Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Recovers from Mid-Race Penalty for Top-Five Finish
Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen co-drove the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 to a fifth-place finish Sunday in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. The team now shifts focus to next month’s season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta where Keating, Bleekemolen, the No. 33 team and Mercedes-AMG have an opportunity to clinch their third-straight IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup GT Daytona (GTD) Championships.
Keating started Sunday’s two-hour and 40-minute race from eighth on the GTD grid and stayed in the lead train of cars throughout his race-opening stint. Pitting right at the race’s 45-minute mark, Keating handed the No. 33 off to Bleekemolen for the nearly two-hour run to the finish.
Quick pit work by the Mercedes-AMG Team Riley crew moved the No. 33 up three positions in the first round of pit stops. Bleekemolen was running in fifth place and just settling into his stint early in the race’s second hour when he unintentionally tapped and spun the fourth-place competitor in Turn 1.
The No. 33 was assessed a drive-through penalty for the incident, but Bleekemolen and the Mercedes-AMG Team Riley crew maintained focus and quickly began to recover the lost track position.
Bleekemolen was up to seventh by the time he pitted for the final time with an hour remaining in the race. Another well executed pit stop quickly put the No. 33 back in the race and Bleekemolen in sixth place.
Throughout the race’s final hour, Bleekemolen spent the balance of the closing laps reeling in the fifth-place competitor. He pulled off the top-five pass with just minutes remaining on the clock and less than two laps left in the race.
The No. 33 team and drivers will carry the momentum of today’s top-five showing to the final race of the year at Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, October 9 – 12.
The 10-hour season-ending race closes out not only the full IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship schedule but also the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup, a four-race championship awarding the top performers in the year’s endurance races.
Keating, Bleekemolen, Mercedes-AMG Team Riley and Mercedes-AMG are the two-time and reigning Endurance Cup driver, team and manufacturer champions in the GT Daytona (GTD) class.
They return to Road Atlanta once again on top of the Endurance Cup GTD standings. The No. 33 drivers and team hold a three-point lead in their respective championships while Mercedes-AMG is two points clear of the nearest competitor in the manufacturer points race.
Ben Keating, Driver – No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3: “I’m really, really proud of the top-five finish. We had unbelievable pit stops and great strategy. We got to the front because the team did a great job in the pits. For sure, this is a team sport. If we hadn’t gotten the penalty, we could have podiumed. When we got our full fuel and new tires on the last stop, we came out in sixth place.
We stopped early, knowing we were going to have to save a little bit of fuel to get to the end, but the beautiful part about that is that while you’re saving fuel, you’re also able to save tires. The Mercedes-AMG GT3 is also very good on a long run, and in the last 20 minutes of the race, we had tires that were capable of continuing to do a decent lap time. We were able to pass for position and be in the top five. It’s always nice to see a risk pay off in the end. You know you’re doing the right thing, but it’s nice to be rewarded with the result.”
Jeroen Bleekemolen, Driver – No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3: “I think the Mercedes-AMG GT3 was good today. We slowly moved to the front, which was nice after starting eighth. Unfortunately, we had a drive-through penalty that may have taken away a podium, or at least a fourth. It’s quite a shame, but that’s racing, and you race hard. If you don’t race hard, you’re going to lose out, and our car was good, especially at the end.
I could still make up ground on the guys ahead. We had an almost perfect race, except for the penalty. The Mercedes-AMG GT3 is great on a long run. The further we got into the stint, the better we got and the more competitive we were. It showed right at the end, our pace was really good, and we could save the tires a little bit better than some of the other cars.”