Three Mercedes-AMG Customer Sports teams shined in a rainy Rolex 24 At Daytona debut for the Mercedes-AMG GT3. Each of the three AMG Customer Sports teams competing in the twice-around-the-clock race earned milestone achievements for Mercedes-AMG in its first race in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, the 55th running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
The crowning moment was a third-place finish in the GT Daytona (GTD) class by the No. 33 AMG-Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 co-driven by Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Mario Farnbacher and Adam Christodoulou. The No. 33 team battled for the lead for the entirety of the race’s second-half, taking the top spot for the first time at 3:10 a.m. Sunday morning, in the race’s 13th hour.
Farnbacher, Christodoulou and Bleekemolen combined to lead the race eight different times for 106 total laps, and the No. 33 rarely ran out of the top five after Midnight. The team’s bid for victory came down to a final 2.5-hour stint with Bleekemolen at the wheel that saw him hold the lead until the final 70 minutes.
The No. 50 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 team also made some history with Mercedes-AMG in the Rolex 24 on Saturday. After co-drivers Cooper MacNeil, Gunnar Jeannette and Thomas Jaeger all played a part in getting the car to the front of the pack after starting 24th in the GTD field, Shane van Gisbergen moved the No. 50 into the lead just under six hours into the race.
Van Gisbergen’s nine circuits up front were the first race laps a Mercedes-AMG has ever led at the Rolex 24 and in IMSA competition. The No. 50 continued to run strong through Saturday night but was later retired from the event when MacNeil spun in cold and wet conditions, making contact with a barrier at 4:20 a.m. MacNeil was uninjured but the No. 50 was too damaged to continue.
The No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 was the highest qualifier of the three Mercedes Customer Sports entries in the Rolex 24 and the first to race into the top 10. Starting 18th on the GTD grid, Boris Said improved five positions on the first lap and then improved to a race-high seventh early in the second hour.
The SunEnergy1 team later lost over a dozen laps in hour four after a pit stop miscue damaged the No. 75’s refueling system. A Sunday morning trip to the garage to investigate a rear-end issue also cost the team some time and ultimately played a part in the decision to retire the No. 75 early on Sunday afternoon before the checkered flag.
Said co-drove the No. 75 with Kenny Habul, Tristan Vautier, Maro Engel and Paul Morris.
Tobias Moers, Chairman of the Board of Management, Mercedes-AMG:
“For Mercedes-AMG to finish on the podium in the Rolex 24 At Daytona and lead so many race laps in our North American Mercedes-AMG GT3 program debut gets our season off to solid start. We leave Daytona with a great deal of experience in what it will take to win this race, and with some valuable points in the 2017 championship. We are proud of the efforts of AMG-Team Riley and its drivers as well as the other AMG Customer Sports teams, WeatherTech Racing and SunEnergy1 Racing that so well represented us this weekend. We are looking forward to a great season in 2017.”
Thomas Jaeger, AMG Customer Sports Program Coordinator and Driver – No. 50 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: “I am absolutely happy because we did not expect this after the qualifying and practice sessions. Coming here for the first time and finishing on the podium is really great for the brand and AMG Customer Sports. Thank you very much to Riley Motorsports for the great team effort and to the drivers.”
Jeroen Bleekemolen, Driver – No. 33 AMG-Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3: “This is an excellent result. We got good points, everybody did a fantastic job, made no mistakes and the Mercedes-AMG GT3 ran great. It’s a great car. I knew it already from racing it before, it is one of the best cars you can race, and I love driving it. This was not our best track but I am sure there will be some other tracks where we will be really good.”
Ben Keating, Driver – No. 33 AMG-Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3: “I think that we have a really good car for the season with the Mercedes-AMG GT3. It’s a really reliable car, it ran like a top, and we know Riley Motorsports is unbelievably good at the pit stops. All of the drivers did their job all race long and it was tough. I don’t feel like we had a third-place car but we brought it home in third place. Kudos to Mercedes-AMG GT3, kudos to Riley Motorsports and kudos to the drivers. A podium at the Rolex 24 is very hard to come by.”
Mario Farnbacher, Driver – No. 33 AMG-Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes- AMG GT3: “The weather conditions absolutely have not been easy. Everybody on the team did a fantastic job and, honestly, I think we don’t have a scratch on the car. We gave everything we had, and we are happy with the finish. Sure, we would love to stand in the middle of the podium, and would love to have the Rolex, but we will take the result. The Mercedes-AMG GT3 is a really good car, easy to drive, just fantastic.”
Adam Christodoulou, Driver – No. 33 AMG-Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3: “It’s been a great weekend and it’s been tough. The weather conditions haven’t been the nicest but working with AMG-Team Riley has been great. I only met the guys two weeks ago and they just made me feel right at home straight away. It’s been great, I’ve had three super quick teammates that have been great to
work with. Watching the last few laps were pretty nerve-racking. I’m still shaking now but it’s a brilliant feeling, so I’m really happy.”
Cooper MacNeil, Driver – No. 50 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3. “It was slicker than ice on the race track. Shortly before I got into the car, the race was under full course caution due to track conditions. On my out lap, I actually spun coming out of Turn Three doing 10 mph. I knew right then it was just like ice. A couple of laps later, coming through Turn Two, I didn’t touch the curb but I completely lost traction. The car went 40 degrees sideways. I corrected and saved the spin, but we were sideways, locked up all the way to the wall and hit it. It’s just disappointing because we were running well and on the lead lap.”
Gunnar Jeannette, Driver – No. 50 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3. “Being able to move the car up from 24th to the lead in the first six hours of the race was awesome. Obviously, it’s disappointing to not finish, we had high hopes, and the team and all of the drivers did a fantastic job. We just got caught out by the conditions, unfortunately, but Cooper had great opening stints, going from 24th to 14th. I hopped in the car and was able to get it up into second place, Thomas raced up front too and Shane did a great job getting us into the lead. We know we have a strong race car. It’s great being part of the WeatherTech Racing, Riley Motorsports and Mercedes-AMG family.