ViperExchange.com, Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen Shooting For Texas “Three-Peat” Saturday at Circuit of The Americas
Keating and Riley Motorsports No. 33 ViperExchange.com/Gas Monkey Garage Dodge Viper GT3-R Undefeated in Texas
AUSTIN, Texas (September 13, 2016) – Texas-based ViperExchange.com will be shooting for a third-straight victory Saturday in the Lone Star Le Mans at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) where team principal and driver Ben Keating and the No. 33 ViperExchange.com/ Gas Monkey Garage Dodge Viper GT3-R team are undefeated on the 3.427-mile Formula 1 circuit.
The second to last race on the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship schedule, the weekend’s featured Lone Star Le Mans can be seen live on FOX Sports 2 (FS2) at 12:30 p.m. EDT this Saturday, September 17.
Keating, co-driver Jeroen Bleekemolen and the Riley Motorsports No. 33 ViperExchange.com team were victorious in the first two appearances of the IMSA GT Daytona (GTD) class at COTA in 2014 and 2015.
Adding to the Texas dominance, Keating co-drove to victory in the all-Porsche GTC class in 2013, the first IMSA race at COTA, which was an American Le Mans Series event.
“It is my home track,” said Keating, a Texas native who lives in Tomball. “There isn’t one single ‘silver bullet,’ but rather the summation of a bunch of little things that make the difference. The success has come from time on the track, local knowledge, hometown fan support, a great team, setup information on a technical track with a tricky surface and just good old fashion luck.”
The only time Bleekemolen, a Dutchman who is one of the top sports car racing drivers in the world, has lost at COTA was when he was beat by Keating in 2013’s GTC race.
“Three wins in a row would be amazing,” Bleekemolen said. “I love the track, and the only time I got beaten there was by Ben in 2013. We both just like the track a lot.”
Keating and Bleekemolen challenged for the victory throughout the 2014 race but had to overcome a pit penalty for the repeat win last year. A stout field will make pulling off the “three-peat” even tougher this weekend.
“For sure, this will be the toughest race yet,” Keating said. “The toughest race is always ‘the next one!’ In my opinion, we shouldn’t have won the race last year, but other teams made worse mistakes than I did and handed us the win. All we can do is to run our race the best we can while making the fewest number of mistakes.”
Keating regularly qualifies and starts the race in the No. 33 before handing off to Bleekemolen, the team’s usual closer.
“Last year was an amazing race,” Bleekemolen said. “We weren't fast enough to win but did the perfect race. I overtook some cars, some others made mistakes, some had penalties, and suddenly we were leading. Still great memories of that one, and I hope we can create more of that this weekend!”
With ViperExchange.com – the world’s largest Viper retailer – also based in Tomball, the No. 33 team is annually flooded with a huge support network of family and friends at COTA.
“It is awesome to race in Texas,” Keating said. “For the fourth year in a row, I have sold 100-plus suite tickets to friends and family who want to come watch the race. It makes it a lot of fun. I just wish they didn’t expect me to win every time they come!”
Bleekemolen likes being an honorary Texan each year at COTA.
"I love this race,” Bleekemolen said. “It's very cool to race in Ben's home state. We get a lot more support, there is always some extra attention for us at COTA, and it seems to bring us luck.”
The Dodge Viper GT3-R, which Keating and Bleekemolen have co-driven to two victories this year at Detroit and Road America in Wisconsin, is one of six different types of cars to win 2016 races in a highly-competitive GTD division.
“The field is very close right now, so it will be a tough fight,” Bleekemolen said. “The Viper has always liked this track a lot. The newer-generation GT3 cars have more downforce, which will help them in some parts, but I still believe we can do well at COTA. We need to because there is a championship at stake!”
With only October’s season-ending Petit Le Mans following this weekend’s Texas races, ViperExchange.com is in the thick of the GTD driver and team championship battles.
The No. 33 team and drivers come to COTA second in the GTD standings with 248 points. The class-leading Ferrari team and drivers have 268 points while the third-place Audi team trails ViperExchange.com at 243 points. The fourth-place Porsche team has 236 points and the fifth-place Lamborghini squad has 231 points.
“It would be ridiculous for us to go into this race guaranteeing a win,” Keating said. “The field is so extremely tight that any car can win any race. Winning is an extreme challenge. Hopefully the home track advantage comes through for us again this year.”
A three-day event from Thursday, September 15, through Saturday, September 17, the IMSA WeatherTech schedule gets underway with a pair of one-hour practice sessions on Thursday at 10:25 a.m. and 4:35 p.m. CDT.
Friday includes a final one-hour practice at 9:10 a.m. before the 15-minute GTD qualifying session that afternoon at 3:45 p.m. CDT.
Race-day Saturday starts with a 20-minute warmup at 8 a.m. with the featured two-hour and 40-minute IMSA WeatherTech Lone Star Le Mans race starting later that morning at 11:35 a.m. CDT.