Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Marc Miller have sent the Dodge Viper GT3-R off in a fitting fashion by winning the GTD class in Saturday’s Petit Le Mans from Road Atlanta. Keating, owner of the ViperExchange.com Viper team, announced a switch to the Prototype class for 2017 after purchasing a Riley Mk. 30 LMP2 chassis in August.
Bleekemolen put the Viper GT3-R on pole in Friday’s GTD qualifying session, setting the team up well to win the Viper’s last-ever IMSA race. However when the 10-hour endurance race concluded, Keating and his two co-drivers found themselves second behind the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 of Andy Lally and John Potter – a disappointing end for the three Viper pilots.
The team’s disappointment was short-lived, however. Soon after the Audi crossed the finish line and was declared the winner, it was announced that Potter had not completed the three-hour minimum drive time requirement for a Bronze or Silver-rated driver in GTD, relegating them to last place in the official standings.
With that change, it was Keating, Bleekemolen and Miller in first and Porsche’s Patrick Lindsey, Joerg Bergmeister and Matt McMurry in second. The No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 of Christina Nielsen, Alessandro Balzan and Jeff Segal was third. The Ferraari team’s podium result was also enough for Nielsen and Balzan to lock down the GTD driver’s championship, making Nielsen the first woman to win a major, full-season professional sports car championship in North America.
Keating, a massive Viper fan and owner of well-known Tomball, Texas-based Viper dealer ViperExchange, was elated to send the car he loves off in such an appropriate manner.
“It is emotional,” Keating said post-race. “The goal was to give it a good sendoff. Viper has such a rich racing history, and to do our last race in the Viper with IMSA at Petit Le Mans and go out on top is a huge deal. 2017 is the last year they’ll build the production-car Viper and it seemed fitting to finish off the season this way. Last year we had Viper Exchange on the car, and I happen to be in the Viper business, and I’ve been involved in the Viper community. It means a lot to Dodge and the Viper clubs, and to the dealer, and to me as an individual. It means a lot to go out on top.”
Click here for full results from Petit Le Mans.