ViperExchange.com and TI Automotive Look for Tequila Patrón NAEC Title and One More 2015 Race Win at Petit Le Mans
ViperExchange.com /TI Automotive/Riley Motorsports Team Back to Two Viper GT3-Rs with NAEC Title and Final 2015 GT Daytona Race Win on the Line
BRASELTON, Georgia (September 30, 2015) – The ViperExchange.com /TI Automotive /Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GT3-R team returns to a two-car operation for this weekend’s Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta where the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup (NAEC) title and a season-defining GT Daytona (GTD) class win are both on the line.
The finale of the 2015 IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Challenge season, the 10-hour Petit Le Mans race can be seen live on FOX Sports 2 this Saturday, October 3, in three different segments. The opening hour of coverage begins at 11 a.m. EDT and picks up again at 2:30 p.m. EDT straight through 7 p.m. EDT. The race finish will be a highlight of the final hour of coverage at 8:30 p.m. EDT. The entire race will also be streamed live on IMSA.com.
No. 33 ViperExchange.com /TI Automotive Dodge Viper GT3-R fulltime drivers Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen will be joined by Bleekemolen’s older brother, Sebastiaan Bleekemolen, this weekend.
The team’s sister No. 93 ViperExchange.com /TI Automotive Dodge Viper GT3-R will be driven for the third straight Tequila Patrón race by NAEC GTD championship leaders Cameron Lawrence and Al Carter and their teammate Marc Goossens.
Lawrence, Carter and the No. 93 lead the NAEC by seven points heading into the finale, and the ViperExchange.com /TI Automotive team comes to Road Atlanta as the only two-car GTD team to have won races with both of its cars this year.
Even better, both team Vipers have a pair of race wins this season, including victories the last time out for both cars. Keating and Bleekemolen co-drove the No. 33 to a repeat win at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) in Texas two weeks ago while the No. 93 – which is contesting only the four-race NAEC this season – was driven to victory by Lawrence, Carter and Goossens in the most recent round of that championship in June at the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen.
Keating and Bleekemolen first won in the No. 33 earlier this summer at Road America while the No. 93 started its NAEC campaign with a victory in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona. Lawrence and Carter were joined in the Daytona victory by Keating and teammates Kuno Wittmer and Dominik Farnbacher.
A victory by the No. 33 or No. 93 this weekend would make whichever Viper finished first the year’s only three-time race winner in the competitive GTD division. A win by either car would also give the ViperExchange.com /TI Automotive/Riley Motorsports team victories in half of this season’s 10 GTD races.
“I love endurance racing,” Keating said. “The longer the race, the better. It has been a while since Daytona and Sebring so I am looking forward to Petit. The second half of the season has gone extremely well and we are in fourth place in the championship in the 33, but it would still take a very bizarre set of circumstances for us to be in contention for the driver's championship.”
The No. 93 team is more than in contention for the Tequila Patrón NAEC title. With its seven point lead, the team comes to Road Atlanta cautiously in control of the NAEC but determined to close the deal.
“Our team car, the No. 93 Viper, is in the lead for the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Championship,” Keating said. “This creates a little extra drama and the opportunity to help another car reach their goals, rather than worrying about just ourselves.”
In addition to the No. 93's Daytona and Watkins Glen wins, Lawrence, Carter and Goossens drove the Viper to a fourth-place finish in the 12 Hours of Sebring in March.
“The Las Vegas odds would have had us as one of the longer shots to be in a position to win the GTD NAEC title, let alone win the Rolex 24 and the Six Hours of the Glen along the way,” Carter said. “But here we are! Though far from a lock, we are in a good position to take the title.”
Lawrence, the two-time and reigning Trans Am TA2 Champion, won in his debuts at the Rolex 24 and the Sahlen’s Six Hour this year and is looking for similar success in his first Petit Le Mans.
“This will be my first time participating in Petit so to say I'm excited would be an understatement,” Lawrence said. “The goal for the No. 93 all season since the first lap at Daytona was to win the NAEC. All of our strategy and effort has gone into this championship, so we will attack it like we have the last three races. Having not run the whole season just makes us hungrier to do all we can to win.”
Goossens drove the No. 33 at Daytona but has been a key part of the No. 93 squad since joining that team at Sebring. He was at the wheel to take the winning checkered flag at The Glen.
“Of course, we want to win the race as a team, but for the No. 93 we need to focus on getting the NAEC title for Al and Cameron,” Goossens said. “The sooner we can clinch that title, the better it is.”
Keating and the Bleekemolen brothers will do everything they can to help their No. 93 teammates win the NAEC, but a strong race for them at Petit could also elevate the No. 33 into a top-three season championship finish in the GTD class.
“I was actually surprised how close we are in the title race,” Jeroen Bleekemolen said. “It's very unlikely we can win it, but with a bit more luck earlier in the season we would have been looking very good for the championship. We'll just race as hard as we can and then we'll see where we end up. I'm just going to race to win this event without thinking about points since it's such a long shot anyway.”
Both Bleekemolens know what it is like to win at Petit Le Mans. The brothers even paired up as the lead co-drivers in the winning ALMS GTC entry at Petit in 2011.
“It's great to come back to an event you have won before,” Jeroen Bleekemolen said. “You know all the tricks and how to get the job done. I have had some very nice races at Petit Le Mans, and it's great to be joined by my brother again. It's very special to do one of the big endurance races with your brother. The win here is still a good memory!”
Sebastiaan Bleekemolen, three years older than his brother, will race with ViperExchange.com for the second year in a row a Petit Le Mans and third time this season. He led his first laps in the No. 33 at Daytona in January.
“I really like the track,” Sebastiaan Bleekemolen said. “It’s tricky, bumpy, fast and the walls are close. A lot of excitement! And the weather is always a big question. Rain, sunny, cold, hot, it can be anything. This race is always challenging, a podium finish is always great.”
Practice for Saturday’s Petit Le Mans begins Thursday and includes a night session that evening at 7:30 p.m. EDT. Qualifying for the GTD division is set for 3:35 EDT on Friday with live streaming available on IMSA.com. Race-day Saturday begins with a 25-minute warm-up at 9 a.m. EDT before the start of Petit Le Mans at 11:15 a.m. EDT.
Petit Le Mans will be rebroadcast as part of a three-hour highlight package at 1:30 p.m. EDT this Sunday, October 4, on FOX Sports 1. Live timing and scoring during all on-track sessions is available at IMSA.com and the IMSA smartphone app.
- Jeroen Bleekemolen races in top sports car events around the world and Petit Le Mans ranks with the best of them. “I love this race,” Jeroen Bleekemolen said. “Lots of fans come out to watch us which makes the atmosphere great. The track is very challenging and the race is long. A long race is fun to finish the season. There is plenty of opportunity to do things right or wrong, and with championships on the line that will make it very exciting.”
- Goossens, the most experienced driver on the team, puts consistency ahead of pace at Petit Le Mans. “I don't think fast laps are our priority,” Goossens said. “More important is consistency, and that is exactly the hard part at Road Atlanta. If you fall in the less favorable spot in traffic between Turns 3 and 5, you can lose a lot of momentum. And coming down the hill into Turn 12 is pretty tricky too in traffic. We just need to stay out of trouble. Racing for 10 hours is much longer than some people realize.”
- Sebastiaan Bleekemolen knows firsthand that steering clear of trouble is part of being successful at Petit Le Mans. “For a fast lap you really need to push, sometimes a bit over the limit,” Sebastiaan Bleekemolen said. “You must take some risks, you must be lucky with the Prototypes in the race. There are parts where they simply can’t overtake, but they always try. It’s very important to drive without taking any risks and stay out of trouble.”