Ben Keating has expressed “serious concerns” over the current Balance of Performance in GTE-Am, suggesting that his Ford GT is likely to be at a “three to four-second” deficit to the pace-setting Ferrari 488 GTEs come race day.
The Keating Motorsports owner/driver, who heads into the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the first-ever customer Ford competing in GTE-Am, said they currently don’t have the pace to match the Ferraris or defending class-winning Porsche 911 RSR under the ACO’s current Balance of Performance.
The Wynn’s-sponsored Ford was 16th quickest out of 17 GTE-Am competitors at the test day, and nearly three seconds slower than the pace-setting WeatherTech Racing Ferrari of Toni Vilander.
Keating’s co-driver Jeroen Bleekemolen was quickest in the car at a 3:59.725 lap, with no performance-related BoP changes having been made by the organizers since the test day.
“I have serious concerns,” Keating told Sportscar365. “I know what everyone ran at the test day. I believe we can get down into the 3:56s.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think a 3:56 is going to be competitive.
“I think the Ferraris are capable of running 3:52s because that’s what they ran last year and they now have less weight and more power.
“Right now, my fear is that we have a three or four-second per lap delta to the other cars, and you can’t be competitive with that.”
Keating, who partnered with Risi Competizione for last year’s race in a Ferrari, reckons the Prancing Horses will be at least three seconds quicker in race trim, comparing the progression in pace from 2018.
The Ferraris have been given a 9 kg weight break and turbo adjustment compared to last year’s race.
“The top five fastest cars at the test in our class were all Ferraris,” Keating said. “My biggest concern is that I expect all the Ferraris to have significantly more power come racing morning.
“Ford is not hiding anything. They’re trusting the system.
“I’ve experienced some other manufacturers who have done a really good job of playing the game, working hard to not show everything. But it’s not really possible when it’s all to be driver-controlled and you have three different drivers in the car.”
Keating said they will look to make continual gains in Wednesday’s Free Practice and Qualifying 1 but claims they will not be able to close the gap without a BoP adjustment of some sort.
“I don’t have any choices,” he said. “We have to go out and get comfortable in the car, try to make the car quicker, and trust that the ACO will look at all the same information I’m looking at and do the right thing.
“I have to trust that Ford will represent me well to the ACO.
“I’m concerned right now that we’re not there and I don’t think we can get there through practice and setup.
“I think it’s going to have to be a BoP adjustment of some sort, and hopefully that’s justified before we get to race day.”
“Very Challenging” to Be Only Ford in GTE-Am
Keating said it’s “very challenging” to be the only Ford competing in GTE-Am, amid the car’s first-ever race in a privateer team’s hands.
With no data to cross-reference and the entire GTE-Am class running at reduced power levels compared to GTE-Pro, Keating feels it puts the Ford at an even bigger disadvantage.
The EcoBoost V6 engine is already at the low-end of the power scale in GTE-Pro, which Keating says is extrapolated with the class-wide power reduction.
“Even the [Ford] Pro cars are at the limit for performance on the low-end of the power scale,” Keating said.
“You take away additional power from that, I really think it hurts the Am car, more significantly than the other Am cars.”