Eight Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing teams competing in two different IMSA sports car racing series will turn their first official test laps of the 2018 season this weekend at Daytona International Speedway (DIS) at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona, January 5 – 7. The three-day annual test is in preparation for the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, January 25 – 28, features the opening rounds of both the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.
Three Mercedes-AMG GT3 entries will be testing this weekend for the twice-around- the-clock Rolex 24 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener (January 27 – 28) while five debuting Mercedes-AMG GT4 customer teams will turn laps in preparation for the first race of the 2018 IMSA Continental Tire Challenge season, a four-hour race on January 26th.
For the second-year in a row, three Mercedes-AMG GT3 teams will compete in the GT Daytona (GTD) class in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, which is also the opening round of 2018 Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup (NAEC). Last year at Daytona, the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 finished third in the Rolex 24 and went on to capture the NAEC team and driver championships. The No. 33 team’s strong season also contributed to Mercedes-AMG winning the 2018 NAEC manufacturer championship.
Texan Ben Keating and Dutchman Jeroen Bleekemolen return for a fifth season together as the full-season drivers of the No. 33 and will be joined at Daytona by Mercedes-AMG driver Adam Christodoulou, of Great Britain, for the second-straight year. Germany’s Lucas Stolz is a new addition to the team at Daytona and will also partner Keating and Bleekemolen at the year’s three remaining NAEC rounds.
In addition to fielding the No. 33 entry, Riley Motorsports has also partnered with SunEnergy1 Racing for 2018. Lead driver Kenny Habul, an Australian native who now lives in North Carolina, will be joined in the No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes- AMG GT3 at the Rolex 24 for the second-straight year by Mercedes-AMG driver Maro Engel.
Engel’s German countryman, Thomas Jaeger, who drove a Riley Motorsports-prepared Mercedes-AMG GT3 in last year’s Rolex 24, has moved to the SunEnergy1 entry for this year’s race. Debuting French Canadian driver Mikael Grenier completes the No. 75’s Rolex 24 lineup.
Joining the Mercedes-AMG Motorsport customer racing entries at Daytona is the debuting No. 71 P1 Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 of team drivers Juan “JC” Perez, of Colombia, Italian driver Loris Spinelli and the American duo of Kenton Koch and Robby Foley. A race and championship winning team in the IMSA Prototype Challenge series, P1 is making both its first GTD and Rolex 24 team starts at the Daytona opener.
Set for its official North American debut after Mercedes-AMG customer teams fielded a pair of “Testteam” entries in last November’s 24H of COTA (Circuit of the Americas), the Mercedes-AMG GT4 will compete in the Continental Tire Challenge Grand Sport (GS) class, the top division of the three classes racing in the series.
Up to 10 of the new Mercedes-AMG GT4 race cars could be on the grid for the Continental Tire Challenge opener at Daytona later this month. Five of the entries will take part in this weekend’s Roar, including a pair of Mercedes-AMG GT4s from Winward/HTP Motorsport.
Russell Ward, his father Bryce Ward and Damien Faulkner will test the No. 33 Winward/HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT4. Faulkner and the younger Ward will be the full-season driver pairing in the No. 33 while Bryce Ward, co-driving with Indy Dontje, is expected to run a partial schedule of Continental Tire Challenge races in an additional Winward/HTP Mercedes-AMG GT4 this season, including the Daytona opener.
The second Winward/HTP entry testing this weekend in preparation for the full season is the No. 3 Mercedes-AMG GT4 of Craig Lyons and Kris Wilson.
TeamTGM is also fielding multiple Mercedes-AMG Motorsport customer entries in the Continental Tire Challenge this year with team drivers Ted Giovanis, Guy Cosmo and Owen Trinkler sharing the team’s No. 46 Mercedes-AMG GT4 at the Roar test. A second TeamTGM Mercedes-AMG GT4 will be added to the team’s lineup for the Daytona race.
After an encouraging debut in their Mercedes-AMG GT3 last year, DXDT Racing and co-drivers David Askew and Aaron Povoledo have added a Mercedes-AMG GT4 to the team for 2018. Askew and Povoledo will take their first laps in their new GT4 at the Roar test in advance of their Continental Tire Challenge debut at Daytona.
Longtime Continental Tire Challenge competitors Jeff Mosing and Eric Foss have also made the switch to the Mercedes-AMG GT4 with their Murillo Racing/Mosing Motorsports teammates. Mosing and Foss are moving up from the Street Tuner (ST) class to GS in the No. 56 Murillo Racing/Mosing Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT4 that the team will take initial delivery of this weekend in Daytona.
Morning and afternoon practice sessions for both the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge will take place all three days of the Roar test, including a 90-minute night practice on Saturday from 6:30 – 8 p.m. EST.
A new element of the Roar is the introduction of Sunday morning IMSA WeatherTech qualifying sessions to determine Rolex 24 pit box and garage stall selection order for the race. The 15-minute GTD qualifying session is scheduled to start at 11:25 a.m. EST on Sunday.
Thomas Jaeger, Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing Program Coordinator and Driver – No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: “With the experience of last year we are looking forward to having two strong cars on the grid from Riley Motorsports and welcome a third Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing entry with P1 Motorsports. Riley Motorsports has always shown a very good strategy and the pit stop crew is good as well. Kenny Habul has improved a lot during last year, and overall we have very strong driver lineups in all three Mercedes-AMG GT3 entries for the Rolex 24. The Mercedes-AMG GT3 has proved to be reliable so we hope to be competitive again at Daytona and throughout the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.”
Maro Engel, Driver – No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: “After a very successful debut year for the Mercedes-AMG GT3 and SunEnergy1 Racing, I am very happy to rejoin the team and come back to Daytona with the gained experience, a super strong driver lineup and a great team behind us. I’m excited to get things started, and although it certainly won’t be easy, the aim is to bring the car home in victory lane. That is what we will work towards. I think especially the handling of the Mercedes-AMG GT3 is a strong point, which will help us in the infield as well as the reliability which usually is second to none. Having a fast and reliable car that gives the driver confidence is key in Daytona. The Mercedes-AMG GT3 fulfills exactly these criteria.”
Ben Keating, Driver – No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes- AMG GT3: “The goal for 2018 is to win both the North American Endurance Cup again and the IMSA WeatherTech GTD championship. The key to this is consistency. Daytona is extremely important in the NAEC because it has four different points- earning opportunities. Daytona also sets the tone for the rest of the season. We know the Mercedes-AMG GT3 a little better this year after having a year under our belt working with this incredible machine. Our Mercedes-AMG GT3 is really good in the infield at Daytona, but the key to the Rolex 24 is top speed, and this is not our strong suit within the current regulations. Staying clean and keeping it consistent is the key to this race for us. If we can make a clean run for 24 hours with no mistakes, then anything can happen. The really nice thing about the Mercedes-AMG GT3 car is that it is an extremely easy car to drive. This makes our job of being clean and consistent a little easier. Then, if it rains, the race is on!”
Jeroen Bleekemolen, Driver – No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3: “I’m looking forward to going to the Roar to setup our Mercedes-AMG GT3 and prepare for the big race. It is also the start of our championship so we’ll try everything to start our season the best way possible. Not every year do you have a car with enough top speed, but you never know until you go racing. Our car should be fast in the Bus Stop and the Kink, the most challenging corners of the track. Within the current rules we typically lack straight line speed, which always makes it hard to defend at Daytona, but it will make for exciting racing, that’s for sure! This will make my ninth start at the Rolex 24. I have had some great races at Daytona but have been unfortunate a couple of times too. Besides two podiums, I’m still looking for my first win there. It’s one of the big historic endurance races you want to conquer and that’s the goal every year. The track layout is very special, driving flat out for so long on the banking.”
Adam Christodoulou, Driver – No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3: “It’s great to be back at Daytona, especially with Mercedes- AMG Team Riley Motorsports. To be given the chance last year and have the guys trust me to be a part of their team was a real privilege. It was the first time Mercedes- AMG made its way to compete on American soil and we kicked it straight off with a third place finish. Last year’s result was great, but this year were going for gold! I’ve been lucky enough to race with all three of my teammates before, Ben and Jeroen in last year’s Rolex 24 and Luca in the Blancpain Endurance Championship. All three are incredible and super quick and Riley Motorsports has won everything as a team and manufacturer, so we’re really aiming for that top spot this year. Our Mercedes-AMG GT3’s advantage is always through the twists and turns, and our ultimate strengths last year were during the wet and mixed conditions.”
Juan “JC” Perez, Driver – No. 71 P1 Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3: “I am very confident in the Mercedes-AMG GT3. We spoke with several drivers at the highest level of driving ability and we feel that, based on their feedback and our current experience, the car is very well built with endurance racing in mind. The Mercedes- AMG GT3 is a great over-all package and is very easy to drive. It’s difficult for me to compare it to some of the other cars I have raced, as this is the only GTD class car I’ve had. They all drive differently, and feel differently, especially depending on the track or location, but I like the Mercedes-AMG GT3 because I can just throw it into a corner and be on the limit nearly all the time, which makes for a truly enjoyable driving experience. The car is very ‘point and shoot’ and very straightforward and beyond stable in the high-speed corners.”
Damien Faulkner, Driver – No. 33 Winward/HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT4: “When Winward Racing was exploring options with manufacturers for 2018 I was a big advocate of Mercedes-AMG. That came from my experience in driving the Mercedes-AMG GT3 in Europe. For the driver, the Mercedes-AMG GT4 is stunning, in all aspects. On the move, the Mercedes-AMG GT4 is as predictable as a racing car could be. It certainly has the credentials to be very successful but we know the competition will be very strong.”
Ted Giovanis, Driver – No. 46 TeamTGM Mercedes-AMG GT4: “The Mercedes- AMG GT4 is set up more like a GT car since, in many respects, it was based upon learnings from the Mercedes-AMG GT3. A lot of the AMG GT3 shines through in the AMG GT4. As such, the driving dynamics will be more like that of a race car. As far as drivability, the car is turbocharged and will have more torque off of the corners, which will help in the raceability area relative to the other GS cars. The car itself should be dynamite to drive, and we think there will be an excellent support system in place from Mercedes-AMG, so things are coming together well after a lot of hard work.”
Guy Cosmo, Driver – No. 46 TeamTGM Mercedes-AMG GT4: “The Mercedes-AMG GT4 has received rave reviews since its announcement and should be a formidable contender in the IMSA Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge. I always love an opportunity to explore a new race car, and I’m sure this Mercedes-AMG beast will not disappoint. I can’t wait to see what we can do together.”
Aaron Povoledo, Driver – No. 63 DXDT Racing Mercedes-AMG GT4: “All of us at DXDT Racing are incredibly excited to get our hands on the new Mercedes-AMG GT4. David Askew and our Team Manager Richard Reader have moved mountains to get our car here in time for the Roar, which shows just how much commitment and excitement we have for this new machine. As a group – from our engineers and techs to David and me as drivers – we all absolutely love the Mercedes-AMG GT3. Knowing how similar the Mercedes-AMG GT4 is in basic architecture makes me think this will be the best GT4 out there!”
Jeff Mosing, Driver – No. 56 Murillo Racing/Mosing Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT4: “We can’t wait to race our new Mercedes-AMG GT4 and Daytona can’t come soon enough. It is really nice to see this influx of new cars into the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge but we knew the Mercedes-AMG GT4 was our first choice. It is also cool to be stepping up from ST to the top GS class along with some of our friends and competitors who we have raced with for years.”