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Rd1 2193 Road America 2011 07302021

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder … for Road America

No Driver Has Won More Top-Tier IMSA Races at Road America Than Jeroen Bleekemolen, Who Wishes He Was Racing in This Year’s IMSA SportsCar Weekend

 

By David Phillips

 

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Thanks to IMSA’s international livestreaming of races, Radio Le Mans and a welter of social media platforms, fans around the world will be following the IMSA SportsCar Weekend at Road America next week. Nobody will be following the action more closely – or missing that action more – than Jeroen Bleekemolen, whose five IMSA top-series wins at the fabled Wisconsin circuit are the most of anyone.

 

For, while Bleekemolen is no stranger to the 2021 WeatherTech Championship – he holds 12th spot in the Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) standings, thanks to podium finishes at Sebring and Watkins Glen – as the endurance-race driver for the No. 91 Riley Motorsports Ligier JS P320, he won’t be reunited with co-drivers Jim Cox and Dylan Murry at Road America. Bleekemolen’s next drive in the No. 91 will be in November’s Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

7-9 August 2015, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, USA33, Viper V10, SRT GT3-R, GTD, Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen©2015, Richard DoleLAT Photo USA
Bleekemolen – Road America 2015

Which means he’ll miss a chance to add to his impressive record at one of his favorite tracks.

“I’ve enjoyed driving at Road America ever since my first time there,” Bleekemolen says. “It’s a long track, a very challenging track, with very fast corners, slow corners, medium-speed corners and lots of elevation changes. To get it right is not easy. It’s definitely one of my favorite tracks, if not the favorite track I’ve raced … especially since I’ve had some great races there.”

 

All five of Bleekemolen’s Road America triumphs came in GT classes. He won three straight in the GT Cup class (GTC) from 2010-12, also taking the class pole position twice in that span. His last two wins came in GT Daytona (GTD) with Riley Motorsports and co-driver Ben Keating in 2015 and ’16.

 

Pressed to choose a favorite, Bleekemolen hearkens back to 2011 when his Black Swan Racing Porsche 997 GT3 was embroiled in a fierce battle for the class lead with the similar Porsches of Spencer Pumpelly (TRG) and the late Sean Edwards (NGT Motorsport) in the closing laps of the race.

Rd1 2369 Road America 2011 Crop
Bleekemolen – Road America 2011

“I started the last lap in third place behind Sean and Spencer, thinking I might be able to find a way past Spencer and finish second,” he says. “They were both trying to stretch their fuel to make it to the finish, but we had made an extra stop and had plenty of fuel.

 

“Spencer ran out of fuel about halfway around the last lap, then Sean ran out of fuel in the final corner. … So at the start of the lap I was third, hoping to finish second, and instead I won the race. That was pretty fun.”

As anyone who has been there can attest, the racing action at “America’s National Park of Speed” is only the start of the Road America “experience.” What is widely hailed as the best track food in these United States is served at concession stands around the 4.048-mile circuit, many staffed by local clubs and nonprofit organizations whose members are only too happy to keep the bratwurst and fresh corn on the cob coming. And when the racing day is done, racers of all shapes, sizes and vintages commune in the nearby village of Elkhart Lake at the legendary Siebkens Resort to swap racing stories (a/k/a lies) over an adult beverage or two until the wee hours of the morning.

 

As Bleekemolen well knows.

 

“I’ve had the ‘full’ Road America/Elkhart Lake experience with Riley Motorsports the past few seasons,” he says. “We stay at Siebkens; it’s the place to be. And we also get plenty of that good food at the track. They totally got me into Road America.”

 

Although Bleekemolen will miss the racing at Road America next weekend, the Dutchman is in the midst of a diverse schedule this season, one that includes selected events in the World Endurance Championship (including the 24 Hours of Le Mans) in the Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 488 GTE, the Michelin Le Mans Cup in the Mühlner Motorsport LMP3 Duqueine M30-D08 and the SRO GT World Challenge America as well as the four IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup events with Riley Motorsports.

 

Although he’s plenty busy, if Bleekemolen had his druthers there’d be at least one more IMSA event on his slate.

 

Because the track and the surroundings have nestled their way deeply into his heart, Bleekemolen will miss being away from it for the Aug. 6-8 race weekend.

 

“Owing to the COVID pandemic, last year was the first time I didn’t race in IMSA at Road America in 10 or 11 years,” he says. “Now doing only the endurance events with Riley Motorsports, it will be two years in a row. I’ll get to race there later in the month (in another series) but, for sure, I’m jealous of all my friends in IMSA racing there this weekend.

 

“Say hello for me.”