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ViperExchange.com Exits 12 Hours of Sebring Early as Ben Keating Escapes Fire
Posted by: newsla on Mar 17, 2014 - 08:16 AM
ViperExchange.com Exits 12 Hours of Sebring Early as Ben Keating Escapes Fire Uninjured

A strong opening-hour performance by Ben Keating and the No. 33 ViperExchange.com Viper GT3-R literally went up in smoke in the early stages of Saturday’s 62nd Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway.


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Keating was running an outstanding third from the drop of the green flag in the competitive GT Daytona (GTD) class and was returning to the track after a successful first pit stop just over 35 minutes into the race. He immediately felt a strong vibration and the Viper lose its drive.

“We had the drive shaft yoke break at the rear axle,” said Keating, who was uninjured in what turned out to be a very fiery incident. “The shaft stayed connected to the transmission and what I felt was it banging around in the driveshaft tunnel, which was all beat up. My power had gone, no drive, and I bet it knocked off a fuel line, I was sitting there trying to start it, feeding, fueling the fire, no pun intended.”

Keating coasted to a stop as he noticed two flaming tire streaks coming out of the back of the Viper.

“We’ve got a solid bulkhead for situations like this so I have a rearview camera,” Keating said. “I looked in my rearview mirror and it was like Back to the Future! I saw the two streaks of flames coming out of the back of the car in the camera before there was any smoke. So I got on the radio and said, ‘guys I’m on fire. I’m getting out.’ I hit the fire button, hopped out, but there was no flames or smoke inside the car when I got out. No smoke inhalation, no burns, no issues other than a melted car.”

While Keating at least had a brief taste of what it was like to run with the leaders Saturday, his teammates – brothers and former Sebring class winners Jeroen and Sebastiaan Bleekemolen – saw their race end before it began. Neither of the Bleekemolen brothers had the chance to drive in this year's Sebring race.

“Everybody being OK is the main thing of course,” said Jeroen Bleekemolen, Keating’s full-season co-driver. “You still feel very frustrated because we know we had a reasonable chance to win the race, but a lot of things can happen in a 12 hour. There were also a lot of cars that were looking strong out there but we were definitely among the guys that could win and we had a good lead up into the race. Everything was running smooth, so it’s just frustrating when something like this happens. It’s just bad luck. The team didn’t do anything wrong. Things can happen.”

Sebastiaan Bleekemolen joined his brother and Keating for Sebring and January’s Rolex 24 At Daytona season-opening race.

“We had a reason to be excited and after 30 minutes we were out of the race,” Sebastiaan Bleekemolen. “If you look over at what the car looks like, it’s just terrible. It’s not a fault of the drivers. It’s not a fault of the team, it’s a technical thing, so we have to keep our heads up and look forward.”

Keating, the principal of the world’s largest Viper retailer through his ViperExchange.com network of dealerships, shared the disappointment of his teammates.

“It was really disappointing,” Keating said. “We definitely had a car here that could compete for a win. It was really exciting to be at this race with a car that was handling well. It was easy to drive, which is what you ask for in a 12-hour race. It may not have been the fastest car, but it was easy to drive and we felt like we could keep pace for 12 hours. It was really, really disappointing.”

Despite the stated disappointment, Keating still has his great sense of humor.

"Normally I would say win on Sunday and sell on Monday, but in this case all I can say is that we are giving smoking-hot deals on new Vipers from now until Laguna Seca," Keating said. "The only positive that comes out of this is a lot of national TV exposure for ViperExchange.com."

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