ViperExchange.com Overcomes Performance Gap to Finish Fourth in The Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen
Top Team Strategy and Great Driving by Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen Keep No. 33ViperExchange.com/ Gas Monkey Garage Dodge Viper GT3-R in the Hunt
WATKINS GLEN, New York (July 3, 2016) – ViperExchange.com relied on top team strategy and pit work by Riley Motorsports and great driving by Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen to finish fourth Sunday in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen despite recent rules changes that made the No. 33 ViperExchange.com/ Gas Monkey Garage Dodge Viper GT3-R significantly slower than the majority of the IMSA GT Daytona (GTD) competition.
After Keating and Bleekemolen took the victory one race ago last month in Detroit, the Dodge Viper GT3-R was hit with an IMSA Balance of Performance (BoP) rule change requiring 1 millimeter smaller air restrictors. At the same time, several other manufacturers were granted 2 millimeter larger restrictors allowing for better engine air flow.
The end result was that the Dodge Viper GT3-R lapped a second-and-a-half slower than most of the GTD competition this weekend in practice, qualifying and today’s six-hour race on the 3.4-mile Watkins Glen road course.
“For us to finish fourth place in a really slow car is just amazing,” Keating said. “The team had unbelievable stops, both Jeroen and I did our jobs and drove well, and the strategy is what really played out well for us.
“We figured out how to use strategy to get ourselves into second place and then tried to drive as wide as possible to stay there. It is just tough to keep a car that is a second-and-a-half faster than you behind you, but we did it as long as we could.”
Bleekemolen drove just under the final four hours of the race and moved into second early in the last hour after a well-timed final and perfectly executed pit stop by the Riley Motorsports team.
“It was really tough,” Bleekemolen said. “I had to fight so hard. Everybody was basically faster than us because of the Balance of Performance. We definitely had no chance but I still went after the positions.”
Bleekemolen fell to fourth in the closing stages of the race when two PC class competitors hit each other just in front of him. The GTD third-place Audi crashed into the back of the Viper and then slipped by for second as both continued.
Bleekemolen then slowed up for the yellow flag thrown for the PC incident only to see a Porsche slip by for second in a questionable pass for position under caution.
“It is a shame I lost second with a couple of cars crashing right ahead of me,” Bleekemolen said. “But, to be honest, I think they would have gotten by me anyway in the last couple of laps because they showed they were well over a second faster than us. You really can’t expect to keep someone as fast as that behind you.”
The GTD top-four finishers all posted their fastest race laps in the closing minutes, but Bleekemolen’s race-high top time of 1:45.545 was over a second slower than the three competitors that reached the podium.
“Jeroen was driving his heart out,” Keating said. “That’s one of the best drives I have ever seen by Jeroen. He drove as hard as he could just trying to keep guys behind him. A (one minute and) 45.5 lap is just a ridiculous fast time with the car that we had. It just blows my mind that he was able to get that time.
“The bright spot of finishing fourth is that the top three cars in the last 20 minutes really showed what they had. Every single lap was a low (one minute and) 44, and that’s just stuff we can’t even fathom.”
The Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen was the first round of the only back-to-back weekend stretch of races on the 2016 schedule. Next weekend, the IMSA WeatherTech series head to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, previously known as Mosport, in Canada.
“Hopefully we got to see the true performance of all the cars today,” Keating said. “A six-hour race is a long race, you get a lot of sample sizes, and I am hopeful that there is enough evidence to make a BoP change before Mosport.”
The Canadian Tire Motorsport Park race can be seen live on FOX Sports 1 (FS1) at 11 a.m. EDT next Sunday, July 10.
- A Dutch native, Bleekemolen is making a quick trip home to Europe before the Mosport race. “It's great to go back to Mosport where we won two years ago,” Bleekemolen said. “I will have to go back to Europe to do the official Spa 24 hours test day in Belgium on Tuesday, unfortunately, so I can't enjoy a bit of a summer break in the States.”
- Keating and Bleekemolen did masterful jobs driving a Viper that was setup with minimal downforce in an attempt to make up for the gap in performance. “The hard part was not having a competitive car,” Keating said. “We had to completely trim out all of our aero to be able to attempt to stay ahead of some of the other cars. It was very difficult on a fast track like The Glen.”
- For the third-straight race, ViperExchange.com was able to win or greatly improve its finishing position beyond the permitted performance of the Dodge Viper GT3-R due to Riley Motorsports. “They just did the best job out there today, for sure,” Bleekemolen said. “They did the best job with tires changes, with strategy – we had the best strategy you could possibly choose – and we didn’t put a foot wrong. That’s why we ended up running even in second with a car that was way off the pace.
“It was once again a really impressive job from everyone, really, and it shows that this is a world-class team that shouldn’t be running with a car that is this much off. They always get the maximum out of their package, it’s a top team, and they should be fighting for wins, not just going backwards, being overtaken by other cars that have a better BoP.”