Ben Keating is the 49-year-old son of a car dealer, built-in and aloft in Texas, with the easy, abrupt address of a able Texan. He has an engineering amount from the best Texas-type academy there is, Texas A&M, and anon thereafter he went to assignment for his father, affairs cars.
Keating was acceptable at it. He began affairs and architecture stores, and at 49, he has eighteen of them—whether by architecture or happenstance, he’s averaged one new dealership a year aback he jumped into the business with both anxiety in 2002—with brands alignment from Mercedes-Benz to Ford to BMW to Dodge. He contest like he runs his business—head down, eyes on the prize, consistently accession at a bearings with a plan.
But agenda that none of his dealerships advertise Porsches. Keating cast Porsches able-bodied enough—he needs to, as that’s what he’s antagonism this weekend at the 24 Hours of Le Mans—but for some reason, which Keating admits he doesn’t absolutely accept himself, the cast aloof doesn’t about-face him on like, say, the Dodge Viper, which he admired so able-bodied he became the world’s bigger Viper dealer.
“But to get the job done, Porsche is an accomplished choice,” he said, cat-and-mouse for a flight aftermost Tuesday in the Newark airport, en avenue to France. That’s one affair that’s altered about this year’s Le Mans, confused from June to September because of the coronavirus pandemic: “Usually I absorb 20 canicule there,” practicing, orienting, accommodating in the beam that is defective a bit in 2020. “This year I’m alone spending five.” Get there, practice, qualify, race, appear home.
Speaking of Vipers, that’s what absolutely got Keating into racing—his wife gave him a weekend at a driver’s academy at the now-defunct Texas Apple Speedway in 2006, and he was hooked. He anon took a Viper out of the account and took it to Sebring International Raceway, and for some acumen they let him race. It would be nice to say he won, but he didn’t. Or alike finish.
He had a lot to learn, and he did. He formed his way through the Viper Antagonism League and Viper Cup series, and was the civic best from 2008-2012. But as the Viper died, so did the series, so Keating angry full-time to what is now the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, afterwards antagonism in both the American Le Mans and Grand Am alternation afore they merged.
It is safe to say Keating is absorbed to racing, that he has spent millions afterward his passion. Not surprising, he said: He underwent counseling for addiction in aerial school, and it’s aloof his personality.
The ultimate high, then, has to be Le Mans. “I adulation antagonism the aforementioned cars, on the aforementioned track, as the best drivers in the world.” He is readily admits he is a “gentleman” driver, rated by the FIA, ACO and IMSA as Bronze, a authentic amateur. (Silver is a actual accomplished amateur, Gold is a professional, Platinum is Fernando Alonso and his pals.) He competes in the Le Mans GTE Am class, breadth it is binding that every aggregation accept at atomic one amateur. The GTE Am chic uses the aforementioned cars as the GTE Pro chic (in IMSA, GT Le Mans cars are faster and added big-ticket than GT Daytona cars, which additionally requires an abecedarian driver).
He aboriginal went to Le Mans in 2015 with longtime accessory Bill Riley, who ran Keating’s teams for years. He had developed some aplomb afterwards acceptable the GT Daytona chic in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, active two cars—one won, the added came in ninth. He would drive two cars at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours at Sebring, finishing fifth and ninth.
That aboriginal cruise to Le Mans resulted in a DNF, acknowledgment to a burst gearbox. Aback then, Keating has accomplished the chase every year, 15th in chic in 2016, 20th in 2017, both in an LMP2 car. In 2018, he alternate to the Le Mans GTE Am chic and denticulate a third with a Ferrari 488 GTE. He could accept won, Keating said, but he was outsmarted.
It wouldn’t appear again. Anon the architect in him began alive out a chase action that was, in a word, brilliant. Le Mans has such a ample acreage that the cars pit in two groups, and aback the Le Mans GTE Am chic was the slowest, they consistently concluded up in the additional pack, which amount them a abundant accord of time and generally clue position.
In 2019, Keating and his co-drivers did aggregate they possibly could to break in that advance pack. Usually teams put the admirer disciplinarian in aboriginal to let him or her get the minimum cardinal of active time, and achievement the car comes in uncrashed and maybe unlapped. Afresh the fast guy gets in, afresh the fastest guy gets in, and contest for a win.
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But Keating put his fastest driver, Jeroen Bleekemolen, out first, with the abstraction of blockage in the advance backpack and acquisitive for at atomic one caution. They got it. Afresh another. Suddenly they were two account advanced of the abutting GTE Am car. They concluded up so far advanced that aback Keating took his final stint, he had a massive lead.
Until the advance marshals brought him in, insisting that he fix a baby aperture in the adenoids acquired by hitting bits on the track. The aperture had been there for hours. Afresh aback Keating pulled out of the pits, he squealed the tires—absolutely OK in IMSA, but adjoin the law at Le Mans. He served addition penalty; the hole-in-the-nose affair was, actual arguably, the aboriginal penalty, because Keating was antagonism the alone Ford GT in clandestine hands, and the admiral were not blessed that Ford was catastrophe the GT antagonism affairs afterwards Le Mans and the ACO had angled over backwards to let them into the series—and win. It’s a cabal theory, yes, but it has some meat on its bones, not alone with Keating’s car, but the added four FOrd GTs in Le Mans GTE Pro.
When admiral assuredly let Keating aback on track, the big advance was gone. He was aloof bristles abnormal advanced of one of the fastest drivers in the series. Surely he’d bang by Keating, and aback they came in for ammunition and a final disciplinarian change, Keating and his aggregation would be able-bodied aback in the field.
But Keating collection his actual rules-mandated 15-minute stint, axis the fastest laps he’d anytime run in any car at Le Mans, including the LMP2s. He started with a five-second lead, and 15 account later, came to the pits with three abnormal of it left. He had kept Jorg Bergmeister, a apple champion, and all the added pro drivers abaft him. It was “awesome,” he said. “Magical.”
And it got added bewitched as Bleekemolen was the aboriginal in chic to the checky flag. Champagne bottles popped, afresh flowed. Keating had won Le Mans.
And afresh he hadn’t. He was at the airport aback in Houston, in accoutrements claim, aback the alarm came: They’d been disqualified. Afterwards 32 hours in post-race tech attractive for article wrong, inspectors begin it: The ammunition tanks on all the cars are bigger than allowed, so they add chunks of cream to the catchbasin to booty up space. Afterwards 24 hours of bouncing around, the catchbasin either broadcast or the chunks shrank, because the admiral said it independent about 12 ounces added ammunition than was allowed. Plus, it seemed the aggregation ample out how to refuel a burning faster than the rules say.
Fifty-six hours afterwards they had taken the blooming flag, Keating—spending his own money on the aggregation and the car—had won, and lost, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“Gutted,” he said, was how he felt. But he came back, and this year, he has revised his action slightly. We’ll see how it works.
Keating absolutely contest the abounding division in the Apple Endurance Championship rather than at home in IMSA, for several reasons. One is the array of tracks—he gets to attempt at Silverstone in England, Fuji in Japan, Shanghai in China. But COVID-19 juggled the schedule; Le Mans is declared to be the aftermost chase of the season, but this year it’s in Bahrain, in November. The championship won’t be absitively until then, and Keating is in third now; with bifold credibility activated at Le Mans, and a point-and-a-half awarded at Bahrain, he thinks he has a attempt at a championship if he does able-bodied this weekend.
The added acumen Keating prefers the WEC is how they antithesis the field, as against to IMSA. In IMSA, the Antithesis of Achievement blueprint balances the achievement of a accomplish of car, not an alone team. They can acceleration up or apathetic bottomward cars by alteration addition apparent area, acceptance bigger or abate tanks and faster or slower refueling times, and they can add or decrease turbo addition or the air and ammunition assimilation area.
After almost acclimation achievement that way at the alpha of the season, Keating says, the WEC balances achievement the blow of the division by dispatch up or slowing bottomward alone cars, not the accomplished brand. If a accurate Porsche is assertive the field, it can get “reward weight,” an acrid name for authoritative the car heavier. If it starts losing, the weight can appear off. If it continues to dominate, added weight can be added. Keating says it seems fairer to him to apathetic bottomward or acceleration up alone cars, rather than brands.
“BoP is mostly the affair that collection me away,” Keating says, admitting he still competes in IMSA’s Endurance Cup, which rewards the aggregation that does best in the four longest races—Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. Watkins was annulled this year, and Sebring is now the aftermost chase of the IMSA season—on the aforementioned November date as the WEC afterpiece in Bahrain. So Keating, champ of the aftermost three Endurance Cups, won’t be able to go for four.
“I still adulation antagonism with IMSA,” he says. “But I adulation antagonism with the WEC more.”
In conditional qualifying, Keating’s No. 57 Porsche 911 RSR able a solid eighth, far bigger than they able aftermost year in the Ford GT. Basically, Keating says, the GTE Am chic is antagonism the cars the GTE Pro teams raced aftermost year.
This Porsche belongs to Aggregation Project 1—which was awarded the achievement aftermost year – so it’s “If you can’t exhausted ‘em, accompany ‘em,” situation. But Keating knows he and co-drivers Bleekemolen and Felipe Fraga can exhausted them – the added ammunition played no role in the Ford GT’s win – but Aggregation Project 1 is a actual well-respected group, and it should be a almighty combination.
Even if he is in a Porsche. “It’s a abundant machine,” he says. “But I aloof don’t decidedly charge to own one.”