Viper Strikes Gold, Takes Hometown Victory With Keating, Bleekemolen In Chevrolet Sports Car Classic
Saturday, June 4, 2016

Co-drivers Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen and the No. 33 ViperExchange.com / Gas Monkey Garage Dodge Viper GT3-R team picked a fine time to win their first race of the season as the made-in-Detroit race car scored a hometown victory in Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Chevrolet Sports Car Classic presented by the Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers.

After qualifying sixth on the GT Daytona (GTD) grid Friday, Keating made his first appearance inside the top five just past the 30-minute mark in the 100-minute timed race. He eventually made it into the class lead for the final lap of his stint before pitting at the 37-minute mark in the race to hand the car over to Bleekemolen.

The Dutchman rejoined the field in second place behind the No. 96 aFe Power / Spectra Resources / United Steel / Valspar Paint BMW M6 GT3 of Jens Klingmann, but regained the lead after two laps when Klingmann pitted. Bleekemolen would hold the GTD lead for the remainder of the race, but not without heavy pressure from behind from Joerg Bergmeister in the No. 73 Park Place Porsche / Justice Brothers Inc. Porsche 911 GT3 R and Alessandro Balzan in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3.

“This is a street circuit, so the smallest mistake can take you out of the race,” Bleekemolen said. “But at the same time you have to push right until the end. Ben did a lot of great laps at the end of his stint. I knew with Joerg Bergmeister behind me it wouldn’t be easy. He is famous for a lot of last-lap passes. It’s great what the team did with the pit stop. We knew it would be our chance so we took it and it worked out for us. So yes, it feels really great.”

He beat Bergmeister to the stripe by 2.489 seconds to collect the first victory for himself and Keating since the WeatherTech Championship race at Circuit of The Americas last September. It was Bleekemolen’s 18th major U.S. sports car victory (five in the WeatherTech Championship, 13 American Le Mans Series) and eighth for Keating (six WeatherTech Championship, two ALMS).

“It’s a huge deal winning with the Viper in its hometown,” Keating said. “I am Viper Exchange, the No. 1 volume Viper dealer in the nation and so I have a lot of great relationships with all the Viper people at plant, the Conner Avenue plant where they are hand-built right here in Detroit. So, it’s a big deal. There were a lot of emotional people who take a lot of pride in the Vipers. Hopefully we win on Saturday and sell on Monday.”

Bergmeister and Patrick Lindsey finished second in the No. 73 Porsche for Park Place Motorsports, followed by Balzan and co-driver Christina Nielsen, who finished third in the No. 63 Ferrari. Balzan and Nielsen came into the race with a six-point lead in the GTD standings and extended that lead to eight, 126-118, over No. 23 Heart of Racing Porsche GT3 R co-drivers Mario Farnbacher and Alex Riberas. Farnbacher and Riberas finished fourth for Team Seattle / Alex Job Racing.

Robin Liddell and Andrew Davis completed the top five in the No. 6 Stevenson Auto Group Audi R8 LMS GT3.

NOTEBOOK:

  • Five different manufacturers were represented in the top-six positions in the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic. Finishing behind the winning Dodge, second- and fourth-place Porsches, third-place Ferrari and fifth-place Audi was the No. 16 Pertamina / Monster Energy Lamborghini Huracán co-driven by Spencer Pumpelly and Corey Lewis. In last month’s Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix powered by Mazda, all seven manufacturers competing in the class occupied the top-seven finishing positions.
  • Porsche extended its lead in the GTD manufacturer standings to five, 127-122, over Ferrari after coming into the race leading Audi by two points. Audi is now third with 121 points.
  • Race-winner Keating noted in the post-race news conference that all three cars on the GTD podium had drivers that will be making their way to France overnight to participate in Sunday’s test day for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Keating and Bleekemolen will share an LM P2 prototype in the race on June 18-19, while Porsche factory driver Bergmeister is part of the manufacturer’s effort in the GTE Pro class and third-place finisher Christina Nielsen will race a Ferrari in the GTE Am class.
  • Next up for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen on Sunday, July 3 at the historic Watkins Glen International circuit. The race also represents the third round of the 2016 Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup.

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