Ben Keating is expecting the LMP2 class at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans to be one of the most competitive yet, as the Texan takes on a team owner role for the first time in his professional racing career.
Keating’s Riley Mk. 30 Gibson was confirmed Monday by the ACO as the IMSA-designated LMP2 entry for the French endurance classic, in what’s expected to be a joint effort involving multiple parties from the IMSA paddock.
“I expect LMP2 to be where it’s at this year,” Keating told Sportscar365. “I really love the LMP2 experience.
“I got really excited, and mostly motivated, about running the LMP2 with Murphy Prototypes [last year], and realizing that the whole class is going to be new for 2017, I could be in a car that’s going to be competitive.
“And I’ve got a really good relationship with Bill [Riley]. I’ve got a lot of faith in Riley and Multimatic to build a great car.
“I expect to have a car that will be competitive this year. It will also be the first time I’ve gone to Le Mans with my own team, which is exciting as well.”
The entry, which will be under the Keating Motorsports banner, will feature a mix of crew from existing IMSA teams, including Visit Florida Racing, which is believed to be making up the backbone of the effort.
The Troy Flis-led team will give the Riley-Gibson its competition debut at this weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, which Keating said will provide his team with valuable data for Le Mans.
Riley Motorsports, which Keating and longtime co-driver Jeroen Bleekemolen will continue to drive for in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, is ineligible at Le Mans due to Riley’s affiliation as the car’s constructor.
“I want to have the best team I can put together,” Keating said. “There are a lot of great mechanics in our series.
“I’m getting advise, experience and assistance from other teams and Visit Florida Racing is an obvious key team because they’re running the exact same car.
“There’s lots of opportunities, whether that’s knowledge from Daytona and Sebring, or team members that know the car or spares… There’s lots of opportunities to lean on Visit Florida to help us with our Le Mans effort.”
Keating said he’s yet to finalize the driver lineup but will be one of the three pilots at the wheel of the LMP2 contender, and as a Silver-rated driver, will fulfill the ACO’s Pro-Am requirement for the class.
Although having initially considered a pre-Le Mans WEC outing, Keating has ruled out running the car in any races in the build up to twice-around-the-clock enduro, with an extensive test program instead scheduled.
He expects to take delivery of the car later this spring, prior to a series of of three tests.
“I feel it’s more important for other people to be out there racing the car and learning and developing the car than it is for me to own one that’s going to sit for a while,” Keating said.
“I rather get one as late as possible and get all the updates and improvements as I can get.”
Keating’s Le Mans program will not mark his first time running a car under his own banner, as he previously campaigned cars in the Dodge Viper Cup series, prior to his move to IMSA competition in 2011.