Ben Keating and the Dutch duo of brothers Jeroen Bleekemolen and Sebastiaan Bleekemolen completed an encouraging and competitive IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship Winter Test at Sebring International Raceway Thursday and Friday where the Riley Technologies-run team was fifth fastest overall in the GT Daytona (GTD) class in the No. 33 ViperExchange.com Viper GT3-R.
Team principal Keating and the Bleekemolens all lapped competitively in each of the four practice sessions run over the two days on the demanding 3.74-mile Sebring circuit. The Winter Test was the final official test for the upcoming Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, March 12 – 15.
“The car feels good,” Keating said. “We are trying to squeeze every ounce out of it that we can. The balance of the car is really good and the exciting thing for me is that we are making the car easier to drive. We are making the car to where it is not on an edge as much, the window is a little bit larger, and the car is not as much of a handful to drive quickly, which is really important in an endurance race.”
The ViperExchange.com team’s overall top lap time of the test of 2:04.915 (107.785 mph) was set in Thursday’s afternoon practice and was good enough for the third quickest GTD time in that session. The No. 33 was also third quickest in Thursday morning practice, fifth in the Friday morning session and second in the fourth and final run Friday afternoon with a time of 2:05.075 (107.647 mph), the team’s second-best overall lap of the test.
“Our lap times appear competitive,” Keating said. “There is still the big question mark of what everybody else has. There was a lot of low, two-minute and four-something laps out there, we are not there yet, and we are still a little low on top speed.”
“I feel really confident,” Jeroen Bleekemolen said. “The team did a great job. It is still a new car, we have only done Daytona, and hopefully we should be able to be competitive at Sebring. I am looking forward to it. The car didn’t have any issues, we improved it over the two days, and it was just a very positive test here.”
Both Bleekemolens have Sebring wins in the former ALMS GT Challenge (GTC) class that has essentially been folded into the new GTD class this season. Jeroen Bleekemolen is the reigning GTC Sebring race winner while his older brother took the honor in 2011.
“I think we have improved the car a lot since Daytona,” Sebastiaan Bleekemolen said. “Of course, it is a completely different track, it is quite bumpy, which I think could be good for our car, so I am happy with the times we did and the improvements that we have made. I am really confident that we can make a good result in the race and I am looking forward to it.”
Keating, a two-time National Viper Cup Champion, is preparing for his first Sebring race start in a Viper. In addition to racing the American-made exotics, Keating is also the world’s largest Viper retailer through his ViperExchange.com network of dealerships. He was pleased with both his personal and team improvement over the two-day Sebring test.
“Thursday was not a good day for me,” Keating said quite candidly. “I went around a couple of times and the car just wasn’t comfortable, but on Friday the car felt great. It is easier to drive now than any other time since we have owned it. We still don’t know about the top speed but in a 12-hour race anything can happen.”
Next up for ViperExchange.com and the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship is the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, March 12 – 15.
(Photo: Marcel ten Caat)