The first qualifying session of the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans saw the typically inconsistent weather that comes along with Circuit de la Sarthe but the drivers of the #53 ViperExchange.com/Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GTS-R made the most of the running they could get to finish seventh in the LMGTE Am class.
“It’s difficult because there’s always a bit of rain, then it dries out, and then you get rain again,” said 2008 Le Mans winner in the LMP2 class Jeroen Bleekemolen. “It was particularly difficult for us because we still have some work to do on setup. Marc and Ben also need to get more dry laps in. It would have been better if we’d had nice consistent weather to get through our program but so far we are happy with the car.”
Bleekemolen took preference on seat time for the opening day having driven the whole four-hour opening practice plus an opening and closing stint in qualifying.
Ben Keating had his first taste of the Viper at Le Mans in the dry during qualifying. “It is nice to get some laps in the dry, albeit in the dark,” Keating said. “I wouldn’t say the sun was going down, I’ll say it was dark! I took 18 seconds off of my wet lap times while dealing with a lot of traffic in qualifying. Every driver has to do five laps out there in the night session, so that was our main goal, all of us got our five in and Jeroen got one flying lap in as well.”
Team Director Bill Riley is no stranger to Le Mans and has full understanding of the French weather,“That was typical Le Mans weather today,” Riley said.
“It was wet and dry, back and forth, and it was kind of in between where we knew it was going to be too wet for dry tires and we knew we would wear the rain tires out. Dry handling is what we really needed to work on. The track is usually a loose track and seemed to be looser than normal today. So, we’re kind of throwing quite a bit at it, working through it, and I think we’re getting pretty close.”
Thursday’s schedule inculdes a late afternoon practice session followed by final qualifying that once again will run until Midnight local time and Keating is looking forward to getting some daylight running.
“I’m really excited to get my first dry laps, even at night,” Keating said. “Jeroen came to me right after the session and said, ‘Don’t worry, when it gets light out and you can see the reference points you’ll be way more comfortable and you’ll be up to speed much quicker.’
“So, hopefully we get some dry running tomorrow during the daylight hours, and I get the chance to go out and get even more comfortable. It’s a 24 hour race and we want a car that’s easy to drive for 24 hours. We feel like the main key to winning this race is to make no mistakes so that’s what we are going after.”