ViperExchange.com, Perseveres Through Tough Texas Race to Hold Second in GTD Championship Standings With One Race Remaining
Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Riley Motorsports No. 33 ViperExchange.com/ Gas Monkey Garage Dodge Viper GT3-R Fight To the Finish at Circuit of The Americas
AUSTIN, Texas (September 17, 2016) – ViperExchange.com and team co-drivers Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen shook off a tough weekend in the Lone Star Le Mans at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) to hold second in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona (GTD) point standings with just one race remaining this season.
ViperExchange.com came into the Lone Star Le Mans looking to extend a two-race unbeaten streak at COTA in the No. 33 ViperExchange.com/ Gas Monkey Garage Dodge Viper GT3-R.
Instead, the team struggled all weekend with a myriad of mechanical issues that culminated with a shredded drive belt one hour into today’s race.
“Unfortunately, a rock or something came up in the drive belt and broke it right when Jeroen got in the car,” Keating said. “Because of that, we lost power steering, lost our water pump and lost air conditioning. This caused the car to get really hot and I’m grateful it didn't cook the engine. It took about 10 minutes to get a new belt put on, which put us three laps behind.”
Bleekemolen closed out the race in the repaired Viper but, even with quick lap times, he never had a chance to make up any real ground on the leaders as the race stayed green for over the final two hours.
“The car was good,” Bleekemolen said. “We would have been in it for sure, but unfortunately a stone hit the belt and there’s nothing you can really do about that, it’s just an unlucky situation. The guys did great and the car ran great so nothing to complain about, other than one little stone.”
Keating started the race and charged up to eighth place from last on the grid. A variety of mechanical gremlins on Friday kept the Viper off pace for qualifying, and ViperExchange.com threw away what would have been a 10th place starting position, instead starting the race from the back of the field on a fresh set of Continental Tires.
“It was definitely the right decision to start with new tires,” said Keating, who passed five GTD competitors on the first race lap. “I think the guys that started with their qualifying tires really struggled. To bring the car back up into eighth place with this team and Jeroen normally gives us a shot at a podium. I thought the strategy right there at the end of my stint was really good.”
The drive belt issue never let ViperExchange.com take advantage of the solid opening hour, but other circumstances in the race kept the team and drivers alive in the battle for runner-up honors in the season-long GT Daytona (GTD) championship.
The main development was the No. 23 Porsche running out of fuel while running second on the last lap of the race, coasting to a seventh-place finish.
“Our issue put us 13th but, believe it or not, we’re still second place in the points,” Keating said. “We would have dropped to third until the 23 ran out of fuel. We’re only one or two points ahead of the car behind but the No. 63 Ferrari is more than 30 points ahead now, so it would be really, really strange circumstances for them not to win the championship.”
Heading into the season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta in two weeks, the No. 33 team and drivers lead a tight group of five GTD contenders all within 10 points of each other. The top-three finishers in each IMSA WeatherTech class are presented championship awards at the end of the season.
Keating, Bleekemolen and the No. 33 team hold second with 267 points, two ahead of the No. 6 Audi team and drivers and three points clear of the No. 48 Lamborghini squad. The No. 23 Porsche dropped to fifth with 261 points and the No. 44 Audi team and drivers have 257 points in sixth.
“We fight for championships, not for second or third,” Bleekemolen said. “It would be nice to be on the podium for the championship but it would be cooler to win Petit Le Mans, because it’s a big race and historic event. Right now, for me, my mind is on winning Petit Le Mans and winning next year’s championship.”
Keating and Bleekemolen will be joined by endurance-race teammate Marc Miller on the No. 33 team at Petit Le Mans.
“It would be great to finish second in the championship, and I don't want to knock that, but the fact is we’re out here doing this to win it,” Keating said. “I don’t want to be second, I want to be first. At this point, we’re not going out there looking to be second in the championship. We are going and looking to win Petit Le Mans. Moving forward, we’re excited to win that race. Today wasn't our day, and we look forward to Petit.”
Petit Le Mans will be run at Road Atlanta on Saturday, October 1, and is scheduled to go green at 11:10 a.m. EDT. Broadcast coverage begins on FOX Sports 1 (@FS1) at 11 a.m. EDT to kickoff continuous live coverage of the 10-hour race throughout the day on @FS1, FOX Sports 2 and IMSA.tv.