Among the cars back in fully working condition this weekend at the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix after an accident at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring is the No. 33 Riley Motorsports SRT Viper GT3-R, driven by Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen.
Keating’s car burned in the first hour at Sebring, and he stopped the car on track under yellow following the team’s first pit stop of the race.
The ViperExchange.com/Riley Technologies team later learned that the Viper’s drive shaft had disconnected from the rear axle and likely severed a fuel line as it battered around, still connected to the engine, in the drive shaft tunnel.
Quick thinking by both Keating and the attending safety personnel saved the chassis from being a total write-off.
The Sebring chassis, Chassis No. 1, was not damaged beyond complete repair and the decision was made to rebuild the new car around Chassis No. 4, a spare that had been completed the Friday of Sebring race weekend at the team’s race shop. Chassis No. 4 is the team’s chassis this weekend in Monterey.
But other than bodywork (see above), core components of Chassis No. 1 were salvageable.
“There is nothing more damaging to a car than fire. I would rather have a big crash as compared to a fire,” Keating said.
“However, when Riley got everything back to the shop we learned that the fire never got that hot. Basically, everything metal was OK and everything plastic was not, but it was a big job to rebuild the car. Riley deserves huge credit. Luckily we had almost everything needed as part of our spares package.”
Bill Riley, Vice President and Chief Engineer of Riley Technologies, further explained the repair process and timeline.
“It took about a week and a half to strip it all the way down and get the chassis cleaned up and ready to go out and get blasted,” he said. “Meanwhile, the other mechanics were putting together the new car which just happened to be in the assembly shop and ready to go. It was just a bare chassis, but it had just been painted and was completed that Friday, so the day before we had the fire there was a new chassis sitting in the shop.”
Riley praised Keating’s investment in extra parts ahead of the season to prepare backup as need be.
“Ben stocked up pretty heavily on spares to start the season off so we kind of dug into those quite a bit,” Riley said. “We wanted to make this the most affordable transition that we could but now we are going to have to go back, reassess what our spare parts levels are see how we want to rebuild going forward.”
Speaking of spares, among any restocked spare parts inventory will likely be chassis No. 1 itself and some other refurbished parts from the Sebring race car. The engine was rebuilt, fitted with a new wiring harness and, along with the transmission and rear end, is on hand this weekend as usable spares.
With GTD having the break between Sebring and Monterey, it allowed for more time to rebuild. ViperExchange.com Team Manager Greg Jones said the first time it really looked like a car was either April 16 or 17.
“These cars kind of look like Skeletor without the body on them, it is hard to track the progress by a quick look, but this is a fresh chassis so there was a lot to be done from the ground up. It’s a new car,” he said.
Prior to the weekend, Tony Ave shook the car down April 22 at the Kershaw road course in North Carolina before the team packed up and headed west.
For Bleekemolen, who didn’t get the chance to race at Sebring due to the fire, he was happy to have this new tub back in working order for the weekend.
“Honestly we’re just happy to be here and happy to be back. This is where we want to be,” he told Sportscar365.
Bleekemolen was part of the American Le Mans Series GTC class win at Monterey in 2010. Keating finished fourth in GTC co-driving with Damien Faulkner last year, incidentally one place behind Bleekemolen’s car.