DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The champagne tasted a little sweeter for Ben Keating after the Motul Petit Le Mans, even if the race finish left sourness in his mouth.
Keating and co-driver Mikkel Jensen wrapped up the Le Mans Prototype 2 championship taking the grid in the 10-hour race at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta on Nov. 13 in the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07.
Along with endurance driver Scott Huffaker, they also claimed the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup by leading at the eight-hour mark.
It looked like a complete sweep when the No. 52 crossed the finish line first in class at the race conclusion, then a 37-second penalty for incident responsibility was handed down in a collision battling for the lead with the No. 8 Tower Motorsport ORECA.
That gave the win to the No. 8 and second-place to the No. 52.
Despite the controversial ending, Kaeting said “the race director said he had irrefutable evidence” with the No. 52 being at fault.
The 50-year-old Texan was still able to celebrate a championship years in the making. Keating made his IMSA debut in 2011 and has been a full-season competitor every year since ‘13, with the exception of the pandemic-altered 2020 campaign.
“It’s a big deal,” Keating said. “I’ve poured my heart and soul into this deal, into IMSA, into endurance sports car racing since 2013. The last year of the American Le Mans Series was my first full season with IMSA.
“And, golly, countless hours and dollars, but more than that, it’s more of the blood, sweat and tears,” he added. “It’s the passion, the emotion, all the energy that you pour into it because it’s what you love to do. I’ve come very close to winning a championship and it’s always slipped out of my fingers.”
Indeed, Keating finished second in the GT Daytona standings in 2016 and was part of three straight IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup champions in that class from 2017-19. He’s been a winner in the three longest endurance events — the Rolex 24 At Daytona (2015 in GTD), Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts (‘17, GTD; ‘21, LMP2) and Motul Petit Le Mans (‘16, GTD).
This year’s schedule got off to a shaky start with a seventh-place LMP2 finish to open the year at the Rolex 24.
Fortunately, the race didn’t award points toward the class championship. In the six races that did offer points, the No. 52 finished on the podium every time, including three wins. The season-long performance also earned Keating the Jim Trueman Award that includes an invitation to drive in the 24 Hours of Le Mans next June.
Keating pointed to testing at Watkins Glen Int’l prior to back-to-back races at the track this summer that cemented the team and drivers for the title run.
As happy as his 16 career wins and other accolades have made him, there’s something extraordinary about a championship.
“I’ve won Daytona, I’ve won Sebring, I’ve won Petit Le Mans,” he said. “I’m just excited that we could put a whole season together and walk away with a championship. It’s clearly very special to me to have won a championship. It’s different than winning a race.”