Two-Car Dodge Viper GT3-R team on pace in three-day test session at Daytona International Speedway
Daytona Beach, Florida – Defending Rolex 24 At Daytona GT Daytona (GTD) race winners ViperExchange.com and Riley Motorsports moved their title defense off to a productive start this past weekend at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona test at Daytona International Speedway.
Both last year’s GTD-winning No. 93 Dodge Viper GT3-R and the sister No. 33 entry ran on a competitive pace all weekend on the Daytona road course in preparation for the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, January 28 – 31.
Team principal Ben Keating, one of the co-drivers in last year’s Rolex 24 victory, tested both the No. 93 and No. 33 entries at the Roar as he prepares to race both Vipers in the Rolex 24 for the second year in a row.
Keating will co-drive the No. 33 with full-season teammate Jeroen Bleekemolen as well as Dominik Farnbacher and Marc Miller. Keating will in turn share the No. 93 with Jeff Mosing, Eric Foss, Gar Robinson and Damien Faulkner.
We know the car well and, as always, we still try to improve.
“I love endurance racing,” Keating said. “The longer the race, the more I love it. The Rolex 24 At Daytona is absolutely my favorite race. Spectators can easily get to almost any location around the track and, in a 24-hour race, there is always plenty of drama. I am already looking forward to coming back in a few weeks to compete in this great race again and try to get another victory.”
The ViperExchange.com Riley Motorsports team overcame some issues early in the weekend at the Roar test and managed to get all eight team drivers ample time in the Vipers.
“The first two days were pretty tough on us, we were fighting a few issues and the crew kept working on it,” said Team Director Bill Riley. “I had to stay out of it because it was a little bit over my head on what was going on with some of the electronics but after we got that sorted out we had a really nice day today. All of the drivers got up to speed, which is really the main focus of the Roar, and now it's just going to be an issue of how everybody else looks when we get back to the race weekend.”
Bleekemolen, who will go straight from Daytona to the United Arab Emeriates (UAE) to race in next weekend’s 24 Hours of Dubai, led the majority of the No. 33’s on-track testing at the Roar.
“It was great to be back again,” Bleekemolen said. “We know the car well and, as always, we still try to improve. I think we had a really positive test, the car ran well and we made some good changes. I think we are all prepared well for the race. We all know what to do and practiced everything we can so we'll just give it our best again.”
Farnbacher, who joins Keating as the only other driver on this year’s Daytona team that was part of the 2015 Rolex 24 victory, is in the No. 33 for this month’s race. He noticed some differences in performance now that the GTD class is more closely aligned with international GT3 specifications.
“Our braking is a lot better compared to last year, our brake points shifted a little more to the edge, and the GTLM cars are struggling a little bit to get by us in the braking,” Farnbacher said. “So, this improved but on the other side we have more drag in the straight and so the car is a little bit slower on the straight than it was last year. That's why our lap times are pretty equal to last year but it makes it harder for the other classes to overtake us.”
Miller, who debuted with ViperExchange.com last year in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, is preparing for his Rolex 24 At Daytona debut. His longest stint of the weekend in the No. 33 came in this afternoon’s final on-track session.
“It was nice to get a full run, plus I got three or four laps earlier in the day, but to get a full run in the car was really nice,” Miller said. “I could get into a rhythm, I was able to feel what the car is like over a full fuel run as the tires degrade and I just got really comfortable. I think the car was the best it's been through the entire test, with the guys working so hard and all of the feedback from the other drivers. I was able to get in a finished product and feel pretty good about myself. The question coming back here in two weeks is would you feel comfortable and I can honestly say, yes, I feel comfortable. Let's go racing, forget about it.”
Faulkner, who has limited experience in a front-engine car like the Viper, quickly adapted and posted the team’s fastest lap of the weekend in Sunday’s final session. He is preparing for his first career race with ViperExchange.com and in a Viper GT race car.
“Obviously, it's a new challenge, it's a new team and a new car for me,” Faulkner said. “I've driven Porsches for many, many, many years so it's just interesting to drive something else, but also a challenge. The Viper is a phenomenal car and I have every belief that it will again be competitive at Daytona, especially in the hands of a team like Riley Motorsports. They are the first class team of the paddock so I am pretty happy to be here. There's a lot to learn about the car but I think I'm already just single digits away in percentage terms from maximizing its potential in my hands.”
Robinson, the reigning Trans Am TA2 Champion, will be making his Rolex 24 At Daytona debut.
“This car is totally different,” said Robinson, who celebrates his 21st birthday next Sunday, “The way the Trans Am car is, the harder you drive it, the faster it goes. This one you have to be a little bit more conservative. The first couple days I was driving it like I would a TA2 car and I came to the exact same lap times, but toward the end of the day today I got more and more comfortable with the car and the lateral g-forces and the way it takes everything. That made a huge difference and I think we're going to do really well.”
Next up for ViperExchange.com Riley Motorsports is the Rolex 24 At Daytona, January 28 – 31, at Daytona International Speedway. The race can be seen live in programming on the FOX Sports Networks.