IMSA GTD Veteran Ben Keating Moving Team to FIA World Endurance Championship
One of the strongest, most consistent, most visible GT Daytona teams in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship won’t be on the grid full-time for the 2020 season, as Ben Keating, owner of the number 33 Wynn’s Mercedes-AMG GT3, will be moving to the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Keating, along with his regular co-drivers Jeroen Bleekemolen and endurance racer Felipe Fraga, will be driving one of the Project 1 Porsche 911 RSRs for the Germany-based team, which was founded in 1993.
Keating and his two co-drivers took the checkered flag in first place in class in his privately-owned Ford GT at the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans, only to be later disqualified for fuel capacity rules violations. The win was given to the Project 1 Porsche team that included American driver Patrick Lindsey.
Keating told Autoweek that he did intend to compete in the Michelin Endurance Cup championship, a separate award for the best combined performance in IMSA’s four longest races – the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the Sahlen’s Six Hours at Watkins Glen, and Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.
Keating, an automobile dealer from Texas, has expressed some concern over IMSA’s “Balance of Performance” this season, but said that the move is largely based on the idea that he’s ready for a change after seven years with the series. “I love the racing at IMSA, but it’s time for something different.”
The move will mark the end of the longtime partnership between Keating and legendary car builder Bill Riley, though Keating said Riley “has a full plate.” Whether Riley will continue to work with Mercedes-AMG on a different team has not been announced. Keating also said he wasn’t sure if the Wynn’s sponsorship would follow him to the WEC.
Keating has won the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup championship the past two seasons, and he and his team have class victories in the Rolex 24, the Twelve Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans. With three of the four races in the books, the team of Keating, Bleekemolen and Fraga are leading the points for the 2019 Michelin Endurance Cup.
Technically, the new season has already begun for the WEC, with the Prologue test at Catalunya in Spain July 23-24. Both of Project 1’s cars were entered, but with the same list of four drivers for each car – Keating and his team did not practice. Of the 11 cars in the class, the two fastest were the Project 1 entries.
Only one American driver was listed among the WEC entrants – Mark Patterson, the hedge fund investor who was actually born in South Africa.
The first race for the WEC, and Keating and his team, is the Four Hours of Silverstone in England on September 1, followed by the Six Hours of Fuji in Japan on October 6. Neither dates conflict with the final two IMSA races of 2019. The WEC will again make its only North American appearance at Sebring March 20 of next year, before concluding its season June 13-14 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.