Perseverance Pays Off for Keating with First IMSA Championship

By Mark Robinson
IMSA Wire Service
The champagne tasted a little sweeter for Ben Keating after the Motul Petit Le Mans – even if the race finish left a slightly sour flavor in his mouth.
Keating and co-driver Mikkel Jensen wrapped up the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) championship just by starting the 10-hour race on Nov. 13 at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta in the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07. Along with endurance driver Scott Huffaker, they also laid claim to 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, until a 37-second penalty was assessed for incident responsibility in a collision battling for the lead with the No. 8 Tower Motorsport ORECA. That gave the race win to the No. 8 and second place to the No. 52.
Despite the controversial race ending – “the race director said he had irrefutable evidence” of the No. 52 being at fault, Keating said – the 50-year-old Texan was still able to savor his first season championship after years of coming close. Keating made his IMSA debut in 2011 and has been a full-season competitor every year since 2013, 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 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. 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 (GTD) 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 (2017, GTD; 2021, LMP2) and Motul Petit Le Mans (2016, GTD).
Certainly an impressive resume but lacking that one shiny gem: a season title. The 2021 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 International 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 just something extraordinary about taking 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.”
Adam Sinclair