Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and the ViperExchange.com/Riley Motorsports team will return to GT Daytona (GTD) competition for the third consecutive year in 2016 with a full-season effort in the #33 Dodge Viper GT3-R in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Keating, Bleekemolen and the Riley Motorsports team have won a pair of GTD races in the ViperExchange.com No. 33 in each of the past two seasons and hope to couple similar success next year with an all-out bid to win the 2016 championship.
In addition to Keating and Bleekemolen staying together for a third season, the Bill Riley-led ViperExchange.com/Riley Motorsports team is returning with all of the same management, engineering and key pit crew personnel that were part of the last two season’s winning efforts. The Riley-built Dodge Viper GT3-R is also entering its third year of top-level IMSA competition.
“Continuity like this is HUGE,” Keating said. “We all have gotten to the point that we know the car very well and we know each other very well also. There is an unspoken magic that comes from a team that just works together well. I feel like the Viper GT3-R has some unfinished business and I welcome some new competition and larger fields in GTD.”
Next season will see the IMSA GTD class follow the general rules and regulations of the worldwide FIA GT3 division.
“I think the move to GT3 is great,” said Bleekemolen, a native of the Netherlands. “Those cars are racing worldwide, so there is plenty of data to look at for balancing the performance. From my own experience racing in GT3 championships in Europe, I know how close they have had most cars for the last couple of years. The car count will also be amazing, there is a lot of interest from all over the world to join us.”
The Dodge Viper GT3-R was originally built as a GT3 specification race car that was altered to run within the previous IMSA GTD regulations that last two seasons.
“The fact that GTD has moved to a GT3-spec class should be a big help for us,” Keating said. “Many teams are bringing in new cars. It always takes time to learn the quirks of a new car, and it takes a few sessions to find the proper set up. Having raced this car the past two years, we have so much knowledge to use to our benefit.
“Our car should just get better and better, and my goal is to just have consistency from our race finishes. I don’t know that it is reasonable to think that we will win more races in 2016 with larger fields and new competition, but I expect our consistency to be better. That is the key to a championship, and I think this is the best shot we have at winning a championship.
“Hopefully, the class size for GTD will be even larger than before. I think there is a chance that GTD could become 50% of the entire field.”
Bleekemolen wants to win the GTD championship with Keating and the ViperExchange.com No. 33 team and also add what has been an elusive victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona to his list of career wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 12 Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans.
“I’m really going into this season with the goal to become champion,” Bleekemolen said. “I know if we put it all together we can win it. At the same time, I still hope to win some of the classic endurance races we have during the season, starting with Daytona. I’ll be giving it everything I can do to get some big wins next year.”
In addition to victories in the #33 at Road America and Circuit of The Americas (COTA) in Texas this past season, Keating also co-drove the team’s sister #93 TI Automotive/ViperExchange.com entry to a come-from-behind win in the 2015 Rolex 24. He was the only driver in GTD to win a class-leading three races this season and gives credit for the success in part to Riley Motorsports.
“Riley Motorsports is one of the best teams in the paddock across all classes,” Keating said. “The fact that we have the same people working on our team that won the 2014 GTLM Championship competing against a bunch of other teams without the depth of experience and people is a big deal.”
The Riley-led team won both the IMSA GTLM team and driver championships in 2014 racing Dodge SRT Viper GTS-Rs. Most of the personnel behind that championship effort joined the ViperExchange.com program at the onset of this past season.
“Around sometime in 2014 on the GTLM program it all started to click, and that same group is all still together today and still clicking,” Riley said. “It just makes the racing more enjoyable and, while I won’t say easier because we are always working at getting better, you can concentrate more on the race car and less on the people because it all clicks.”
Riley will be back in his overall role as Riley Motorsports Team Director while Greg Jones returns next season as Team Manager. Tyler Hook will again serve as the #33’s lead engineer with data support from Ben Levite. All of the #33 team’s key mechanics and crew members will return in 2016 as well.
This year’s Rolex 24 At Daytona victory set the foundation for a successful campaign that saw the #93 TI Automotive/ViperExchange.com entry pick up a second win at Watkins Glen and earn the 2015 Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup (NAEC) GTD Championship. Riley Motorsports was the only GTD team to win races with both of its entries in 2015, with the #33 and 93 each taking a pair of victories.
“I really enjoy running two cars, especially at the long races,” Riley said. “A big part of our successful year was the second car in the NAEC and we would love to be able to do that again if the right opportunity came up for that car. We are working on a program for the #93 and hope to have an update very soon.”
With the calendar clashes between the two Series the announcement today seems to end the hopes for Riley Technologies to field an LM GTE Am campaign with the Viper GTS.R in 2016.