Keating Motorsports came to Le Mans this year with a stunning and sleek FORD GT, a pumped up crew and high hopes for a podium finish in the ultra competitive GTE Am class – a first for the car in this class.
Both the car and team performed flawlessly with a well rehearsed pit stop routine and superb driving throughout the entire course of the race. With just a few minor scuffs and scratches the Ford GT really gave the fans a show.
However, the golden confetti had barely settled on the podium before bad the news came. The #85 car received a penalty for not having met the required minimum fueling time of 45 seconds, the time in fact being 44.4 seconds giving a 0.6 second advantage.
This may not seem like a lot, and initially it was thought that it had been a single incident. When the story first came out however, it was not the complete story and rumors started to fly. Was the ACO getting back at Ford for withdrawing?
Later in the day it turned out that the time breach had been on all 23 fueling stops during the race, translating to a 13.8 seconds advantage.
The penalty was set to a total of 55.2 seconds which was calculated by multiplying the time advantage by four.
With the 55.2 second penalty, the #85 car would have finished just below the #56 Porsche, resulting in the Porsche taking the win with the Ford relegated to second place. I imagine that Ben Keating may have been able to live with this, but just when it seemed that the news had been digested, the team was hit with another penalty.
At the post-race scrutineering, the race stewards measured the fuel tank and found it had a capacity marginally above regulation – the AM class having a maximum allowed of 96 liters while #85 had a capacity exceeding the limit by 0.1 liters.
Having exceeded the maximum fuel capacity, the final nail in the coffin was hammered home for Keating Motorsports. The car was disqualified altogether and all points for the race stricken with the #56 Porsche 911 RSR declared the winner of the GTE Am class. To go from a well-deserved win to being disqualified was a heart breaker for Keating and his team, with none of the rule violations giving any true advantage. But rules must be upheld…
When Keating responded to the verdict from the Race Stewards in an interview, he said that they may have practiced the refueling with “not enough margin for error” and they would need to look into how the fuel cell could have expanded to carry that disastrous 0.1 liter too much.
Keating was however totally understanding of the verdict, admitting that if he had been in second position, he would have been claiming a rule is a rule. He also commented that they had no reason for cheating and that they could have won even if the refueling time was correct and with 0.1 liter less capacity in the tank.
The team is eager to return to show that this was nothing but an incident of poor calculation and maybe cutting it too close to the edge of the rules.