The No. 33 ViperExchange.com Viper GT3-R team, and drivers Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Emmanuel Collard and Sebastiaan Bleekemolen, wrapped up a full and productive three-day test at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 this past weekend and are now placing their full focus on the 52nd Annual Rolex 24 At Daytona, January 23 – 26.
The No. 33, the only GT Daytona (GTD) class Viper entered in the inaugural season of the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, recorded its best result in Friday’s second practice run of the day. The lap of 1.48.944 (117.638 mph) was good enough for the top five in that practice session but the ViperExchange.com team still needs more straight-line speed to rank higher in the weekend’s overall rankings.
“I feel really good about the test,” said Keating, a veteran Viper competitor who is also the principal of top Viper dealer ViperExchange.com. “We have a good car, we have a reliable car, but it does seem like top speed is our issue. I don’t know what the solution is for that with IMSA, but I’m leaving the test feeling pretty good.”
The regulations for the diverse GTD division of the IMSATUDOR United SportsCar Championship attempt to balance the competition among a wide variety of competing manufacturers and cars. While the street version of the SRT Viper that is the basis for the No. 33 GTD machine is among the most powerful cars in its class, the current IMSA regulations have restricted the power to the point that the race version is losing ground to the majority of the competition on Daytona’s ample high-speed banking and straights.
“I think that we definitely have some things that we need to work on,” Keating said. “I think that with a little bit of help from IMSA, and then with a little improvement on our end in the shop, I’m hopeful that we can be there. If we are on the lead lap at the end, I’m not sure we have the pace to stay in front, but you have to get there first and I feel really good about our ability to stay clean. From a driver-team standpoint, I definitely feel like we are in the top 10 for sure, and that’s a pretty good spot to be.”
Keating will co-drive the full season with top Dutch sports car talent Jeroen Bleekemolen. Former Rolex 24 overall winner (2005) Emmanuel Collard and Bleekemolen’s older brother Sebastiaan Bleekemolen will join the team for the Daytona opener.
“It’s looking all very exciting if you see how many cars are here, how many friends you see, and how many great drivers you see,” Jeroen Bleekemolen said. “It’s going to be great. We don’t know yet exactly where we stand in terms of competitiveness, we will have to wait for that, but I am pretty confident that the guys have done a great job getting us a new car that has been reliable so far. We have to continue working hard and hopefully when we get back here for the race we will be competitive.”
Sebastiaan Bleekemolen was making his second run with ViperExchange.com after making both his team and Daytona debut at the track in a private test just last month.
“I think we have made some progress because then we did (laps at one minute and) 50s and now we can do 49s, so we have improved a little bit,” Sebastiaan Bleekemolen said. “The only problem we had during the test was the top speed because we were restricted and that’s an issue, but once we sort that out I think we will be competitive. “It’s tough because there are 28 cars in our class and all good drivers so we must be on it and do our best.”
Practice and qualifying for the 2014 Rolex 24 will be held Thursday and Friday, January 23 – 24, with the day-long classic scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m. EST on Saturday, January 25. Live coverage will be FOX Sports.
(ViperExchange.com, photo: LAT/Dole )