Ben Keating has given high marks to the FIA World Endurance Championship’s class structure, stating that a Bronze-rated driver requirement in GTE-Am helps level the playing field in the privateer-focused category.
The longtime IMSA entrant has shifted his focus to the globe-trotting championship, having joined defending GTE-Am class champions Team Project 1 for the 2019-20 season.
Keating, who has carried over his Le Mans lineup of Jeroen Bleekemolen and Silver-rated Felipe Fraga to the German organization, kicked off his full-season campaign earlier this month at Silverstone in the No. 57 Porsche 911 RSR.
“I’m doing this for fun and I’m going to spend a bunch of time and money, no matter where I’m racing,” Keating told Sportscar365. “I just felt like it was time to do something different. It’s really just something new.
“I’ve been in the IMSA paddock for six years, or seven if you include the last year of ALMS. I’ve been to all those tracks, but I’ve never been to these tracks.
“I’ve never been to Silverstone, Fuji, Shanghai or Bahrain, or any of them [except Le Mans]. It’s fun and exciting. It’s a little bit more travel, but there are fewer races, so it all evens out.”
While still set to have a presence in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next year, likely in the four Michelin Endurance Cup races, Keating said the unique nature of mandating a Bronze-rated driver in the WEC GTE-Am class makes him “very excited” about his chances.
IMSA had evaluated creating a Bronze-mandated subcategory to GT Daytona, per the request of several GT3 manufacturers, but ultimately elected against doing it for 2020.
“I really like the structure of the GTE-Am class where it requires a Bronze, a Silver and a pro,” Keating said.
“In IMSA, GT Daytona is Pro-Am, but you can have either a Silver or a Bronze, and you can have a gold or a Platinum.
“There are a few teams there that have factory money backing them up and they have a pro driver who’s a Silver and a pro driver who’s a Platinum.
“The competition is good. It’s especially good when we win, like we did [at VIR]. Nothing against that, I’ve loved it, and I’ll continue to be there in some of those races.
“But I’m very excited about the GTE-Am setup, and I’m very excited to know that I’ll be back at Le Mans again.”
While having gotten off to a challenging start to his WEC campaign in Silverstone, with mechanical issues preventing the car from qualifying and forcing a pit lane start that put them one lap down from the onset, Keating has been impressed with the Project 1’s level of professionalism.
“It’s a very impressive organization,” he said. “I’m still learning all of that.
“I didn’t really know anybody here when I arrived. I knew they won the championship last year, and that doesn’t happen by accident. These are all really good teams in this paddock for the most part, and you’ve got to be good if you want to win.
“I had a lot of comfort knowing that we were going to help them try to defend the championship.”
Porsche Allows to Driver to be “Dancing on the Limit Comfortably”
Keating has given high marks to the mid-engined Porsche, stating that it’s a big difference to the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car he drove in the 2013 American Le Mans Series season, in his only other previous racing experience with the German manufacturer.
“To me, the biggest difference is that the RSR has more downforce and better suspension,” he said. “It has better everything than the Cup car, but the fact that this car is a mid-engine car… when I [first drove it], I couldn’t believe it.
“It really is an incredibly different car and it’s a legitimate mid-engine car. To me, it feels more closely related to the Ferrari GTE car more than any other car that I’ve raced.
“When it gets away from you, the pendulum of how the front and the rear move in relation to each other feels really good.
“You can really get aggressive with the car and throw it around, really dancing on the limit comfortably. You couldn’t do that with the Cup car. It’s a relatively easy car to drive hard, which is what an old guy like me needs!”