Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and ViperExchange.com Ready to Make Championship Move at the Northeast Grand Prix
No. 33 ViperExchange.com/ Gas Monkey Garage Dodge Viper GT3-R Team Returns to Lime Rock Park Fourth in IMSA GT Daytona (GTD) Championships
LAKEVILLE, Connecticut (July 20, 2016) – Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and the No. 33ViperExchange.com/ Gas Monkey Garage Dodge Viper GT3-R team return to Lime Rock Park this weekend ready to make a move in the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s GT Daytona (GTD) class championship standings in Saturday’s Northeast Grand Prix.
Round 7 of the 11-race GTD championship, the Northeast Grand Prix can be seen live on FOX this Saturday, July 23, at 3 p.m. EDT.
With IMSA WeatherTech races usually broadcast on the growing FOX Sports 1 (FS1) and FOX Sports 2 (FS2) networks, the Northeast Grand Prix is a highlight on this year’s IMSA television schedule as the only race this season to be featured on the main FOX network.
Keating, Bleekemolen and the No. 33 ViperExchange.com team, which is entered and operated by Riley Motorsports, come to Lime Rock fourth in the IMSA GTD driver and team championships.
It’s the highest the team, in its third year in GTD, has ever ranked in the title chases at this point of the season.
Although the class-leading Ferrari team and drivers have a 22-point lead over the nearest challenger, the No. 33 is within striking distance of the championship top-three this weekend.
Keating, Bleekemolen and the No. 33 have 155 points in fourth, just eight points out of third and 14 points shy of the second-place team and drivers.
“I don't know that anyone can catch the Ferrari, but I feel really good about finishing in the top-three in points,” Keating said. “I do love the races in the back half of the season. It will be a good run.”
Lime Rock kicks-off a five-race stretch to the end the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech season and includes visits to many of the No. 33 team’s most successful and winning race tracks.
“I will not give up on the championship until it's over,” Bleekemolen said. “For sure, the gap to the leaders is big, but one weekend can change a lot, and we still have many weekends to go. We should try to finish in the top three and that would be great.”
The No. 33’s championship standing has been earned by a victory last month in Detroit and top execution and performance by Keating, Bleekemolen and the Riley Motorsports team that has kept the No. 33 in the running at every 2016 race.
“The team chemistry is the best it has ever felt to me,” Keating said. “Even though we haven't had the fastest car or the fastest pit stops at some races, we have always put ourselves into contention by perfect stints and perfect pit stops. Everyone has quietly done their job perfectly well, and the team has gotten us into some of these races where we really haven't had the pace.”
The No. 33 ViperExchange.com team is racing with the same driver duo and key group of Riley Motorsports personnel that debuted the Dodge Viper GT3-R program in IMSA GTD in 2014.
“I think we have been able to get the maximum out of our car at all of the races this year,” Bleekemolen said. “Sometimes we got good results, sometimes bad luck spoiled the party, but it's great to be with the same team now for a few years. We know each other so well that we don't need many words to understand each other.”
An added element of this year’s Northeast Grand Prix is the addition of the faster and largely factory-backed GT Le Mans (GTLM) race cars.
Previously at Lime Rock, the GTD class shared the track only with the Prototype Challenge (PC) class, which is also back this weekend.
“I think the addition of GTLM will cause more drama and more yellow flags,” Keating said. “The PC cars had to take risks to get around GTD cars in the past. With faster GTLMs, the risks become even more necessary.”
At 1.5 miles in length, Lime Rock Park is the shortest track on the IMSA tour.
“On a short track like Lime Rock it will be very busy with another class,” Bleekemolen said. “It should make for exciting racing. The speed difference between the three classes isn't so big, so drivers will push hard to overtake.”
In addition to avoiding trouble in a crowded field, having a race car that handles well in right turns is the right path to success at Lime Rock. All but one of the track’s seven turns is a right-hander.
“One thing you have to do well at Lime Rock is to turn right,” Keating said. “If you can setup the car to turn right better than other cars you will have an advantage.”
A two-day event, opening practice for the Northeast Grand Prix begins Friday with a one-hour session at 11:10 a.m. A second 60-minute practice that afternoon at 2:05 p.m. sets the stage for GTD qualifying at 4:30 p.m.
Race-day Saturday starts with a 20-minute warm-up at 9:05 a.m., with the featured Northeast Grand Prix scheduled to begin at 3:05 p.m.
- ViperExchange.com could have come to Lime Rock already in the GTD championship top three if not for a contact incident one race ago at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, the Toronto-area track formerly known as “Mosport.” Bleekemolen was in second and battling at the front with 30 minutes to go only to have the race-leading No. 27 Lamborghini – off pace and out of tires – rapidly slow under braking just in front. Contact with the Lamborghini broke the Viper’s radiator but a quick repair salvaged some championship points for the No. 33 with an 11th place finish. “We definitely missed a golden opportunity at Mosport,” Keating said. “However, because of incredible work by the crew, we were able to keep fourth place in the points standings.”
- Lime Rock’s seventh and final turn leading on to the front straight is Bleekemolen’s favorite part of the track. “I really like the last corner, it’s very fast,” Bleekemolen said. “Because the lap is so short, the lap times will be very close. So, to make the difference, you need to have a perfect lap.”
- Lime Rock has often been considered “IMSA’s Bristol,” in reference to the .533-mile Bristol Motor Speedway that always seems to deliver exciting races on a fast track that is the second shortest on the NASCAR tour. “Lime Rock is the "Bull Ring" of sports car racing,” Keating said. “Staying out of trouble is a major part of doing well in this race.”
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