No. 33 ViperExchange.com Gas Monkey Garage Dodge Viper GT3-R Team Back Home to Detroit This Weekend
Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen Looking for Viper Home-Turf Success in Saturday’s Sports Car Classic on Belle Isle in Detroit
DETROIT (June 2, 2016) – ViperExchange.com and Riley Motorsports team will bring the Dodge Viper GT3-R back to its home turf of Detroit for the third time this weekend where Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen will co-drive the No. 33 ViperExchange.com Gas Monkey Garage Dodge Viper GT3-R in the Sports Car Classic at the Detroit Grand Prix on the Raceway at Belle Isle Park, June 3 – 4.
The Sports Car Classic 100-minute sprint race can be seen live on FOX Sports 1 (FS1) this Saturday, June 4, at 12:30 p.m. EDT and is Round 4 of 10 for the GT Daytona (GTD) division in the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Keating is a race-winning driver in IMSA GTD competition who is also the principal of ViperExchange.com, the world’s largest Viper retailer, which is based in Tomball, Texas.
“Racing in Detroit is very special for our team,” Keating said. “Every single Viper is hand-built in Detroit and has been for over 20 years. Our engines are hand-built in Detroit, Dodge is based in Detroit and we will have lots of Viper fans there expecting big things from us. Therefore, this is a BIG weekend for us!”
Detroit is unique in that the 100-minute race length is the shortest of the season and comes on the only street course on the IMSA schedule.
“I think all street tracks are special because none of them were originally made for racing,” Bleekemolen said. “So, there are bumps you normally don't have and usually no runoffs. There are some concrete parts, which makes the Detroit track interesting as normally it is asphalt on most of the street tracks I go to at least.”
Keating and Bleekemolen co-drove the No. 33 Dodge Viper GT3-R each of the last two years in Detroit and showed solid pace in both races. Keating qualified a career-best second and raced as high as third in the early stages of last year’s race.
“Typically, a street course is tough to pass on,” Keating said. “There are huge penalties for any mistakes just because there are close concrete walls on both sides. Qualifying and pit stops are probably the two easiest ways to make up positions on a street course, and Detroit is no different. We had a good car there last year, but I made a small mistake and paid the price with a DNF (Did Not Finish). We’ve got to do better this year.”
Bleekemolen races on a variety of circuit types all around the world each season, including last weekend in the 24 Hours of Nurburgring on the 15-mile plus Nordschleife layout, but his choice for favorite type of race might surprise some.
“I love street races, they are my favorite,” Bleekemolen said. “You don't get room for mistakes and you have to build up the pace and confidence throughout the weekend. Detroit has made a great track layout on Belle Isle, and with all the automotive companies around there is always a lot going on. Many guests and spectators which is always nice.”
ViperExchange.com finished 10th in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona and 12th in March’s 12 Hours of Sebring, rebounding from contact and mechanical issues, respectively, in both races.
A sixth-place finish one race ago at Laguna Seca was the No. 33’s best result of the season, but they are looking for more in Detroit. Another solid or season-best result Saturday would give ViperExchange.com some critical points in a GTD team and driver championship that will be just one race away from the halfway point after Motown.
“We are in a better position right now than we were last year,” Keating said. “In addition, we didn’t get many points at Detroit last year so I expect to be in an even better position after the race this year. We were definitely in the mix with an opportunity last year, so, I have to assume that we still have a chance to win the championship. We need to have some wins, we need to consistently finish in the top-five every race, and, we need some luck.”
The Belle Isle schedule begins with morning and afternoon practice sessions tomorrow, Friday, June 3, before qualifying that afternoon from 5:05 – 5:20 p.m. Race-day Saturday begins with at 30-minute warm-up at 8 a.m. with the featured 100-minute Sports Car Classic scheduled to go green that afternoon at 12:40 p.m.
- Immediately after Saturday’s race, Keating, Bleekemolen and Marc Goossens will be among a group of nine drivers heading straight to France for Sunday’s 24 Hours of Le Mans pre-test. Keating, Bleekemolen and Goossens will be co-driving the No 48 Murphy Prototypes Oreca 03R-Nissan in the LMP2 class in the 84th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, June 18 – 19. Keating and Bleekemolen tested the race car last week in Spain. “The Barcelona test went well,” Keating said. “It is hard to know how well with no other cars to compare with, but both Jeroen and I were comfortable in the car. I feel really good about driving the car in the test. I am still a little nervous about driving in traffic with other cars, and knowing what the visibility is like, but Jeroen tells me it is better than a GT car. I am also a little nervous about what it would be like in an open top car in the rain, but the greatest thing about this all is the fact that it is fun to have a new experience.”
- Bleekemolen co-drove to the 2008 LMP2 class victory at Le Mans. “I'm really looking forward to driving at Le Mans again in a prototype,” Bleekemolen said. “The test at Barcelona went well, it was great to work with the team for the first time and get a good feel for the car at the same time. I felt comfortable right away in the car, and the downforce you have makes some corners really fast and challenging.”