A Strong Opener For Mercedes-AMG in Rolex 24 at Daytona
A promising season opener for Mercedes-AMG in Rolex 24 at Daytona
After 24 hours and with 751 laps around Daytona International Speedway completed, the Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports just missed out on a podium finish in the GTD class. At the finish, the driver quartet of Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Luca Stolz and Adam Christodoulou lacked a mere 2.7 seconds to repeat its success from last year when the team finished third at Daytona in its maiden race with the Mercedes-AMG GT3.
Starting the race 13th on the grid of the GTD competitors, the No.33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 consistently worked its way up in the early stages of the race that was marked by strategy and saw only few full-course yellows. As the night fell, the defending North American Endurance Cup team racked up its first laps in the lead. Around midnight, a penalty for pit lane speeding cost valuable positions. Having dropped back behind the front-runners, the driver quartet made it back into the podium positions as the race went on.
The 18-hour mark, with additional Endurance Cup points at stake, just like at the six- and twelve-hour marks, brought an early decision in the battle for victory. In order to secure these valuable points, the team deviated from its initial refuelling strategy. As there were no further yellows until the end of the race to bunch up the field once more, the No.33 had to head into the pits for a splash and dash from second place with ten minutes remaining and thus dropped out of the battle for victory. In spite of a thrilling finish, final driver Bleekemolen didn’t find a way past the third-placed Lamborghini and crossed the finish line in fourth place with a slight deficit.
“We were much more competitive than last year when we finished third.” said Keating “Back then, however, we had rain for ten hours and we made it through without any mistakes. That wasn’t the case this time: we had a few minor misfortunes and penalties. Notwithstanding, we drove a really good race. We were leading at the 18-hour mark and we wanted to collect the Endurance Cup points, which we did. However, it didn’t work out with the refuelling in the end and there was no more yellow that would have made up for it. I can’t remember any 24-hour race at Daytona in which there wasn’t a single yellow in the final hour. Nevertheless, it was a thrilling race throughout and I am very happy with fourth place.”
The Mercedes-AMG GT3 No.75 encountered bad luck in the early stages of the race. The SunEnergy1 Racing car with the two Mercedes-AMG Drivers Maro Engel and Thomas Jäger plus Mikael Grenier and Kenny Habul had started from 18th place on the grid. An unscheduled pit stop just after the start of the race initially made the team drop back. The subsequent recovery saw the quartet move up again and the No.75 was on its way to the top ten at the halfway point. Minor technical issues in the second half of the race prevented any further progress for the SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3. Eventually, final driver Maro Engel secured eighth place in class.
“That was a very untypical Daytona 24 Hours: in total, there were only four safety car interventions.” said Engel “Last year, we had at least 15. Accordingly, we had no chance to make up for the laps that we had lost in the opening stages. At the beginning, we had to return to the pits at slow speed due to a loose wheel and we had to change the brakes. That cost us around five minutes that we were lacking later to be on the lead lap and battle for the lead with the others. The pace to do so was definitely there. But huge compliments to all drivers and the entire team for the super job they have done.”
The P1 Motorsports team also showed a convincing performance in its maiden race with the Mercedes-AMG GT3. From 20th place on the grid in the GTD class, Juan “JC” Perez, Kenton Koch, Robby Foley and Loris Spinelli worked their way up to twelfth place with good stints in the car No.71.