrysler’s full press release after the break

ST. JOHN’S (September 5, 2008) – The eagerly awaited new Dodge Challenger will get its Canadian competition debut and enthusiastic fans will get an eye-full of ‘Snake Skin Green’ when a dazzling 2009 Challenger SRT8 carries the corporate colours for Chrysler LLC in Targa Newfoundland 2008, the company has confirmed.

Driven by two-time Targa competitor and heralded Chrysler car designer Ralph Gilles, with co-driver Karen Wagner, the new Challenger is the fifth new vehicle in four years the manufacturer has sent to test the challenging roads of Canada’s longest and toughest motorsports event.

Powered by a potent 6.1-litre Hemi V8, the Challenger is sure to be a crowd favourite in its eye-popping lime green livery.

“The car is the result of a remarkable volunteer effort from enthusiasts within the company, and was built in record time,” Gilles says. “The car is nicknamed Samantha, and is built off the new Mopar® ‘drag pak’ chassis, which is an ultra-light car built just for drag racing.”

“This car was lovingly built by a small group of enthusiast volunteers inside Product Design, SRT, Mopar® Performance and, most graciously, the UAW fabricators and mechanics from unit 10 and unit 1,” Gilles explains. “They worked around clock using a variety of off-the-shelf Mopar® performance parts to prepare the Challenger for the rigors of Targa. Some parts literally were pirated from the 2005 race car and a variety of test vehicles. The team squeezed this project in between their day jobs.”

Gilles has enormous respect for Targa, earned over two previous visits to the event. In his first attempt, Gilles’s Dodge Charger SRT8 was a victim of an off-road excursion. He rallied the following year to score a class win, with Wagner, in a colourful new Dodge Caliber SRT4.

The company has used its experience at Targa as real world testing in the process of refining and developing its vehicles and components. In addition to the Challenger, Charger and Caliber, the company has also entered a Chrysler 300C SRT8 and Jeep® Grand Cherokee SRT8 in the event. But the team has a competition goal, too. “We want another class win, and get a top overall finish,” Gilles says. “But mostly we want to show the world how truly capable the Challenger is.”

The scenic roads and bays of Newfoundland are a world away from Gilles’s day job as Vice President – Design for Chrysler LLC. A highly regarded designer, he has left his mark on vehicles as diverse as the award-winning 2005 Chrysler 300C, 2005 Dodge Charger Magnum and Viper SRT10 Coupe. More recently as Vice President – Jeep / Truck, Advance Interior and Component Design, Gilles oversaw the design of the 2008 Dodge and Chrysler minivans and the 2009 Dodge Ram 1500. Although his home today is near Detroit, Gilles grew up with his family in Montreal.

Wagner, of San Marcos, California, is an active co-driver in the U.S. and currently leads her class in the popular Rally America national championship. The team will be keeping fans up to date with daily posts to their blog at www.firehouse.biz. Owned and operated by Newfoundland International Motorsports Limited, Targa Newfoundland is one of three internationally recognized Targa motorsports events in the world. The 7thannual Targa Newfoundland will start and end in St. John’s and will cover more than 2,000 kilometres of the challenging, twisty roads of the central and eastern portion of the island of Newfoundland over six days, including up to 400 kilometres of closed-road, flat-out Targa stages. Competitors have come from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Holland, the Bahamas and the U.K. for the first six editions of Targa Newfoundland and international interest continues to build with competitors registering daily from places such as Germany and the Turks & Caicos.

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