Ben Keating says the opportunity to race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans as the first-ever privateer Ford GT entrant, while holding a deep personal and business connection to the American brand is “the best of all worlds”.
Keating Motorsports was confirmed Monday as the first customer team to campaign the Multimatic-built supercar, following the Automobile Club de l’Ouest’s initial release of the entry list for the twice-around-the-clock endurance classic.
The Texan will team up with longtime co-driver Jeroen Bleekemolen and Silver-rated Felipe Fraga in the GTE-Am class Ford, which will feature a “consortium” of personnel from Riley Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing, Multimatic and Ford Performance.
“There are a lot of pieces of the puzzle to put together to run a program like this,” Keating told Sportscar365.
“It’s very different from a Ferrari or Porsche where I can call up Proton and have them add a car for me, or call up Risi and say, ‘Let’s do it again.’ If you’re talking about a Ferrari or Porsche, there’s a lot of options because they’ve done it on such a big scale; it’s easy.
“It’s not that way when you’re a one-off program in a car that’s never been run as a privateer program.”
While having inquired about running a Ford in last year’s race, Keating indicated the timing was right this time around, in the car’s fourth year of competition.
It’s come with several historical significances, as Keating has purchased Ford’s first race-winning chassis that Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook took to victory at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in 2016.
What’s more, Keating is a third-generation Ford dealer, as the owner of three dealerships in Texas.
“My grandfather was a Ford dealer. He had five kids and four of them became Ford dealers, one of which was my father,” he explained.
“Growing up in a Ford family and being so deeply related to the Ford brand, and all of the history of Ford at Le Mans makes this deal extremely special for me.
“There’s so much history there. Bob Riley was one of the engineers on the ’66 car that won.
“Whether it’s Riley history or Keating history or the opportunity to race a Ford and work with Chip Ganassi Racing… You can go on and on. There’s a super long list of all the different reasons why this is a spectacular opportunity.”
Keating said he expects to get his first laps in the car shortly, with a testing program in the works for the U.S. and potentially also in Europe.
He’s also set to utilize Ford and Multimatic’s simulators in preparation for what will be his fifth consecutive Le Mans appearance in as many cars.
“Everybody’s helping out in their own way,” Keating said. “I think I would be hard-pressed to be successful in the car without [Ford’s] experience.
“They will have had three years in the car, with two different teams and four different cars. It’s safe to say they’ve worked the bugs out and know what a setup looks like for Le Mans. That gives me a whole lot of confidence going into this deal.
“It’s huge and awesome. Every year I feel like there’s no way I could top this experience and somehow I’ve pulled another one out of the hat.”
Keating, who became the first IMSA entrant to unveil a historic livery for its 50th anniversary celebrations this year, hasn’t ruled out a throwback design for his Ford at Le Mans, although indicated that it would be dependent on the sponsorship that he already has in place.
“I think that would be cool but I’ve sold that right to somebody else,” he said. “As long as their money is green, they can make the car whatever color they want!”
“Never Say Never” On Additional Race Outings
While currently confirmed as a one-off entry, Keating indicated they could take part in additional FIA World Endurance Championship races in the 2019-20 season with the car.
It’s understood Ford has given the team provisions to run the car into next year, despite questions still surrounding the future of the factory Ganassi-run program.
“I’ll say never say never,” Keating said. “I don’t know what next year looks like. It’s a little bit weird for me because of the fact that WEC changed the schedule around. It’s hard for me to consider doing a full season of WEC when I haven’t gotten completely through the IMSA season yet.
“I would be interested in doing more races but I’m not sure what that looks like yet.
“Right now it’s the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and it depends on what happens. If we’re lucky enough to win the race, then that means I’d get an automatic invite to come back again next year.”