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Jan 27, 2014 - 04:39 PM
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Ben Keating and ViperExchange.com Viper GT3-R Team Race to the Finish
Posted by: newsla on Jan 27, 2014 - 04:32 PM
Sports Cars
Ben Keating and ViperExchange.com Viper GT3-R Team Race to the Finish at the Rolex 24


Successfully accomplishing both a personal and professional goal while joining co-drivers Jeroen Bleekemolen, Emmanuel Collard and Sebastiaan Bleekemolen in the worldwide competition debut of the first GT Daytona (GTD) class Viper ever built, Ben Keating was at the wheel of his No. 33 ViperExchange.com Viper GT3-R Sunday afternoon to drive the car across the finish line of this weekend’s 52nd Annual Rolex 24 At Daytona.

 

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Keating, a two-time National Viper Cup Champion, had previously run three Rolex 24s in Porsches but this weekend marked his first major international race in a Viper. In addition to racing the American-made exotics, Keating is also the world’s largest Viper retailer through his ViperExchange.com network of dealerships.

“I am extremely excited with how I drove, I am so excited to be back in a Viper, and this is my favorite race of the year,” Keating said. “At times, I am not sure exactly why, I have never even stepped foot on the podium here at Daytona but I guess that makes you want it all the more.”

Keating and his teammates ran competitively in the top-10 all week at Daytona in practice and qualifying and Jeroen Bleekemolen maintained a similar pace in his race opening stint. As Keating and the other drivers followed, the race seemed to be going the team’s way as they settled into a top-10 pace only to have the only major issue of the event emerge in the early morning hours.

Sebastiaan Bleekemolen, the older brother of Keating’s full-season teammate Jeroen, was driving just before 4 a.m. when a clutch issue sent the No. 33 to the garage for the one and only time of the race.

The ViperExchange.com crew got the repaired No. 33 back in the race as soon as possible but a clutch change on a car as big-bore as a Viper is no quick fix. The team fell from winning contention after dropping many laps down and eventually crossed the finish line 19th in the 29-car GTD field.

“Let’s not forget this is chassis No. 1 of a brand new car,” Keating said. “It’s the only car that has been built so far and we are still learning, we are still figuring things out. The fact that it ran a 24-hour race is pretty awesome. The fact that we asked it to do that at its first race out of the box is a tall order. It’s a testament to Riley Technologies that built the car and for the SRT Viper.”

If not for the clutch issue, a top 10 finish or even better was certainly in reach for Keating and the ViperExchange.com team.

“It was a successful weekend,” Keating said. “We all felt like we had a better car than where we finished. We wanted to finish higher up and feel like we had the car to be able to do that. We kept it clean the whole race, we didn’t replace any body panels and other than cleaning off the rubber and other stuff the bodywork looks pretty good. We should be proud of that as it is not just 24 hours of racing it is 24 hours of avoiding close calls one after another, so this is a big accomplishment.”

Next up for ViperExchange.com and the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship is the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, March 12 – 15.



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