ViperExchange.com Ends Dodge Viper IMSA Racing Career With a Victory From the Pole at Petit Le Mans
Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Marc Miller No. 33 ViperExchange.com/ Gas Monkey Garage Dodge Viper GT3-R to Win in Viper's Swan Song
Braselton, Georgia (October 1, 2016) -ViperExchange.com and team drivers Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Marc Miller gave the Dodge Viper a victory in its last IMSA race on Saturday at Petit Le Mans in the No. 33 ViperExchange.com/ Gas Monkey Garage Dodge Viper GT3-R.
The swan song victory was earned from the pole and put a storybook ending on what has been a successful and winning career for Dodge Vipers in IMSA competition.
In addition to winning eight IMSA GT Daytona (GTD) races the last three seasons in Dodge Viper GT3-Rs, Keating is the principal of ViperExchange.com, the world's largest Viper retailer.
“I’m extremely excited,” Keating said. “I learned to race in a Viper. It’s an emotional thing to be racing a Viper for the last time in IMSA, put it on the pole and win Petit Le Mans. It’s the final race of the year and really special.”
Bleekemolen, who started from the pole after setting a new track record in Friday qualifying, and Keating combined to lead the first two hours of the 10-hour Petit Le Mans race.
Miller, the third driver in the rotation, kept the No. 33 in the lead pack throughout his driving stint, as did Keating in his second turn at the wheel. That paved the way for Bleekemolen to drive the final four hours of the race, during which he frequently led the competitive GT Daytona (GTD) class.
“This was one of the coolest things in my life and maybe the hardest race I have ever done” Bleekemolen said. “Four hours, no air conditioning and I had no drink for the last two hours. I was just totally dehydrated. It was a battle the entire time for every tenth of a second, like qualifying laps every lap for two-and-a-half hours. It was so intense, to win with Viper in its last IMSA race, it was awesome.”
Miller earned his first GT-racing victory in his fourth race co-driving with Keating and Bleekemolen. The trio first raced together last year at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“To have an opportunity to be part of this team, be here at Petit Le Mans and stand on the podium and share it with these guys is truly an honor,” Miller said. “There are a lot of drivers that could be in my shoes right now and they are not, and I am extremely thankful for that. My entire focus was making sure I did everything I could to give them a clean car and give Jeroen an opportunity to do what he did out there. That guy just shocks the hell out of me.”
While ViperExchange.com didn't exactly cruise to the hard-earned race win, Keating wants to celebrate the Viper's curtain call victory in cruising style.
“I’d like to take this moment to invite everyone to come cruise with us,” Keating said. “We have a bunch of drivers, including the championship winner in GT Daytona, coming on Cruisin’ With The Monkey the day after Sebring 2017. We can celebrate for a week in the Caribbean with Richard Rawlings, the whole Gas Monkey Crew and a bunch of the drivers.”
Further cause for celebration, Saturday’s victory also secured second-place IMSA GTD season-championship honors for Keating, Bleekemolen and the No. 33 ViperExchange.com team, which is run by Riley Motorsports.
ViperExchange.com came into Petit Le Mans second in the standings and successfully defended the position against four challengers that were all within 10 points of the No. 33.
The championship-winning Ferrari team and drivers ended the year with 330 points, the ViperExchange.com squad wrapped up with 303 points, and the third-place Lamborghini team closed out with 291 points.
Next up for ViperExchange.com is Monday night’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Awards Banquet that will be held at nearby Chateau Elan Hotel and Resort. Keating and Bleekemolen and the ViperExchange.com No. 33 will be presented with their GTD driver and team championship runner-up awards at the event.
- While the Dodge Viper will no longer be seen in IMSA competition, the successful GT3-R race car is not going away from the worldwide racing scene. Several Dodge Viper GT3-Rs will continue to compete overseas, and a renewed effort in Pirelli World Challenge is in the plans for 2017.
- 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.”
“The short-term future with the race cars, and we are racing over in Europe right now, is to be in Pirelli World Challenge next year with multiple teams," said Erich Heuschele, SRT Motorsports Engineering Manager. “Hopefully we will have at least three entries, and we are working on setting that up right now. Unfortunately, we are going to walk away from IMSA for 2017, but we still have GT3-Rs in the field, we still have customers that want to race this car, and they are buying race cars to run in World Challenge.
“The Viper is going to be made through the 2017 model year. So, we’ll have a full 2017 production run which has already started. Viper ACRs and GT Customs in particular are still quite popular. If you want one of the last thrilling, analog cars that rewards driving skill, get an order in to Ben or your local dealer before 2017 runs out. This is the end of an era."
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.