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May 04, 2014 - 07:18 AM
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ViperExchange.com Starts Sixth In Sunday's Continental Tire Grand Prix
Posted by: newsla on May 04, 2014 - 07:17 AM
Sports Cars
ViperExchange.com Starts Sixth In Sunday's Continental Tire Grand Prix Of Monterey


Shaking off any new-car blues and lingering memories of March’s fire at Sebring, Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and the No. 33 ViperExchange.com Viper GT3-R team made a competitive return to the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship Saturday in practice and qualifying for the Continental Tire Grand Prix of Monterey at Laguna Seca.

 

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Competing in a newly built Viper GT3-R for the first time, the ViperExchange.com team clocked in a convincing second quickest in this morning’s opening practice before Bleekemolen locked down sixth on the starting grid for Sunday’s two-hour race in late-afternoon qualifying.

Bleekemolen’s top lap time of 1:27.327 (92.260 mph) came in the last of his two flying laps in a frantic, three-minute finish to qualifying after a red-flag delay scrubbed half of the already short 15-minute session.

“Totally building a brand-new car, a different chassis, you would like to believe that what we learned before would be the exact same on this car, but no two cars are ever the exact same,” Keating said. “So, big question marks coming in, we did a shakedown, but not really any testing, so it is really an accomplishment to come out here in a brand-new car and have no issues.”

Bleekemolen repeatedly posted laps that momentarily ranked in the top five throughout the competitive qualifying session but ViperExchange.com is ultimately starting tomorrow’s race from about where the team and drivers expected.

“It was very close but it was the same for everyone,” Bleekemolen said. “Maybe with another lap we could have gone quicker but the other people will say the same thing. I don’t think the end result would have changed a lot with a full-green session.”

Chassis No. 4, the Viper that debuted today, replaced the car – Chassis No. 1 – that was burned but not written off in a spectacular fire in the first hour of the 12 Hours of Sebring one race ago. Keating was uninjured in the incident and Chassis No. 1 is slated to be a spare and may even be built up again to a full car.

“We are pretty happy,” Bleekemolen said. “The car is new, some small improvements can be made, but in general we are happy that we have a car that is working well and we are not that far off the lead. We can be looking for a strong race but, again, it is very competitive. A lot of cars can win I think.”

Sunday’s race, the first in an IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship doubleheader and the third GT Daytona (GTD) round of the season, starts at 10:15 a.m. PDT with live coverage on FOX Sports 1 beginning at 1 p.m. EDT/10 a.m. PDT. The two-hour sprint will be for GTD division cars like the ViperExchange.com Viper GT3-R that will share the track with the Prototype Challenge (PC) class. The day’s second two-hour will be for the Prototype and GT Le Mans (GTLM) classes and can be seen live on FOX Sports 1 at 5 p.m. EDT/2 p.m. PDT.

“You make little advancements on a car every time you come to the track,” Keating said. “We had a phenomenal car at Sebring. If we were here with that car, it would be a different ballgame, so to be here and be P6, even in the top half, with a brand-new car when everybody else has had a bunch of practices and races, it is a big deal.”

Race-day Sunday starts with a 20-minute warm-up at 8 a.m. PDT for all IMSA TUDOR classes before the 10:15 a.m. PDT race start for the GTD/PC race.

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