Ben Keating says he did not expect to be standing on the top step of the podium and claim his maiden FIA World Endurance Championship victory at the end of the 8 Hours of Bahrain.
The Texan picked up the GTE-Am win at the Sakhir circuit with Team Project 1, sharing the No. 57 Porsche 911 RSR with Larry ten Voorde and Jeroen Bleekemolen, who together were the first Dutchmen to win in WEC GTE competition.
Keating started the car as the team elected to triple stint the Bronze-rated driver to get his minimum driving time out of the way.
While other teams stopped immediately after their Bronze drivers’ minimum drive time was complete, forcing them into at least eight stops, Project 1 pushed to complete the stint, allowing them to make one fewer stop.
As a result, Keating’s car dominated and finished 37 seconds ahead of the second-placed No. 98 Aston Martin Vantage GTE, approximately the length of a pit stop.
Bleekemolen credited his co-driver, Keating, as “heroic” for his “iron man” opening stints.
The class victory puts the No. 57 Porsche to the top of the GTE-Am standings courtesy of Bahrain being the first of three extended points-paying races this season, with 1.5x points awarded.
Keating and Bleekemolen sit tied for the lead with AF Corse’s Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Nicklas Nielsen.
“Did not expect it, for sure, but as someone said earlier with the additional points in the eight-hour, in the longer race, this was an important one for us,” said Keating.
“We keep getting a little bit better, a little bit better as a team.
“It was an interesting race for us. We got the whole strategy worked out to where we would get my two hours and 20 minutes done but then that put us with a need to do a stop with 15 minutes to go in the race and we didn’t get any of the Full Course Yellows in the first few hours we expected to get.
“We only needed one and it didn’t happen which kind of changed our strategy.
“I ended up doing the first three hours triple stint at the beginning and my pace was good; it was nice to be up front and not have to be fighting a bunch of the other GTE-Am cars.
“That enabled us to eliminate a stop so we were the only car in the GTE-Am field that did it on seven stops and that ended up being the difference in the race.
“I think to the No. 98 Aston, the difference is about a pit stop; we all had a faultless race, these guys did a great job and like I said, it didn’t happen the way we expected it to, but very nice to be up front in the end.”
Ten Voorde, who has filled in for Felipe Fraga in the last two WEC rounds, took home his first victory in only his second race in the GTE-spec Porsche.
He enthused that the team “made the right choice” in triple-stinting Keating.
“It’s amazing; the triple stint that Ben did helped us a lot and when I got in the car we were still a little bit fighting but in the end we had one stop less,” said ten Voorde.
“Jeroen did a mega job and also the team with the strategy was still looking ‘where do we come out?’ and at the end of the run you saw we made the right choice.”