Jeroen Bleekemolen feels the combination of Keating Motorsports’ driver lineup, team and Ferrari 488 GTE should make for a “really strong” effort to fight for class honors in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The Dutchman and Ben Keating will make their fourth consecutive Le Mans start together, joined by Silver-rated hot shoe Luca Stolz in a Risi Competizione-prepared Ferrari in the GTE-Am category.
It will mark Bleekemolen and Keating’s return to the class since the Texan made his Le Mans debut in 2015, at the wheel of a Dodge Viper GTS-R that contended for a podium finish until late-race mechanical issues.
While having since faced two difficult years in LMP2 machinery, Bleekemolen is upbeat on their chances this time around, having come off an encouraging first test at Circuit of The Americas last week.
“I was talking to Ben after the test and we were very careful not to get too excited because we’ve had a couple of tough years at Le Mans where we felt like we were going to be OK but we weren’t,” Bleekemolen told Sportscar365.
“He’s very careful about feeling confident, but we’re going there to win.
“We have a team like Risi with all their GTLM people on our car, and I think we have one of the strongest lineups.
“If you put it all together we should be one of the favorites but we don’t want to jinx it yet.”
The two-day familiarization test at COTA, utilizing Risi’s GT3-spec Ferrari that took part in last month’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, marked all three drivers’ first laps in the turbocharged Prancing Horse, albeit in a slightly different specification they will race with at Le Mans.
Bleekemolen, who has prior Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 experience, spoke highly of the new-generation Ferrari, which he and Keating regularly compete against in the GT Daytona ranks of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
“It was interesting,” he said. “Obviously we’re racing against them a lot. It’s a very different car to the [Mercedes-AMG GT3], even just the nose is very short so the visibility is different.
“The engine is different with the turbo engine there, here you have much more torque.
“It’s a great car, you can tell. It’s an easy car. The same goes for the AMG; I think it’s also a great car.”
While unlikely to get a proper outing in the GTE-spec Ferrari until the official Le Mans Test Day in June, Bleekemolen believes they will have an extremely strong package for the race, despite the stiff competition in the Pro-Am-enforced class.
“We don’t know what the BoP is going to be like, but you never know,” he said. “If they give the Aston a lot of power again, Paul [Dalla Lana] with his team and Pedro [Lamy] and Mathias [Lauda], they might be the strongest, but I think we’re going to be OK.
“[The ACO] has a lot of experience now with the BoP with the old cars so they should be able to put a good BoP together. I think they did last year in Pro. It was really close.
“It should be as close as it was last year in Pro so it should be really good for us.”
Bleekemolen in Mentoring Role with Stolz
Bleekemolen has taken on a mentoring role with up-and-coming GT star Luca Stolz, who has joined the sports car racing veteran in multiple races in recent months.
The 22-year-old German teamed up with Bleekemolen, Keating and Adam Christodoulou in last month’s Rolex 24 at Daytona with Riley Team AMG and is coming off Pro-Am class victory in the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour in Black Swan Racing’s Porsche 911 GT3 R, alongside Bleekemolen.
They also drove together in last year’s 24 Hours of COTA, in a Black Falcon-prepared Mercedes GT3 that also featured Keating on the driving strength.
“I got to know him when we ran for Bentley, when HTP ran the Bentley,” Bleekemolen said. “We were teammates for a few races, and although he was only 18 or 19 years old, he was already really mature and fast.
“Since then we’ve always kept in touch and I knew that a couple of years down the road he would be one of the best guys you can have, and I think he really is.
“He’s super fast, really easy to work with, doesn’t need many laps in practice, he’s just like a true pro. I really like to have him in the car.”