Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Marc Miller meet night laps requirement in opening 24 Hours of Le Mans qualifying.
Le Mans, France (June 10, 2015) – Rainy weather during the day gave way to dark but dry conditions in opening qualifying Wednesday night for this weekend’s 83rd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans that will see Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Marc Miller co-drive the No. 53 ViperExchange.com/Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GTS-R in the GTE-Am division.
Just like the Le Mans Pre-Test two Sundays ago, Wednesday saw persistent but inconsistent wet weather throughout the day. Heavy rain gave way to light mist and drying conditions only to see the heavens repeatedly open up again, a sequence that played out not only all day but all over the span of the more than eight-mile circuit. It wasn’t uncommon for one part of the track to be clear and dry at the same time another section was being soaked by a rain shower.
The fans, they love the Viper, it’s a big American V10, it's a great car,
Bleekemolen, a 2008 Le Mans winner in the LMP2 class, drove the entirety of the daytime four-hour practice, and both the opening and closing shifts in qualifying.
“It's difficult because there's always a bit of rain, then it dries out, and then you get rain again,” Bleekemolen said. “It was particularly difficult for us because we still have some work to do on setup. Marc and Ben also need to get more dry laps in. It would have been better if we'd had nice consistent weather to get through our program but so far we are happy with the car.”
After Bleekemolen drove first in qualifying, Keating took over and turned his first ever dry laps at Le Mans in the dark.
“It is nice to get some laps in the dry, albeit in the dark,” Keating said. “I wouldn't say the sun was going down, I'll say it was dark! I took 18 seconds off of my wet lap times while dealing with a lot of traffic in qualifying. Every driver has to do five laps out there in the night session, so that was our main goal, all of us got our five in and Jeroen got one flying lap in as well.”
Team Director Bill Riley is well familiar with Le Mans weather. He is returning to Le Mans after a one-year absence but has decades of experience at Circuit de la Sarthe.
“That was typical Le Mans weather today,” Riley said. “It was wet and dry, back and forth, and it was kind of in between where we knew it was going to be too wet for dry tires and we knew we would wear the rain tires out. Dry handling is what we really needed to work on. The track is usually a loose track and seemed to be looser than normal today. So, we're kind of throwing quite a bit at it, working through it, and I think we're getting pretty close.”
The only Viper in the field, the ViperExchange.com entry carries on a winning tradition at Le Mans that dates back to the 1990s and early years of this century. The tens of thousands of fans in attendance so far at Le Mans seem to remember.
“The fans, they love the Viper, it’s a big American V10, it's a great car,” Riley said. “I think the French fans love it, and having it the same colors as the United States flag and the French flag doesn't hurt either.”
All three drivers will be racing a Viper GTS-R for the first time, but Keating and Bleekemolen have solid winning experience in other top-tier Viper race cars. The teammates currently race a ViperExchange.com/Riley Motorsports Viper GT3-R in the U.S. IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, scoring a pair of victories in that series’ GT Daytona (GTD) class in 2014. Keating was also a co-driver in this year’s season-opening GTD-winning Viper at the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Miller ran his first race in a Viper GT3-R last month at Laguna Seca in California, qualifying second and leading the first 14 race laps. He and fellow first-year Le Mans driver, Keating, met their mandatory night laps requirement in qualifying today but look forward to even more track time tomorrow.
Thursday's 24 Hours of Le Mans schedue features another late afternoon practice session followed by final qualifying that once again will run until Midnight local time.