Ben Keating is no stranger to running two cars in two different classes, as he is always looking to maximize his chances of winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Last year, he attempted LMP2 and GTD. This year, though, he’s gunning for the top.
Keating will race LMP2 for PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports as he begins the defense of the championship he won last year with Mikkel Jensen. Additionally, he will partner with Tristan Vautier, Richard Westbrook and Loic Duval in the No. 5 JDC-Miller Motorsports Cadillac, the only Bronze-rated driver in the DPi field. If all goes well, Keating could become the first driver to win the Rolex 24 in two different classes in the same event, while also earning his first overall win.
“This is unique, because it’s the first time I’ve ever been able to run in the top class,” said Keating, who won the GTD category at Daytona in 2015. “And, you know, I’ll always believe that every car in a 24-hour race is a long shot. And that’s the reason why I’ve wanted to be a team member in two cars. But, there’s something special about having the opportunity to compete for an overall win.”
Keating had his first laps in the Cadillac on Friday at the Roar Before the 24. Knowing that the DPi cars are based on LMP2 chassis, he expected to find the two cars somewhat alike to drive. He was surprised, but in a good way.
“I expected the two cars to be much more similar than they were,” he said. “It was much more different than I expected, which is really, really fun. I mean, both cars are incredibly quick but they make up their speed in different ways. And I think that my time in the DPi car improved my driving in the LMP2, just because they do different things better or worse.”
The Texan admitted that he felt a little selfish with the deal, because he has to go back and forth between two teams, two different team meetings and two post-race debriefs, requiring both teams to be flexible to make it work.
“I feel like a giant pain in the ass, to tell the truth.” he laughed, also expressing gratitude for the opportunity.
The actual logistics of driving in both cars are made a bit easier by a couple of factors. First, being the Bronze driver in the LMP2 lineup that includes Jensen, Scott Huffaker and Nicolas Lapierre, means he has to qualify and start the race. That means he’ll get a good chunk of his four-and-a-half hour minimum driving time taken care of right away. Then it’s time to get his minimum two hours of drive time in the DPi, which could happen in three stints if a caution comes out while he’s in the car.
“I’ll probably do a couple of stints [in the LMP2], then go change suits and get a different helmet, and fully concentrate on the DPi car until my time is done, then I’ll switch back to LMP2,” he said. “Realistically, I think that my three co-drivers in the Cadillac DPi … there’ll be three drivers doing an 18-hour race.
“My time in the No. 5 car is just about making sure that I stay safe and keep all the dive planes on the car and take care of the Cadillac for my teammates to be able to go race it. Whereas in the LMP2, I compete well against the other drivers in the car, and I’m more comfortable, having won the season last year. I’ve got a lot more seat time and I’m just more comfortable in that car. So I’ll finish my last, what I expect to be somewhere around three hours, three-and-a-half, hours in that car in the middle of the night sometime.”
If both cars win, Keating would be a double winner in the same race, a rare if not singular occurrence. But he is quick to acknowledge that despite that achievement, it took a lot of people to get there, and he would have only played a small part.
“I don’t want it to be about me; I want to be a good teammate.” he said. “But I want to be a good teammate in two cars, which is a big challenge in any way.”