Mercedes-AMG won a third consecutive IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona (GTD) class race at the hands of drivers Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen on Saturday at Circuit of the Americas (COTA). This victory is the second of the 2017 season for the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports car. The No. 33 car was joined on the podium by the No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3, driven to a third-placed finish by co-drivers Kenny Habul and Tristan Vautier.
The victory at COTA extends the class points leads that Keating, Bleekemolen, the No. 33 team and Mercedes-AMG hold in the respective IMSA GTD class driver, team and manufacturer championship standings.
Keating, Bleekemolen and the No. 33 team started the current Mercedes-AMG GT3 win streak with a victory at the 12 Hours of Sebring in March. The No. 50 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3, with co-drivers Cooper McNeil and Gunnar Jeannette, won the following race on the streets of Long Beach in April, while Keating and Bleekemolen became the season’s first GTD repeat winners today at COTA.
Keating started the race from seventh on the grid and quickly moved into the top five in his race-opening stint. Bleekemolen took over for with just under two hours remaining in the race, putting the No. 33 in the lead for good after a final round of pit stops 36 minutes from the finish.
Saturday’s victory was the third in the IMSA GTD class in the last four years for Keating, Bleekemolen and the No. 33 team at COTA after previous wins on the 3.4- mile circuit in 2014 and 2015.
The SunEnergy1 Racing team overcame an early incident with a Prototype in Habul’s race-opening stint and charged back from a lap down for the third-place finish. The No. 75 team also shared the podium with the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3 at Sebring, a third-place showing that was the team’s first podium finish of the season.
MacNeil and Jeannette stayed in touch with the lead pack throughout today’s race for a hard-earned sixth place finish in the No. 50 WeatherTech Racing entry.
The debuting Lone Star Racing team didn’t hit on the right setup for the race but still earned a GTD-class lead-lap finish by co-drivers Dan Knox and Mike Skeen in the No. 80 ACS Manufacturing Mercedes-AMG GT3. The team finished 12th in its debut race with Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing and its new Mercedes-AMG GT3.
Mercedes-AMG had a nine-point lead in the GTD manufacturer championship coming into the COTA weekend but now leads the closest competitor, Ferrari, by 17 points, 135 – 118.
In the IMSA GTD driver and team Championships, Keating, Bleekemolen and their No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley entry boosted their season tally to 133 points leaving COTA. The second-place Ferrari team and its drivers have 109 points.
Next up for Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the Detroit Grand Prix on the Raceway at Belle Isle Park, June 2 – 3.
Ben Keating, Driver – No. 33 AMG-Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3: “I can’t say enough about the Mercedes-AMG GT3 car. Different cars make their lap times in different places. Different tracks favor different cars, and specifically for where the IMSA WeatherTech series goes with the GTD class, the Mercedes-AMG GT3 just fits like a glove. It’s really been an unbelievable season so far. To me the key is that we have continued to have a perfect season. We have had absolutely no issues this whole year. Every strategy call has been perfect, every pit stop has been perfect and the Mercedes-AMG GT3 has been perfect.”
Jeroen Bleekemolen, Driver – No. 33 AMG-Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes- AMG GT3: “The Mercedes-AMG GT3 is just such a nice car to drive. I love it, I have always done well with Mercedes-AMG, also with the previous SLS race car, I have just always been able to race up front in their cars in pretty much every race I have competed with them. These cars suit my driving style and it always goes well with them. If you look at the year so far, we have had four races and we haven’t had even the smallest mistake from anyone on the team. I hope we can keep it up like this for sure, there will be more difficult days, but it is incredible to see how well everybody is working.”
Gunnar Jeannette, Driver – No. 50 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: “The car was decent but we were just behind all week, for whatever reason. We didn’t know what we really had going into the race, but the guys did a great job all weekend. We didn’t have the pace in the first half of a stint on newer tires, but as everybody else fell off we stayed about the same. We were really strong at the end of stints but not strong enough over the whole race. All in all, considering how we started the weekend, to move up from where we started in 12th to a sixth-place finish, it’s a decent day.”
Kenny Habul, Driver – No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: “It was a great day in the end. We were in all sorts of trouble after I got hit hard by the prototype and it cut a tire down. That caused an unexpected stop, but after that I just pushed on as hard as I could and was pleased with the consistency of my pace. Tristan absolutely drove the wheels off the car and I am really, really proud of his effort. We led the race there at one point as we rolled through the pit stops, and we genuinely had the pace to win and that’s exciting. We are knocking on the door of a win. We are getting better as a team, finding little tricks here and there and understanding the car better and getting a lot of support from Mercedes-AMG.”
Tristan Vautier, Driver – No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: “From the start of the weekend, when we rolled the car out of the trailer, it was incredibly fast and well balanced. We had some trouble with Kenny when that Prototype hit him, there was nothing he could do, but he actually ran strong all weekend and did a great job for his first sprint race in IMSA. I got the car in 15th place but I knew we had great pace and this is a track where you can pass. So I didn’t give up, I just decided to go after them one by one and I was having a lot of fun in the car. To have a couple of podiums in four races with a brand new team is great. We have lots of potential and we are getting a lot of support from Mercedes-AMG customer racing, which is great.
Dan Knox, Driver – No. 80 Lone Star Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: “The biggest thing is that the Mercedes-AMG GT3 is a new car for us. We are on a learning curve here trying to figure out the car itself and we have some more room to improve there. We didn’t quite get the setup where we wanted it, but we had great pit stops, everybody worked well together and a lot of good things happened. Finishing 12th in our first race in six months against these teams that have been here every week, it’s pretty positive.”
Mike Skeen, Driver – No. 80 Lone Star Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: “We had good pace early on in the weekend but we still have a lot to learn about this car and long runs. With the added heat we had on the track today, I don’t think we perfectly adapted to that with the setup. We tried to maximize with what we had, but our pace was a little bit off. We were fighting it out with the Acura and Lexus teams but that is not the end of the field where we want to be. Dan had a strong run to start the race, the guys did good pit stops and we do have a lot to take away from here to prepare for the next stretch of races.”