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Booming Ben Keating savors first American Le Mans series win (VIDEO)

By MIKE FORMAN
Sept. 21, 2013 at 4:21 a.m.

Ben Keating secures his helmet and prepares to race the first half of Saturday's American Le Mans Series race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin.

AUSTIN - Ben Keating is new to the American Le Mans Series and came to International Sports Car Weekend looking for his first win.

"It is a totally different ballgame," Keating said. "It's great fun and great people. I'm used to serious racing, but this is a totally different playing field. I am a very small fish in a very big pond."

Keating grew in stature and experience on a brilliant Saturday afternoon at the Circuit of America by teaming with driver Damien Faulkner to win the GTC Class endurance race.

"It means a ton," Keating said. "We had a really good car, and the weather actually worked out in our favor for the first time ever. I had a poor start but a really good stent. My job is to keep it clean and bring it back to Damien in one piece, and I did."

Keating, the owner of the Port Lavaca Auto Group and Toyota of Victoria, drove the first 70 minutes of the 2-hour, 15-minute race before turning the car over to Faulkner, who won by a margin of 12.94 seconds.

"The last six minutes of the race were incredibly stressful," Keating said. "My blood pressure was skyrocketing and to win here in Texas with all the guests and things I had here is incredible."

Keating won five championships, including the last two on the Viper Cup circuit, before making the move to the Le Mans series this season.

"I equate it to going from Double-A baseball to the major leagues," said Matt Sheffield, the chief of Keating's pit crew. "It's like skipping Triple-A all together. It's a very big step for him as well as guys like myself, who have only worked on the local level and tried to make the big jump up here."

Keating admits going from a Dodge Viper to the Porche 911 GT3R with the engine in the back was a big transition as a driver.

"It's violent because you're pushing the car to its limits everywhere," Keating said. "You're pushing to the limit cornering, the limit breaking, the limit accelerating. You're trying to squeeze every tenth of a second that you can out of it.

"You're strapped in so tight you're almost part of the car," he added. "You're going through corners as quickly as you can. There are a lot of Gs pulling you right and left and forward and back. There's a lot going on in there. It takes a while to get used to doing all that stuff."

Keating gave much of the credit to his crew, which works on the car before every race.

"We started practice on Tuesday," Sheffield said. "Wednesday, we're breaking cars down, going back through them top to bottom, essentially prepping the car again. Then, there are practice sessions Thursday and Friday. We spent last night and this morning doing things again. It happens multiple times during the week."

Keating's day began early in the morning with practice laps before he participated in an autograph session with the other drivers and played host to a number of visitors from the Victoria area.

But once he climbed behind the wheel, his attention was squarely on the race.

"I have so many things going on in my life - businesses or personal or whatever," he said. "When you're in the race car, it takes so much energy to focus on what you're doing that it's impossible to think about anything else. I call it an adrenaline flush. You're body depletes itself of all adrenaline, and you kind of get shaken. It's so relaxing when you get out. You have to really be focused on it and be willing to ride the edge of what the limit of the car is. It's like a zoo, but it's fun."

Keating turned the car over to Faulkner during a pit stop while in second place, and Faulkner made up the difference.

"I think this may be the first race I remember without a caution," Keating said. "Zero safety car periods. Zero caution flags. So it was an all-out sprint race the whole time. We had good pit stops and, golly, Damien just had really an incredible drive."

Keating's next drive will be in two weeks in Virginia, before the season ends in Atlanta.

"I love it," he said. "It really is very relaxing for me. It takes so much. It's one of the few times in my daily life where you work toward something, you do it, and it's over, and you're done."

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