ViperExchange.com Determined to Retire Dodge Viper a Winner at Petit Le Mans with Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Marc Miller
No. 33 ViperExchange.com/ Gas Monkey Garage Viper GT3-R Team Set For Dodge Viper Swan Song After Decades of Winning Success
BRASELTON, Georgia (September 28, 2016) – ViperExchange.com and team co-drivers Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Marc Miller will take the iconic Dodge Viper through its swan song performance in Saturday’s Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta where the No. 33 ViperExchange.com/ Gas Monkey Garage Dodge Viper GT3-R will run its final major-league race.
The season-ending race of the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Petit Le Mans is scheduled to go green at 11:10 a.m. EDT this Saturday, October 1. 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.
Introduced in Chrysler showrooms 25 years ago, Vipers soon started making racing headlines around the world with championships and victories at Le Mans, Daytona, Sebring and other top-tier endurance races. The record includes a Viper top-three class sweep in the first American Le Mans Series (ALMS) Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta in 1999, the same event in which a Viper will take to the international endurance racing stage for the final time this weekend.
“It is a weird thing for me,” Keating said. “I have been involved with Viper racing for such a long time now. It doesn’t seem real yet that this is my last endurance race in the Viper. It has been such a special experience for me personally. It would just be phenomenal to go out on top.”
In addition to being a race-winning driver the last three seasons in Dodge Viper GT3-Rs in IMSA GT Daytona (GTD) competition, Keating is the principal of ViperExchange.com, the world’s largest Viper retailer.
Keating was also the driving force, working with Bob and Bill Riley of Riley Technologies, in the creation of the Dodge Viper GT3-R program, and ViperExchange.com has carried the Viper flag in international endurance racing since the factory-backed SRT Dodge Viper GTS-R effort ended after winning the 2014 IMSA GT Le Mans (GTLM) championship.
With Viper street-car production coming to a close next year, Viper race cars are no longer eligible in IMSA and other premier international racing series and events. While Vipers will likely continue to appear at race tracks around the world in various national sprint racing series and club events in the hands of privateers, the major endurance racing era comes to end after more than 20 years of success this weekend at Petit Le Mans.
“I started my GT racing career in a Viper back in 2001 racing in FIA GT1, getting some of my first international GT wins,” Bleekemolen said. “I have always loved the Viper, a great car and a great race car. I would be very proud to let the Viper retire from international sports car racing with a win. Plus, Petit Le Mans is one of the historic races we all want to win, so a victory this weekend would be fantastic.”
In addition to giving the Viper a storybook exit, a ViperExchange.com win on Saturday would almost certainly lock up GTD driver and team championship honors for Keating, Bleekemolen and the No. 33 squad.
“Being in contention for a top spot in the championship adds some pressure, excitement and makes it more fun, but our goal has always been to win Petit Le Mans,” Keating said. “That is the main thing we can actually control somewhat, but everything else is out of our hands. We will do the best job we can, keep the car clean, keep it on the lead lap, and go for the win. Where we end up for the season will be left up to everyone else. Of course, I hope they all hand us the win and the championship, but I obviously know it will never be that easy.”
While the points-leading Ferrari team and drivers have the GTD championships all but wrapped up, Keating, Bleekemolen and the No. 33 team are second with 267 points. ViperExchange.com leads a tight group of five GTD contenders that are 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.
The ViperExchange.com No. 33 is two points ahead of the third-place No. 6 Audi team and drivers and three points clear of the No. 48 Lamborghini squad in fourth. The No. 23 Porsche is fifth with 261 points, and the No. 44 Audi team and drivers have 257 points in sixth.
“I think we are all in this to win,” Bleekemolen said. “In the championship, the goal was to win too but the maximum result we can get now is second, but I'm not really going to look at points too much. I think we should just really try hard to win this race. It is a big one to win.”
ViperExchange.com has called back endurance race teammate Marc Miller to help seal the victory and championship runner-up honors at Petit Le Mans. Miller debuted with Keating, Bleekemolen and ViperExchange.com in 2015 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and was part of the No. 33’s driver lineup this year at Daytona and Sebring.
“I'm very excited to be reunited with Ben, Jeroen and the entire Viper Exchange Cruisin' With The Monkey Viper for Petit Le Mans,” Miller said. “These guys are in a championship fight so, it is even more important to step in and do a great job for them. Looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of the Viper GT3-R as well for the first time at a track that I love.”
A three-day event, Petit Le Mans begins tomorrow, Thursday, September 28, with a pair of one-hour daytime practice sessions at 11:15 a.m. and 3:25 p.m. EDT. A 90-minute night practice starting at 7:30 p.m. EDT is also scheduled.
After a final one-hour practice Friday morning at 10:15 a.m., GTD qualifying is scheduled that afternoon at 3:30 p.m. EDT.
Race-day Saturday starts with a 20-minute warmup at 8:40 a.m. with Petit Le Mans scheduled to officially start later that morning at 11:10 a.m. EDT.
- Having Miller back as the team’s all-important third driver makes sense for the 10-hour Petit Le Mans race. “Petit is doable with two drivers for sure,” Keating said. “Jeroen has done the 24 Hours of Le Mans with only two drivers, but having three drivers for Petit is the smart thing to do. It enables everyone to be well rested and ready to focus on the task at hand behind the wheel. We are excited to have Marc back in the car.”
- Beautiful and mostly dry weather is in the forecast this weekend, but last year’s torrential rain at Petit Le Mans still lingers in the minds of most IMSA competitors. “Last year sucked,” Keating said. “I can’t think of anything else to say about it. It rained for a solid week. Road Atlanta is a very difficult track in the wet. It made for the most stressful race I have ever driven. It was not fun. It took three months for me to have the desire to get back in the car, but I am very much looking forward to this year’s race.”
About ViperExchange.com: ViperExchange.com is the largest Dodge Viper and exotic cars licensed dealer located just Northwest of Houston, Texas. With over 100 Dodge Vipers typically for sale and more arriving daily for sale, ViperExchange.com has combined the largest inventory in the world of new and pre-owned Dodge Vipers. ViperExchange.com also offers the best prices and discounts. Special orders, specific model searches and financing options are also available. For more information, visit ViperExchange.com directly, Twitter @ViperExchange and Facebook at Facebook.com/Viper-Exchange.
About Gas Monkey Garage: In 2002, Richard Rawlings launched Gas Monkey Garage. The Garage created and transported automobiles for customers worldwide. In September 2013, Rawlings started Gas Monkey Bar N' Grill in Northwest Dallas with a second location at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport that opened in March 2014. In October 2014, Gas Monkey Live, a venue dedicated predominantly to live music, was opened. In 2016, Gas Monkey Garage will partner in three motorsports efforts with the ViperExchange.com Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GT3-R in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Gas Monkey Garage Special in the 100th Indy 500 and the Laughlin Motorsports Pro Stock in the NHRA Mello Yello Series.