Keating, Bleekemolen and Risi’s Le Mans adventure

June 15, 2018

Keating, Bleekemolen and Risi’s Le Mans adventure

June 15, 2018

Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen are racing “brothers.” The longtime pair of co-drivers in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship are now embarking on their fourth straight 24 Hours of Le Mans together.

Keating and Bleekemolen have “come home” in a sense to the GTE-Am class for this year’s race. They’ll drive a Ferrari 488 GTE with Luca Stolz. The last two years, Keating and Bleekemolen raced in LMP2. (Drivers and team photos courtesy Risi Competizione).

They are regular GT racers in IMSA, first with Keating’s Dodge Viper GT3-R and now with a Mercedes-AMG GT3 run by Riley Motorsports.

However this year, Keating Motorsports has partnered with Risi Competizione at Le Mans. This means Keating gets to see the technical wizardry of race engineer Rick Mayer. And with Bill Riley assisting with sporting duties, the No. 85 Ferrari has a lot of American flavor. This even includes “Don’t mess with Texas!” signs on the front and rear quarter panels.

“It’s been great. When I was notified that I had won the (Bob) Akin award for the automatic entry (for sportsman drivers), I went to trying to figure out what the best fit was,” Keating says.

“I wanted to take it around and shop cars. It was just a perfect fit. I met with Giuseppe (Risi) at his dealership in The Woodlands. That’s literally right down the street from my dealerships!

“Everything just felt good and fell together easily. It made sense for two Texas car dealers to get together.”

The last two years, faced with uncompetitive cars in LMP2, the odds were not in Keating and Bleekemolen’s favor to win.

Keating said driving was fun but racing wasn’t. As he and Bleekemolen are a true pro-am pairing, they fit best within the GTE-Am category. Many LMP2 teams can operate a three-driver lineup where one Silver-rated driver has pro potential.

“I compare well with the other Bronze drivers in the class. It is nice to be here,” he says. “It feels right and much more fitting to be in GTE-Am. Here, we have the ability to have fun and go for the win.”

Bleekemolen’s extensive GT car racing experience has seen him race for a lot of different manufacturers.

But surprisingly, this is only the talented Dutchman’s third ever race in a Ferrari. He has two prior GT3-specification starts in the Ferrari 458 GT3.

“It’s new actually. It’s special to run a Ferrari at Le Mans,” he says. “I’ve mainly raced Porsches, a lot of AMGs, and a lot of Vipers. But I’ve only ever done two races in a Ferrari in my life, in the 458, so this is my first time in a 488. I’d heard many great stories about it. It’s such a great racecar.”

Bleekemolen noted how special Le Mans is, but explained the challenge in finding the right balance.

“Tire temp is the big thing here,” he says. “Here and Nurburgring you’re always trying to find the window in wet and dry conditions.

“It’s hard to get up to speed, and with the long straights, the tires cool off anyway! Then in the third sector, you can build up some temps. It is such a special place to drive.”

Winning here is special. It’s something both Bleekemolen (2008 in LMP2) and Risi (1998 in Ferrari 333SP, 2008 and 2009 in Ferrari 430GT) have done before.

But for Keating, who has three hallmark endurance race victories to his name, Le Mans is the last remaining unchecked box.

“I’ve had the experience of winning Daytona, Sebring and Petit. But this would be unbelievably special to be able to win at Le Mans,” Keating says.

“The fact is, I’m grateful to be here. I may be asking too much to win here. But I know we have a great team, car and driver lineup. Every car in a 24-hour race is a longshot. But I believe we have a great opportunity.”

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