Ben Keating admitted to a “bittersweet” feeling after recording a career-best third in class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans but missing out on the chance to fight for the class win in the closing hours.
Keating and co-drivers Jeroen Bleekemolen and Luca Stolz had fought back to second in GTE-Am after Bleekemolen’s excursion into the gravel trap the opening hour dropped the No. 85 Keating Motorsports Ferrari 488 GTE down the running order.
Once more than one lap, the margin to the class-leading No. 77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR came down to less than 30 seconds by the time the Texan strapped in for his final stint in Hour 22, but Keating’s own trip into the gravel dropped them to third.
“It was bittersweet,” he told Sportscar365. “I’m extremely grateful for any podium at Le Mans.
“It’s a hard race to win, but I definitely felt like this was the best chance we had ever to win. We felt like we had the car that was capable of it.
“It’s funny, we thought coming into the weekend the [race-winning] No. 77 was our biggest competition and the [second-place] No. 54 was close to us, and that’s exactly the way it played out.
“I give myself a hard time for sticking it in the gravel and giving up second place and Jeroen gave himself a hard time for going through the gravel.
“We can definitely look back at the race and say maybe, what if we had a perfect race? There would have been a good fight for the win, but we didn’t have a perfect race and we were still on the podium.”
Bleekemolen said that team took advantage of safety car and Slow Zone periods to help make up the deficit.
“It was a long-shot, but you never know with these yellows, with these slow zones,” he told Sportscar365. “If you miss them and the other one takes it, then it’s a big difference.
“We were more than a lap down and suddenly we were 50 seconds behind [because of the safety car]. So much can happen. You get lucky, and boom: you’re there. You should never give up.
“But on the other hand, they had a big lead and they deserved it as well. They didn’t have any mistakes, just tires and fuel all race long, so they deserved to win.”
The joint Keating/Risi Competizione effort was the only American team representing the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship to reach a class podium in the race.
Keating Targeting Le Mans Return
Keating gave high praise to the Texas-based operation, adding that the experience had him eager to return for another attempt at Le Mans glory.
“I definitely enjoyed working with Risi,” he said. “I enjoyed racing in the Ferrari. The team was just phenomenal.
“There was no problem with the car, the team didn’t make any mistakes, I couldn’t ask for anything more from either the car or the team. It’s very good.
“I feel like we had a really good package here this weekend. I’d love [come back with a similar program]. If all the stars aligned, I’d love to be back here for sure.”
John Dagys contributed to this report.