Riley Motorsports No. 33 ViperExchange.com/ Gas Monkey Garage Dodge Viper GT3-R Team Provisionally Advances in Points Race Despite Tough Michelin GT Challenge
DANVILLE, Virginia (August 28, 2016) – Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and the Riley Motorsports No. 33ViperExchange.com/ Gas Monkey Garage Dodge Viper GT3-R team stayed alive and even gained ground in the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona (GTD) standings Sunday at VIRginia International Raceway despite a tough race in the Michelin GT Challenge.
Both Keating and Bleekemolen ran competitively during their respective stints but the current one-groove nature of the recently repaved 3.27-mile VIR layout created some traffic issues that were no surprise to theViperExchange.com team.
“We had a difficult race today,” Keating said. “It somewhat played out a little bit like we expected. It rained yesterday and we lost all of the rubber off of the track. It was an extremely green track, we struggled for grip and it was especially difficult off line.”
Starting the race from seventh on the grid, Keating picked up two positions on the very first lap to move to fifth after a great start.
But the racing got interesting when the more powerful GT Le Mans (GTLM) class cars went to pass the GTD machines on a track that presently only has one real racing line.
“It was really difficult when the GTLM cars started coming around,” Keating said. “In one of the single-file areas, a Ford GT stuck its nose in there like they were going to pass me. I flinched, and it was in a section where if you flinch you would lose traction. I ended up going through the grass and lost some positions.”
Keating quickly recovered and pitted a few minutes later to hand the Viper over to Bleekemolen just under 50 minutes into the race.
Along with top Riley Motorsports strategy and pit work, Bleekemolen raced to as high as third in the late stages only to see the No. 33 muscled off course by a GTLM competitor in the same exact spot where Keating went off.
“The team did an amazing job once again,” Bleekemolen said. “Great strategy, great pit stops and Ben had a good opening stint. We were looking good for a podium so it’s very frustrating to not be up there in the end. I got a small touch in the back from a car in another class which ran me off the road. Unfortunately, we had grass in the radiator and I had to come in and take that off because the engine was overheating.”
Once back on track, and with the Viper cooled down, Bleekemolen put in a typically strong charge to make it back to seventh by the checkered flag, crossing the line one spot ahead of the points-leading No. 63 Ferrari team.
“The Riley team did a great job, we had great pit stops and everything went smooth except for that one Turn 6 area that had challenges for both drivers,” Keating said. “But we held our own in points, we have two races left, and hopefully Circuit of The Americas (COTA) and Petit Le Mans will be good for us.”
Additionally, the No. 44 Audi team’s post-race disqualification gave ViperExchange.com a boost to sixth in the final race results and an unexpected jump to second in the provisional GTD championship standings.
Although the No. 33 trails the leading No. 63 Ferrari in the championship by a full 20 points, the team and drivers still gained ground and reached the season-high ranking of second in points.
“We are looking forward,” Bleekemolen said. “We have a good team and a good car and hopefully we will get that podium or even fight for a win again at COTA. I know we are all up for it. So let’s keep pushing, let’s not get distracted and let’s get another couple of trophies.”
Returning as two-time and defending race winners, next up for ViperExchange.com is the Lone Start Le Mans at COTA in Austin, Texas, September 15 – 17. The race can be seen live on FOX Sports 2 (FS2) on Saturday, September 17, at 12:30 p.m. EDT.