DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The world’s top Viper dealer and a two-time Viper Cup Champion, Ben Keating will mark yet another milestone in his close connection to the SRT supercar when he debuts in the Rolex 24 At Daytona this weekend – with co-drivers Jeroen Bleekemolen, Emmanuel Collard and Sebastiaan Bleekemolen – in the No. 33 ViperExchange.com Viper GT3-R.
The No. 33 is the only GT Daytona (GTD) class Viper entered in the inaugural season of the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. Keating will co-drive the full season with Dutch standout Jeroen Bleekemolen. Former overall Rolex 24 winner Collard and Bleekemolen’s older brother, Sebastiaan Bleekemolen, will join the ViperExchange.com team for this weekend’s Daytona opener.
“The race will be different to the previous years, mainly because there will be more classes and therefore more traffic,” Jeroen Bleekemolen said. “Otherwise the GTD class will be quite close to the old GRAND-AM GT class. Very close and many strong teams and drivers, so the competition is great.”
Sebastiaan Bleekemolen will be making his Rolex 24 debut and had never even driven around Daytona’s 3.56-mile road course before his first test with the ViperExchange.com team last November.
“The Rolex 24 is of course a race that’s on the list for a victory,” the elder Bleekemolen said. “Our lineup is very strong and I think we have a reliable car. Hopefully, everything falls together. I’m familiar with the track and the car because of the test days, so that can’t be an issue. It’s my 19th racing season this year. I have a lot of good memories, but winning at Sebring and Petit are high on my list. A Daytona win would be a good addition.”
Keating has run the past three Rolex 24s in Porsches but jumped at the chance to build a Viper team when the SRT machine was declared eligible for not only the top-tier GTLM class but also the GTD division.
“My favorite memory was in 2011 when we were getting ready to pass for second place with only two hours left in the race,” Keating said. “The fact is that our differential broke and we did not podium, but it was so exciting to be in the hunt in the final hours.”
Jeroen Bleekemolen also knows how hard it is to challenge for a podium spot at Daytona only to come up just short.
“My best moment was taking a podium in 2012,” Bleekemolen said. “But it was also a bad feeling at the same time as we finished only nine seconds behind the winners in second place after 24 hours of racing. To take a podium is always good, but when you are that close to winning it also hurts a bit.”