Ben Keating will get his first taste of the Ford GT he’s purchased when numerous teams test today at Sebring International Raceway. Facilitated by Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, the Texan will sample the twin-turbo V6-powered machine he’ll race at Le Mans in June as the first independent entrant of the factory-commissioned supercar.
Having purchased one of the few Ford GTs built by Multimatic for use in IMSA’s GT Le Mans class and the FIA WEC’s GTE-Pro category, the Texas car salesman will become the first to enter the Rolex 24 At Daytona- and 24 Hours of Le Mans-winning chassis at the legendary French endurance event in the GTE-Am class.
Once testing is complete at Sebring with the Ganassi team, Bill Riley’s Riley Motorsports team will take over and run the car at Le Mans on behalf of Keating Motorsports.
“It started back at Petit in 2017,” Keating said of the initial contact with Ford. “Most people don’t know; everyone views me as a MOPAR guy because of my [Dodge] Viper history, [but] the fact is my grandfather was a Ford dealer, he had five kids; four of them became Ford dealers, and one of those was my father. [For] my first dealership 17 years ago, when I got started on my own, I bought a little bitty Ford store in Port Lavaca, Texas, so I’ve got deep Ford roots.
“Throughout the year of 2018, there are so many different things that came together to make this deal happen. Ford needed to get comfortable with me, and needed to make sure I was going to represent them well. It’s been great.”
Pre-existing relationships between Ganassi, Riley, Ford, and Multimatic played a significant role in striking a deal to sell the first Ford GT race car to an independent entrant like Keating. The Riley family and Chip Ganassi have been close for many decades, dating back to Ganassi’s time as a driver, and more recently as a chassis supplier to CGR’s championship-winning GRAND-AM Rolex Series Daytona Prototype program that featured Ford power and bodywork in its final iteration.
Riley’s father Bob spearheaded a number of factory Ford racing projects, including the IMSA race-winning front-engine Mustang GTP from 1983, and more recently, Riley Technologies and Multimatic partnered on the Mk. 30 LMP2 chassis, which also forms the basis of Mazda’s RT24-P IMSA DPi.
“There are a lot of people that have to be comfortable with each other and I think clearly, Ganassi is comfortable with Riley,” Keating said. “Riley is comfortable with Ganassi, and Multimatic, and Ford, and all these different pieces of the puzzle came together to say Keating Motorsports can buy a car and run a car at Le Mans with extremely low level [of trackside support]. Which is a big deal. We’re expecting them to tell us what to do, and we’ll do it.”
Keating will share the No. 85 Ford GT with his usual co-pilot Jeroen Bleekemolen from Holland, and relative newcomer Felipe Fraga from Brazil. Knowing that he’ll have a prized GTLM/GTE machine to take home after Le Mans, the natural question is when and where Keating Motorsports via Riley Motorsports will enter their second race with the car.
“That is one of the top questions I’ve received, and my answer is ‘baby steps,’” Keating said. “We are still very young in this effort, even though we’ve announced it. Right now, I’m not looking any further beyond Le Mans. I have a hard time thinking about what’s next for the Ford GT, but it’s exciting to know I’ll own 10 sets of wheels and spare bodywork and everything I need to go and run an endurance race. I don’t want to throw out any false expectations, but it would be exciting to run it again. But I’m not sure what it will look like.”
In FCGR’s hands, Keating’s chassis, the fourth built for competition, earned Ford’s first victories with the GT in 2016. Claiming wins at Monterey, Watkins Glen, and Mosport, the No. 67 Ford GT was eventually replaced by a newer chassis and had been used as a spare and testing car for the team until Keating’s acquisition.