On Friday practice a year ago at VIR, Jeroen Bleekemolen learned that his regular co-driver Ben Keating was leaving the track immediately to return to his native Texas with Hurricane Harvey bearing down on his home and automotive dealerships. Trent Hindman stepped in to drive for Keating in the race, and the duo finished third in the GT Daytona (GTD) class.
This year was seemingly far less stressful for Keating, Bleekemolen and everybody involved with Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports. It showed on the time charts as Bleekemolen turned a best lap of 1m:44.865s (112.258 mph) in the #33 Mercedes-AMG GT3 to lead the opening day of practice for the Michelin GT Challenge in the GTD class.
“I am happy with our Mercedes-AMG GT3,” Bleekemolen said. “Again, like the last couple of weekends, we have not had to make too many changes because the car has been great from the beginning. No dramas, the Mercedes-AMG GT3 is running really well, and I think we have an excellent chance to do well.
“I think we can get a good result, but this is American racing where anything can happen, and anyone can win with strategy and yellows and stuff like that. Just looking at the pure speed we have, however, we should have a good shot at it. Last year we had a good car and finished third, but this year we have more power. Last year we just lost out so much on the straightaways, but that’s gone now, so with that, we can really fight.”
Robby Foley was second quickest in GTD practice with a best lap of 1m:44.866s (112.257 mph) in the #96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3, while Patrick Long was third at 1m:45.046s (112.064 mph) in the #58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.
For the second time in three races, the GTD points leading #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 co-driven by Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers missed much of the first practice session and all of the second due to a mechanical issue. The team was completing an engine change on Friday evening and planned to be back on course for practice again Saturday morning.
It should be noted that when this happened to the team last month at Lime Rock Park, the #48 went on to score a dominating victory in the Northeast Grand Prix.