Throughout the year, Continental Tire will focus on celebrating the fans, media, drivers, and teams and their contributions to sports car racing, including a weekly trip down memory lane in Sportscar365’s Continental Tire IMSA Reflections series.
This week, Ben Keating reflects on his two Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup championships and what made winning as a driver and winning as a team owner different.
What was the significance of your first NAEC title in 2015 with the Viper program?
“It is way up there for me in terms of wins. I have always wanted to win the IMSA championship, but even when the NAEC first came out as a Grand-Am award in 2012, I did the full NAEC races with TRG back then because I thought it was such a cool championship.
“I think that trophy is the coolest trophy in sports car racing. As silly as it sounds, I really wanted to win that trophy.
“I didn’t want the small little driver version, I wanted the big team version.
“It’s interesting, I’ve chased that award for a long time and in 2015 I won it as a car owner. The No. 93 Viper [with drivers Al Carter and Cameron Lawrence] won it and I was a driver in that car for Daytona.
“But because I didn’t participate in all the NAEC races, it just wasn’t as exciting for me. I wasn’t as emotionally invested in that in 2015.”
What made 2017 different?
“In 2017, there was a lot more drama that happened which is what made it special. That drama or that adversity is what makes any award worth winning.
“We had such an incredible start to the season with a third place at Daytona and a win at Sebring and really felt great.
“Then at Watkins Glen last year, by our measurement and understanding of the rules, we got first place points for the three-hour mark.
“However, IMSA’s interpretation of the rules was different than ours and it was all messed up because it was under a yellow flag and the leader in Prototype had pitted. It was all confusing.
“We were feeling really good about the NAEC but Watkins Glen was a disaster for us even though we were totally racing specifically for NAEC points.
“We went into Petit [Le Mans] in second place but we were all down in the dumps because felt like we did not have a chance at Petit [due to BoP].
“It was just totally miraculous the way it all went down.
“The No. 63 [Scudenria Corsa] Ferrari amazingly got stuck in the gravel which put them down the order, and all race long we were calculating all the different scenarios and trying to figure out what we needed to do to get there.
“We made some strange strategy decisions. We chose not to pit when we probably should have pitted, but we did that just to get an extra NAEC point.
“The fact is that I was extremely emotionally invested in that championship and it was very special.”
Had you ever been a part of a streak like you had to begin the 2017 season: two wins and four-straight podiums?
“No! In 2013 we won two races in a row in the GTC class in ALMS and I’ve won multiple races throughout a year before in the Viper, but I’ve never been on the podium four races in a row for sure.”
In what ways has Continental Tire’s involvement impacted sports car racing in your time in the sport?
“I’ve been in racing long enough to see lots of different companies come and go or try to figure out how to get involved in motorsports and make it work for them.
“It’s evident of their people, and not only do they have great people who know motorsports, know how it works, and know how to make the most of it, it’s relationships.
“It’s the Dinner With Racers podcast, it’s all the different crazy things that they did to promote themselves and to build those relationships. It is tough work.
“It’s about a whole lot more than just writing a big check and it’s a lot more than just having your name on the sidewall of the tire.
“The people have done a phenomenal job there and their approach to the series has been awesome.”