DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 28, 2015) – TI Automotive, ViperExchange.com and Riley Motorsports kicked-off their new technology and marketing partnership in winning style at this past weekend’s Rolex 24 At Daytona, January 24 – 25, where team drivers Ben Keating, Al Carter, Cameron Lawrence, Kuno Wittmer and Dominik Farnbacher raced from last on the starting grid to the GT Daytona (GTD) class victory in the No. 93 TI Automotive/ViperExchange.com Dodge Viper GT3-R.
The win came in the on-track race debut of the new partnership with ViperExchange.com and Riley Motorsports and featured several TI Automotive high-performance systems on both team Viper GT3-Rs for the first time, including the fuel pump delivery and driver air conditioning systems. In both cases, TI Automotive engineers tuned current production Viper components to Riley specifications. The technology transfer resulted in significant weight savings and optimized engine efficiencies for more power.
The winning No. 93 Viper joined the sister No. 33 TI Automotive/ViperExchange.com entry – driven by Keating, Carter, Marc Goossens and brothers Sebastiaan and Jeroen Bleekemolen – as the GTD cars to beat in the grueling, twice-around-the-clock race on the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway road course. Both entries led in the GTD class during the race but any chance for a possible one-two finish went away early Sunday morning when the No. 33 was hampered by electrical issues.
With the No. 33 out of winning contention, and eventually retiring in the race’s final hour, the No. 93 team stepped up to carry TI Automotive and ViperExchange.com honors. Wittmer put the No. 93 in the lead for good with just over six hours remaining and then joined Farnbacher, who drove the Viper to the finish, in staying up front for the final quarter of the race. The winning margin of victory was 7.588 seconds.
The win capped an amazing run that saw the No. 93 team race to the victory from last place on the 53-car starting field following an incident in Thursday qualifying. Both Wittmer and the No. 93 were lucky to escape unscathed after a 180 mph spin, but a necessary tire change forced them to the back of the starting field as IMSA rules call for all entries to start the race on the same tires used in qualifying.
With the No. 93 rolling off from the back of the grid on Saturday, starting driver Keating began the charge to the front and picked up several positions in his race-opening stint. He was emotionally and visibly moved 24 hours later when the team completed the amazing last-to-first victory.
“Unbelievable win for our team,” said Keating, who is also the principal of ViperExchange.com. “I would say I was first a Viper racer but then became a Viper seller. I’m a car dealer in Texas, the No. 1 volume Viper dealer in the world, and it’s something I’m very passionate about. The joy of being able to win the Rolex 24 in a Viper is, well, emotional. This means a lot.”
Keating was also quick to give credit to the new partnership with TI Automotive that came home a winner the first time out.
“We brought on a new sponsor this year with TI Automotive, which was really much more of a partnership on the technical side with the fueling system and even making our air conditioning more efficient in the car,” Keating said. “Combine that with all of the incredible elements that won Kuno the driver’s championship last year in GT Le Mans that have trickled down into our program and it is just really special.”
TI Automotive first raced with Viper and Riley Motorsports last year in the IMSA TUDOR Championship GT Le Mans (GTLM) division, debuting at the Brickyard Grand Prix.
“We had an amazing opportunity to share some blue and green TI Automotive affection and the winners and champions shined through,” said Al Deane, TI Automotive Chief Technology Officer. “We were not around for the birth and growth of this team but I know back home in Auburn Hills, Michigan there are a lot of happy and proud parents at Dodge, Mopar, SRT and our company headquarters. We know in global business that high-performance, winning teams require diverse, multi-cultural, great people with strong relationships. We are so proud of this team and the great relationships that we have already quickly established. It is going to be an amazing and sizzling season.”
The No. 93 squad, then racing a Viper GTS-R, captured the 2014 GTLM team championship while Wittmer won the GTLM driver title. He and his GTLM teammates, Farnbacher and Goossens, were invited to join the TI Automotive,ViperExchange.com, Riley Motorsports GTD program at Daytona. Most of last year’s winning GTLM crew and the familiar number 93 were also made part of the 2015 Rolex 24 program that will also contest the remaining rounds of this year’s Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup (NAEC).
“Looking at Ben’s emotions basically sums up everything,” Wittmer said. “Everything that we’ve achieved and everything we’ve done so far. We’re not just weekend warriors or weekend hires. We’re family, maybe more than that, we’ve worked together since 2012, and some of us before that. The confidence that I have in the team and my teammates is extraordinary, everything just fits, everything just works, and I’m so grateful we were able to retain last year’s championship-winning team. I think through the cooperation of Ben Keating and Bill Riley, and the support of TI Automotive, we were able to keep us together, retain the family, and get it going again.”
Farnbacher won his second Rolex 24 in a GT division a full decade after capturing his first title in his Daytona debut in 2005.
“Last year in the GTLM class we were pretty close and finished third from the pole,” Farnbacher said. “This year, Riley and, of course, Ben Keating and TI Automotive made it possible for us to compete again and to repeat the whole program but just in a different class, different category, and this time we were lucky and were strong enough to win. It means a lot to us, all of us. We’re all very emotional at the moment. It’s a big achievement for Chrysler, for the Viper people, the Viper Nation.”
Major contributors to the No. 93’s win were debuting team drivers Carter and Lawrence. Carter joined Keating in racing both the No. 33 and No. 93 Vipers, a move that maximized their opportunities in the Tequila Patrón NAEC, while Lawrence made his endurance race debut after most recently winning last year’s Trans Am TA2 Championship in a Dodge Challenger.
“I was lucky enough to get asked by Ben and Bill to come test in November and got the opportunity to do this race,” Lawrence said. “It is my first 24 and to win with this group of guys and Viper Exchange and TI Automotive is unreal. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. Like Dom said, we’re all very emotional. This is something for me I never thought would happen, at least not this soon, my first time. I just don’t have any words for it to explain it correctly, I’ve just got to thank all the guys, the crew, all the guys that made this happen, and to let me win with this group of drivers and these guys is unbelievable.”
Carter drove a combined six different times in the No. 33 and No. 93 Vipers in a virtual iron-man performance in the first three quarters of the race.
“Like Cameron, I was lucky enough to get the opportunity by Ben and Bill to test with them and quickly what I realized was they had the best prepared team and the best personnel that I’ve encountered in my relatively short career,” Carter said. “So, for me it’s kind of an honor to be a part of the team, receive a Rolex and be part of it with these guys, you call it like a tombstone moment because that’s how special it is. Since it’s not my first win like Cameron’s, I know how difficult they are and what has to go right, and Riley, TI Automotive, Viper Exchange and all of these guys that have been working together for the last couple of years, they won this race because of their ethic, how they prepared and their talent. For me it’s very special.”
The No. 93 team, and drivers Carter, Lawrence, Wittmer and Farnbacher, also left Daytona with an early lead in the Tequila Patrón NAEC after some key strategy and driver-change calls by the Riley Motorsports team. The team won three of four GTD NAEC segments, which allocated points based on class running order at the conclusion of each quarter of the Rolex 24. In addition to being up front at the finish, the No. 93 also led at the six and 18-hour marks and was second in hour 12.
The No. 33 also officially led the race at the end of five different hours, including hours two and three with Jeroen Bleekemolen at the wheel and later in hours 15 and 16 with Keating and Sebastiaan Bleekemolen at the controls. Goossens also ran second in the No. 33 to then race leader Farnbacher in the No. 93 in their opening stints.
“The 33 car had a pretty good start of the race,” Goossens said. “I think we were about 16 or 17 hours in early on Sunday morning when we had a crank sensor on the engine get damaged internally. We went down 16 laps or so trying to fix it and get it to run. It was the only flaw in the race for us but unfortunately a big delay. If not for that, we could have been high up there and we were.”
Sebastiaan Bleekemolen, three years older than brother Jeroen, also led in the No. 33 in his race-opening stint and was later at the wheel and up front when the car quit early Sunday morning.
“At first it was great,” Sebastiaan Bleekemolen said. “I got in just before it got dark and I was in for two hours and we continued to lead the race. I was doing fine all of the race and then, during my last stint, all of the sudden the engine stopped. We found out it was an electrical problem. It’s really a shame because I think we had a good shot at the win but this is racing and this is how it goes. Hopefully we can come back stronger next year.”
Next up for the TI Automotive/ViperExchange.com Riley Motorsports team is the 12 Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida at Sebring International Raceway, March 18 – 21.
– The No. 93 team’s victory was the first for a Viper at Daytona since 2000 when Dodge Viper GTS-R drivers Olivier Beretta, Karl Wendlinger and Dominique Dupuy scored an overall Rolex 24 victory that has become legendary with Viper enthusiasts and fans around the world.
– The Rolex 24 opener marked the return to competition for Viper GT3-R chassis 001 which was severely damaged in a first-hour fire in last March’s 12 Hours of Sebring. Keating, who escaped uninjured from the Sebring blaze, joined his teammates Jeroen and Sebastiaan Bleekemolen in leading the race this past weekend in the original and returning 001 No. 33. The winning No. 93, Viper GT3-R chassis No. 004, is the same car Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen drove to victories last year at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park and Circuit of The Americas, standing in as No. 33 while 001 was being repaired. Chassis 004 now has three wins in the last seven IMSA TUDOR Championship GTD races.
– Wittmer has endless praise for the winning Rolex 24 effort. “Viper Exchange and TI Automotive are two organizations with great people and great passion, and that’s the key behind the whole thing. They put a great car on the grid and the Viper was very, very competitive. The team was on point and the Viper was just so good. The car was there, the reliability of the car was there, and we never had an issue once, never put the wheel off into the grass once by any of us. The team never missed a beat, and that’s what you need to do. There’s not even a scratch on the car. Although we were not the quickest cars on track, we were the smartest team, and here we are.”
– While the TI Automotive/ViperExchange.com Riley Motorsports team is made up of drivers and crew members from around the world, Lawrence scored a victory for the local crowd. The Orlando, Florida resident scored the biggest win of his young career at his home track, the same circuit where he also clinched the last two Trans Am titles. “I think it gave me a little bit of an advantage being my home track and having won a couple of championships here. This race is something I started coming to as a fan and getting to watch, but the first time I came here I never thought about driving. To get here, especially being my first one with such a good team and group of guys who I really look up to after watching them since I started is very unreal and emotional. I don’t think it will sink in until next week or so.”
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