Bleekemolen & Keating Score For Mercedes

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Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating celebrate after their victory Sunday at Virginia Int'l Raceway. (Sarah Weeks Photo)
Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating celebrate after their victory Sunday at Virginia Int'l Raceway. (Sarah Weeks Photo)

ALTON, Va. – It was finally Mercedes-AMG’s turn atop the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship podium on Sunday at Virginia Int’l Raceway.

The No. 33 Riley Motorsports – Team AMG Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating scored their first victory – and podium – of the season in the GT Daytona at the 3.27-mile circuit.

In fact, it was the first podium of the season for the manufacturer in GTD and the first win for Bleekemolen and Keating since winning at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park last July.

RELATED: Tandy & Pilet Conquer VIR’s GT Challenge

“Golly, this has been a long time coming,” said Keating. “We’ve have had a great, car, a great team, and everything would have gone so well from a performance standpoint all season, and then we’d have the worst of luck. Today was almost the complete opposite.”

The win came as a result of a slightly different pit strategy than the rest of the GTD competitors. The team chose to pit two laps earlier than the leaders to save time on pit lane and save fuel on track.

Bleekemolen was third following the midrace handoff from Keating and with two laps on the tires, passed the leading No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 of Mario Farnbacher and the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R of Scott Hargrove, fresh off pit lane on cold tires.

“Mario did an unbelievable job on the first lap,” said Keating. “But coming out of (the) Oak Tree (Turn), he went wide and it’s a pretty rough ride on the outside of there, and that allowed Jeroen to get a bit of a run all the way going down the back straight. From that point in time, once you have the position of being in the lead, it’s a little bit easier to save fuel. And this is one of those tracks where you can save fuel if you’re not really fighting hard for position.”

The win also capped off a special weekend for Bleekemolen, who competed in a late model race at the South Boston Speedway on Saturday night. Ironically, the GT Le Mans class winners on Sunday – Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet in the No. 911 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR – also were in attendance as spectators.

Farnbacher and co-driver Trent Hindman held on for second place by .566 seconds to expand their championship lead to 37 points over Zacharie Robichon, Hargrove’s No. 9 Porsche co-driver. Robichon currently leads the duo by one point in the WeatherTech Sprint Cup, which reaches its conclusion following the upcoming race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

Rounding out the GTD podium was the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa WeatherTech Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 of Cooper MacNeil and Toni Vilander, who made a last lap pass on Hargrove for the third position and the team’s third podium of the year.