Keating: Riley LMP2 is “Like Driving a Space Ship”

Photo: Ricky Taylor

Photo: Ricky Taylor

Ben Keating says the Riley Mk. 30 Gibson is like “driving a space ship” as the Texan, along with Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ricky Taylor, continue preparations for the new-for-2017 LMP2 car’s European debut in next month’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The trio wrapped up a two-day test at NOLA Motorsports Park on Wednesday, following a shakedown of the Multimatic-Riley-built prototype at Road Atlanta earlier this month, in what Keating has described as their “first laps in anger.”

The team owner/driver, who is debuting his new Keating Motorsports outfit, said he’s been pleased with the progress made so far.

“We actually spent a lot of time on track, which was really nice to see for the first time to start the car up,” Keating told Sportscar365. “We’re excited to see what else we can learn, and see if we can improve it.

“My goal between now and Belle Isle [has been] to drive as many laps as possible because I think the more time we can put on the car the more reliable we can be, and the better we can have it set up.”

While having data from fellow Riley squad Visit Florida Racing, which debuted the car in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Keating said not everything transfers over, as his car is running the Le Mans-specific low-downforce aero kit for the first time.

He said the focus of the Road Atlanta shakedown was extracting top speed out of the Gibson-powered prototype.

“A lot of the work we’re doing right now is aero work, trying to get this new Le Mans body kit dialed in for the best performance that we can have at Le Mans, in terms of top speed and reliability,” Keating said.

“It’s amazing how you make one little change to peel off some air to cool the car and it will cost you 2 mph.”

Keating, who made his LMP2 debut at Le Mans last year in Murphy Prototypes’ Oreca 03R Nissan, said the differences between that and the new Riley are night and day.

“It is interesting to me that this is the first time that I’ve driven a closed-cockpit prototype,” he said. “You wouldn’t think it would take that much time to get used to, but it does.

“I did two runs in the car during the shakedown, and I don’t mind saying that my first run in the car, it was a lot to take in. I was not very comfortable and it was just a bizarre experience for me. I felt like I was driving a space ship.

“It’s amazing to me, I was out of the car for an hour or two, got in for the second run, and it was a totally different experience the second time in the car. I was two or three seconds a lap faster, much more comfortable, and then I started to get the feeling that I can work with this. I feel much better.

“To me, I’ve been racing with Jeroen for four years now, and to me the biggest vote of confidence was his smile getting out of the car. He’s driven so many different types of cars, he knows what it’s supposed to feel like.

“I can tell you that Jeroen is incredibly excited about the car because he said it’s a real proper race car.”

With a stacked field in the LMP2 class for this year’s race, Keating warned that setting goals was a perilous proposition this far out.

Keating’s entry is the only Riley in the field and one of only four teams expected to utilize Michelin rubber.

“With 25 different LMP2 cars [at Le Mans], every car is a long shot,” he said. “It would be ridiculous to point at the right field fence and say, ‘We’re going to hit it over right there.’

“I don’t know how the Riley Mk. 30 is going to compare to the other three [constructors],” he said. “We chose to go with the Michelin tires. I’m not sure how Michelin is going to compare to the Dunlops that the WEC teams are running.

“There are still some gambles out there and only time will tell.

“I’ve got a ton of faith in Bob and Bill Riley and their ability to design an incredible car. They’ve been doing it for so long, they’ve got so many tricks of the trade, I expect the car to be great.

“But you don’t really know until you get to Le Mans and you get to go wheel-to-wheel with some of the other cars.”

Keating added that adding Ricky Taylor to the fold has the chance to be a major boost to the program.

All three drivers are fresh off respective victories in last weekend’s WeatherTech Championship race at Circuit of The Americas, with Keating and Bleekemolen taking their second GT Daytona class win of the season and Taylor remaining undefeated in IMSA competition this year.

“Obviously [Ricky] brings a lot to the table in terms of prototype experience and what different things that he thinks we might be able to improve the car or the experience of driving the car,” said Keating.

“But more than anything else, I just want him to bring his Midas touch!

“I look at the way the the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3 has started the season, and I look at the way the No. 10 Cadillac DPi has started the season, and I just want us all to keep it rolling.”

14 Comments

  1. Steven

    May 12, 2017 at 9:34 am

    They think it will drive like a space ship, until its 3-5 seconds a lap slower than the Oreca and Ligiers at Le Mans.

    • Hugo

      May 12, 2017 at 10:11 am

      Oh for Pete’s sake, let’s try to be positive, alright? It’s endurance racing, which isn’t just about being fast anyways. The Visit Florida car ended up 3rd in Daytona, so who knows… Nobody ever won a race on negativism!

      • Mike S.

        May 12, 2017 at 4:26 pm

        True but not worried about speed. Worried the car just can’t finish anything as the main problem. Rather it be 20 seconds down and finish than closer on speed and DNF 100% of the time.

      • Steven

        May 12, 2017 at 9:05 pm

        Just comparing to lap times. The Riley was the slowest P2 spec chassis and got to 3rd because of reliability. It’s no longer February and all the teams in WEC and ELMS teams have logged several races without problems. It’s an uphill battle for the chassis that should have never been given that 4th slot in all honesty, it should have gone to BR or Zytek/Gibson.

        ELMS this week at Monza will determine how close the Dallara will be to the Oreca and Ligier.

    • Stoop

      May 13, 2017 at 4:26 am

      How much slower would those Orecas and Ligiers be than the Dallara Cadillac?

      • jack

        May 14, 2017 at 12:28 pm

        the dallara is slightly slower than the ore and liger based on elms. so, the cadilacc would only be faster with favorable bop with the engine.

  2. Tyler Sanders

    May 12, 2017 at 10:06 am

    The Taylor brothers are a hot commodity.

  3. Justin Porter

    May 12, 2017 at 11:19 am

    As of right now, Riley has a better record in 24 Hour race under the new LMP2 regs than Oreca or Ligier. This isn’t a slouch of a team, Bleekemolen and Taylor are awesome guns to have in the cockpit, and Keating showed he could stay out of trouble in the Oreca last year.

    I think they can be rolling around at the finish, and that alone will give them a great shot at topping the Oreca apple cart.

    • jack

      May 14, 2017 at 12:31 pm

      not when 3 oreca teams are running all pro lineups, and others have just as good. also the smp dollars will be fast. united auto sport will be fast. the two graft cars. the manor cars, the rebellion cars, g-drive cars, dragon speed cars…. signatech alpine….. if the Le Mans aero on the Riley doesn’t make it competitive. they have no chance.

  4. Mike S.

    May 12, 2017 at 11:31 am

    I like this team especially Bleekie. They all did win last weekend. Gonna be hard in the Riley though. But who knows

  5. southcove

    May 12, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    Be fun to get some off the record comments from Taylor as to how the M-R P2 car compares overall to the Dallara built Caddie that he drives for the family team.

    Strengths, weaknesses, things that could be changed/improved or added without running into sanctioning/inspection issues.

    • NorthSask

      May 12, 2017 at 3:47 pm

      I was thinking the same thing. And, I wonder how much information he is giving the Keating guys about his experience in the Dallara, because you know he’s going back to WTR and telling them all about the Riley.

  6. N8

    May 12, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    Man, I will be pulling hard for these guys.

    A band new car and minority tire choice sounds like a big hill to climb, but it’s the electrical systems on most of the new P2’s that have proven to be the weak link on all 4 versions. What worries me is that this crew hasn’t had to diagnose and repair these electrical gremlins yet. Hopefully, VFR has been willing to share some of their experiences in that department so that the Keating engineers are ready WHEN they start arising.

  7. Mike S.

    May 12, 2017 at 4:24 pm

    Yeah and many teams have tried getting rid of gremlins even having the car for a bit longer and have failed to finish still. Would be the most epic turnaround if they even have a good finish cause these cars aren’t ready to be run honestly. That is the manufacturers fault not each team.

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