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Keating prepares for USSC series / July 21, 2014
Ben Keating is a virtual graybeard at VIR.

Keating, who will be in the field when the Tudor United Sports Car Championship returns to Virginia International Raceway in August, was part of a Friday media day event designed to augment interest in the new series.

Keating has been preparing for his role in the new United SportsCar Championship series.

Keating, in order to get ready for the demands of the newly minted United SportsCar Championship, ran in the GTC of the American Le Mans class last year. He won at VIR last year, starting from the pole and leading wire to wire. In the last two years, Keating has three wins in class.

This year, Keating is racing in a GT3-R Viper, in the GT Daytona class. Last Sunday, racing at Mosport in Canada, he had the first win in the new car.

“To finally get on the top step of the podium was a really big deal,” said Keating.

He’s had to make adjustments for 2014.

Keating learned to race in a Viper, and “it almost feels like putting on an old glove,” referring to his transition to the USSC GT Daytona class in 2014.

“It’s the most technically advanced Viper I’ve ever driven. It’s the fastest Viper I’ve ever driven. But it’s much more comfortable than the Porsche I raced last year. It’s what I’m used to. It’s definitely worth the time on the track and some racecraft skills,” said Keating.

Keating brought his GT Daytona car to VIR Friday. He competed in the Ultimate Track Car challenge with his car from the Tudor series, and “it’s unbelievable, running no holds barred, unrestricted, and having a lot of fun.”

Keating, who owns a Viper dealership in Houston, Texas, has had what he called an extreme an up and down season in the Tudor series.

It’s the first time out for a brand new car in a new series, and Keating said the Daytona 24 opener went well - for a while. But 15 hours in, the team had to replace the clutch. He got that issue fixed.

Then, there was the fiery Sebring experience.

“At Sebring, 30 minutes in, my car caught on fire and burned to the ground. I got national news, the big fire, they shut the race down for 30 minutes. Big deal. We rebuilt it, got it back on the track,” said Keating.

From there, Keating’s team has had plenty of bad luck, until the recent turnaround. “To be on the top step of the podium, to have a victory last weekend, was really great. The ‘73 Porsche had a really big lead with ten minutes left in the race last weekend. They got unlucky this time,” said Keating.

That team should have won. Instead, the breaks went Keating’s way.

The United Sports Car Championship visits Aug. 22-24. Keating’s class will be one of the prime classes racing in the feature finale, the Oak Tree Grand Prix on Sunday.

“I love VIR. I guess in the last seven years, I’ve probably raced at VIR ten or 12 times. I can only think of one race I haven’t been on the podium. The very first race in the Dodge Viper Cup, a Spec series, I won the very first race here at VIR.

“I absolutely love this track. It’s one of my favorite tracks in the country. Nothing else like it. The Esses are extremely unique and a lot of fun,” said Keating.

“I’ve developed some unique passing zones here that most people don’t know about. I just love it, every time I take advantage of it. People don’t expect it,” said Keating.

“The long back straight. It’s just an incredible course set in an incredible place,” said Keating.

“I only know this track from the way it was. To get out there and realize, holy smokes, I might be able to go flat through turn 3. You’ve got more grip, you’ve got more run-off. It’s safer, it’s faster, and it’s hard to believe it can be more fun,” said Keating.

He compared this to a roller-coaster ride, like a giddy school kid.

“The Tudor United Sports Championship is really unique among shows,” said Keating.

“There are parts of the track here that really suit my car. There are parts of the track that suit someone else’s car. That means, even though you may have similar lap times ... I may be able to pass a competitor in one section of the track. He may turn around and pass me right back again in another section,” said Keating.

“It just makes for really interesting racing to watch. It makes for good racing for the fans,” said Keating.

Keating said the biggest class in the Tudor series is the GT Daytona.

“That’s a pro-am class, and even though the manufacturers with all the money are going to get the best talent to drive their cars, and really it’s going to be the top level of racing. It’s that gentleman driver, the AM side of it, that kind of feeds this deal,” Keating said.

Keating is hiring a driver to work with him in the Tudor series when it stops at VIR.

The GT Daytona class is very popular. “It’s a really big class, which makes it a lot fun,” Keating said.

Keating’s team had designs on winning the class championship. But the Sebring incident put matters in perspective.

Now, with the current point structure in place, any DNF puts Keating’s team out of competition in the title hunt. With so many cars in the class, drivers who get a DNF are pretty well out of the hunt.

The Sebring fire took Keating out of the championship.

“I did the math. I think if we won all the races from there on out, I’m not sure we could have won the championship,” said Keating.

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