The No. 33 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper SRT GT3-R will see a new but familiar face return to top-level IMSA competition this weekend at Virginia International Raceway, as Tony Ave is set to make his TUDOR United SportsCar Championship debut.
Ave, a longtime test and development driver for Riley Technologies, will fill in for regular season driver Jeroen Bleekemolen, who is taking part in this weekend’s Blancpain Sprint Series round in Slovakia. The Dutchman currently sits second in the title race in the popular European championship.
The two-time Trans-Am champion will pair with car owner Ben Keating in the ViperExchange.com-sponsored GT Daytona class entry, which is coming off a streak of two podium finishes in the last three races, including a maiden class victory at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
“I have driven for Bill and Bob Riley since 1992,” Ave said. “I have done shake down tests and some research and development testing with the GT3 Vipers, just enough to say that I want to drive them a lot more!
“The VIR track is one of my favorites. Fortunately I live within a couple hours of there so we test our Trans Am cars there a fair amount, it’s very challenging and has some high speed esses that I really enjoy. It’s an excellent place to make my debut in GTD.”
Keating, who currently sits 12th in the GTD standings after a rough start to the year, also heads into the 17-turn, 3.27-mile circuit with plenty of experience, including recently taking part in the Ultimate Track Car Challenge with the same chassis.
“I love VIR,” he said. “I have raced there 12 times and I have won nine of those races. Last year in GTC, I was able to gap the field a little in my stint and I am hoping for the same in 2014.
“Except for the long straight, the Viper should be good. We are very good up the esses and in Turn 17 coming on to the front straight, but I expect the Porsches, Audis, and Ferraris to be good here also.”
Bleekemolen will return to the wheel of the Riley Motorsports entry for the final two races at Circuit of The Americas and Petit Le Mans.