Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing teams scored a one-two finish in the 100-minute IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at the Grand Prix of Long Beach on Saturday, America’s premier street race. Cooper MacNeil and Gunnar Jeannette co-drove the No. 50 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 to victory, their first in the 2017 IMSA season. The championship-leading No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Mercedes-AMG GT3, co-driven by Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen, finished the race in second position.
WeatherTech Racing’s fuel-stretching victory came after starting from the back of the IMSA GT Daytona (GTD) field following a post-qualifying tire change. The No. 50 team’s tire change was the first of several key strategy moves that contributed to the come-from-behind victory.
Starting driver MacNeil immediately picked up several positions in the race’s opening laps before dashing into the pits under a full-course caution. Jeannette took over and continued the charge to the front, taking the lead at the race’s 46-minute mark. Jeannette led the final 34 laps of the race.
The race was slowed by five full-course caution periods, which played right into the No. 50 team’s fuel-conservation strategy. Jeannette and the team stretched a single tank of fuel – which usually lasts for about 55 minutes under green-flag conditions – over the final one hour and 17 minutes of the race.
The second-place finish for Keating, Bleekemolen and Mercedes-AMG Team Riley continued their unmatched streak of 2017 podium finishes in the IMSA GTD class. After finishing third in the Rolex 24 At Daytona opener and giving Mercedes-AMG its first IMSA victory one race ago in the 12 Hours of Sebring, today’s runner-up result completed a top-three podium cycle for the No. 33 team in the year’s first three races.
The second-place finish extends the championship lead to 21 points for the No. 33 team and for drivers Keating and Bleekemolen in the provisional 2017 IMSA GTD championship standings. Mercedes-AMG leads the GTD manufacturer provisional championship standings with 100 points, nine ahead of Porsche.
The No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Boris Said and Tristan Vautier also raced competitively in the early stages of today’s race. The team was one of several in the GTD class that got caught out by entering a closed pit lane during the race’s second caution period. The team ultimately crossed the line in 15th place.
Next up for Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing teams in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is Round 4 at Circuit of The Americas (COTA), May 4 – 6.
Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing teams will be in action at the Grand Prix of Long Beach again tomorrow in a 50-minute Pirelli World Challenge race scheduled to start at 10 a.m. PDT.
Cooper MacNeil, Driver – No. 50 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: “Anytime you start dead last it puts a lot of burden on you to perform extremely well and to pick up as many positions as quickly and safely as possible. On a street course like Long Beach, that’s a lot easier said than done, but I just kept my head down, kept my eyes out of the mirrors, and tried not to worry about people behind me. We made a good call coming in about 25 minutes into the race. Gunnar took it from there. The Mercedes-AMG GT3 is a very versatile machine. It doesn’t really care if you’re on a pool-table-smooth race track like they have in Europe or a bumpy street circuit like we have here at Long Beach, it just doesn’t care. It’s a tank. It goes over all of the bumps; it takes them perfectly. I’m happy to be in a Mercedes-AMG. We got a win, so it’s good.”
Gunnar Jeannette, Driver – No. 50 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: “We knew the circumstances that were likely to happen for this race. We knew that pitting early would be a gamble, but if everything worked out for us caution-wise, we knew it would be the right gamble to make. With us starting at the back, it was going to be hard to win today without taking risks so we just decided to do it. I got in the car and I was in fuel-save mode. I cycled into the lead and was able to stay there. We had extra yellows, and when the final yellow came out, we knew we had made the fuel number we needed. It was an awesome job by our WeatherTech Racing guys and our Mercedes-AMG GT3 did what we needed it to do.”
Ben Keating, Driver – No. 33 AMG-Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3: “It was typical Long Beach. There were so many different strategies out there at play but it still took so much luck. We came out of the pits almost a lap down and if it had gone green we would have had no chance. But the yellows came exactly when we needed them. We had a flawless race, we did everything we set out to do, but you had to be lucky. The race just fell our way. I am very happy to have a run of podium finishes so far this season. Every race so far has fallen our way, no one has made a single mistake anywhere and our Mercedes-AMG GT3 has been great. So far so good. We will just keep doing what we have been doing and hope everything works out like it has been.”
Jeroen Bleekemolen, Driver – No. 33 AMG-Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes- AMG GT3: “I am just so happy with the result. Everybody has really been on the top of their game. This was the maximum for us today. The winning car had the opportunity to do an even better strategy, but to get a one-two finish for the Mercedes-AMG GT3 is just awesome. It is such a good, all-around car, it is strong everywhere. For the points, it was a big day for us. Halfway through I thought we were totally out of it and then another yellow came and we were back in it. This is American racing at its best— there is always something happening that changes everything.”
Boris Said, Driver – No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: “Racing is a team sport and today proved it. We had a really fast SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3, it was a car good enough to win the race, and we were just biding our time. We just had some human error with our strategy. There was a restart, it got a little crazy and I got by two guys, and right when I was at the pit entrance I got the call to ‘pit, pit, pit!’ So I pitted, and I really didn’t think anything of it because three other guys came in too, but unfortunately the pits were closed. That ruined our day, we had a 60-second penalty and went two laps down, but on the bright side we had a really fast car.”