A dozen Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing teams are set to compete in two different IMSA sports car racing series this weekend at Daytona International Speedway (DIS) during the 56th running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, January 24 – 28, which features the opening rounds of both the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.
Three Mercedes-AMG GT3 entries are racing in the weekend’s featured Rolex 24 At Daytona, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener, January (27 – 28), while nine Mercedes-AMG customer racing teams will combine to give the Mercedes-AMG GT4 its official North American competition debut in the four-hour IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race on Friday, January 26.
The Mercedes-AMG GT3 teams competing in the GT Daytona (GTD) class in the twice-around-the-clock race include the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 that finished third in last year’s Rolex 24 At Daytona. The Daytona success was the springboard the No. 33 team and drivers needed to win the 2017 season’s Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup (NAEC) while helping Mercedes-AMG win last year’s NAEC manufacturer championship.
Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen return as the full-season drivers of the No. 33 AMG GT3 in 2018, the duo’s fifth-straight year together, and will be joined at Daytona by Mercedes-AMG driver Adam Christodoulou for the second-consecutive year. Luca 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.
Keating, a winning GTD-class co-driver in the 2015 Rolex 24, is looking for his fourth- straight podium finish at Daytona. In addition to the 2015 win and last year’s third- place showing, Keating also co-drove to a third-place finish in the 2016 Rolex 24.
An addition to the Riley Motorsports operation includes this year the No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 and lead driver Kenny Habul. Mercedes- AMG drivers Maro Engel and Thomas Jaeger will co-drive with Habul at Daytona along with debuting Rolex 24 driver Mikael Grenier.
Also joining the Mercedes-AMG Motorsport customer racing entries at Daytona this year is the debuting No. 71 P1 Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 of team drivers Juan “JC” Perez, Kenton Koch, Robby Foley and Loris Spinelli. 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.
Koch joins Keating as a previous Rolex 24 At Daytona class winner, having co-driven to the Prototype Challenge (PC) division victory in his 2016 debut at Daytona.
Nine new Mercedes-AMG GT4 race cars, which compete in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge’s premier Grand Sport (GS) class, are entered in Friday’s four- hour season opener, with multiple-car efforts from Winward Racing/HTP Motorsport and TeamTGM.
Winward Racing/HTP Motorsport is fielding three entries, with Damien Faulkner and Russell Ward in the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT4, Bryce Ward and Indy Dontje co- driving the No. 57 Mercedes-AMG GT4 and Craig Lyons and Kris Wilson in the No. 3 Mercedes-AMG GT4.
TeamTGM has two entries with Hugh Plumb and Owen Trinkler in the No. 46 Mercedes-AMG GT4 and Ted Giovanis and Guy Cosmo in the No. 4 Mercedes-AMG GT4, which also has Trinkler listed as a third driver.
Already Mercedes-AMG GT3 competitors, DXDT Racing and co-drivers David Askew and Aaron Povoledo will co-drive their No. 63 Mercedes-AMG GT4 at Daytona.
Former Continental Tire Challenge Daytona winners and series champions Jeff Mosing and Murillo Racing co-driver Eric Foss will make their GS-class debut Friday in the No. 56 Mercedes-AMG GT4.
The stout Mercedes-AMG customer racing Continental Tire Challenge entry also includes Stephen Cameron Racing and the No. 19 Mercedes-AMG GT4, co-driven by Ari Balogh and Greg Liefooghe, and the No. 92 Mercedes-AMG GT4 from Ramsey Racing for team drivers Mark Ramsey and Alexandre Premat.
Rolex 24 At Daytona on-track activity for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship begins Thursday with opening practice, night practice and GTD qualifying at 3:55 p.m. EDT.
After a final practice session Friday, the 56th Rolex 24 At Daytona is scheduled to start at 2:40 p.m. EST on Saturday, January 27th.
Thomas Jaeger, Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing Program Coordinator and Driver – No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: “Two years ago we started to plan our Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing entry in the U.S. and it’s really great to see how successful the program is with race wins and the first championship in year one. Now, with the huge demand for the new Mercedes- AMG GT4, it shows that our products and our philosophy are also accepted in the U.S. We want to thank the teams for their confidence in our brand, and we are looking forward to developing the Mercedes-AMG customer racing activities in the U.S. even further. After intensive testing at the Roar we are glad to get rid of some weight on the Mercedes-AMG GT3s as it was affecting not only the one lap performance but especially tire degradation over a stint. Daytona is a great place to be at the beginning of the season, and racing in the U.S. is always special. I like the atmosphere and feel very comfortable with SunEnergy1 Racing and the Riley Motorsports team, so I’m looking forward to the Rolex 24 this weekend!”
Maro Engel, Driver – No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: “Testing at the Roar went well and we were able to run through our program without any major issues. It was good to get to work with Thomas, Kenny and Mikael as well as the whole SunEnergy1 Racing and Riley Motorsports crew and make sure we are all comfortable in the car. For me, personally, racing with and for Mercedes-AMG is an honor and a pride. Mercedes-AMG stands for performance and success, so clearly it comes with a responsibility to give it your absolute all every time you wear the star.
Daytona is one of the big highlights of the racing season. There is so much history and heritage here as well as it being the biggest sports car race in America. So, I’m very anxious to get started, even more so as the field looks to be even more competitive this year!”
Mikael Grenier, Driver – No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: “It’s great to be part of Mercedes-AMG in such an iconic race. It’s my first race with Mercedes-AMG, but I raced against them in Europe and I know how strong the car is, so it’s very pleasant to be driving it in Daytona. I am looking forward to my first Rolex 24 At Daytona. The Roar test went well, we worked well together and made some progress. Kenny has put together a nice team with great people and everyone is motivated for this first race of the season. As a driver, we always want to win, obviously, but in a 24-hour race everything is possible. We just have to keep our nose clean, be there at the end when it counts and see what happens.”
Ben Keating, Driver – No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3: “I believe the field of cars is much better balanced than it was last year, so I am going into the 2018 Rolex 24 with cautious optimism that I can be on the podium at this prestigious race for a fourth year in a row. Mercedes-Benz USA and Mercedes-AMG have been amazing partners in our success. They are making a huge investment into this platform as a ‘customer racing’ manufacturer. To me, this is where the heart of motorsports belongs. Mercedes-AMG is doing it right, and it shows. They have 12 cars competing at Daytona! This is a big deal. They are a huge player in the world of motorsports and performance vehicles. They are teaming up with their customers on the track, and they are representing all of their customers on the street. Racing is about passion. Not only do they feed the passion of the competitor, but equal our passion through incredible support.”
Jeroen Bleekemolen, Driver – No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3: “Finally, it’s time to get the season started. I’m really excited to be back with the Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports and to fight hard for the championship, starting with one of the biggest races of the year. The Rolex 24 At Daytona is always a great challenge, and the competition is really strong this year. I hope we can have a perfect race like last year and fight for the win at the end of the race. It’s great racing the Mercedes-AMG in the States. We gave it some big wins last year like Sebring and the NAEC championship. The support from Mercedes-AMG has been amazing from the beginning, and I’m looking forward continuing our strong partnership.”
Adam Christodoulou, Driver – No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3: “It’s great to be back with the Mercedes-AMG Riley Motorsports boys for the second year running. I was lucky enough to be a part of the team last year, and I think we did ourselves and Mercedes-AMG extremely proud in their USA motorsports debut. We finished third and this year were coming back bigger, better and stronger to climb the next two places of the podium. Daytona is the biggest race on the IMSA Calendar, and it would be the perfect start if were able to improve on last year’s result. Being a part of Mercedes-AMG as a team, driver or crew is something special. The support you get from Mercedes-AMG Motorsport is the best in the business, and with it a brand that’s growing, not just in the U.S. but worldwide. It just makes it that a bit more special, being part of something that’s evolving.”
Juan “JC” Perez, Driver – No. 71 P1 Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3: “This is my lifelong dream to compete in this race and I’m very happy that I’m able to do it before I turn 30! I have been training all last year for this. The Mercedes-AMG GT3 is a great car but now we just have to work with the BoP (Balance of Performance) as it is very hard to get used to that much weight. Mercedes-AMG has always been big in racing, and it is very cool to see now that there are so many out there.”
Kenton Koch, Driver – No. 71 P1 Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3: “We have done everything we can to prepare ourselves for this race. Now we have do what we have rehearsed and not make one mistake in 24 hours. If we succeed at that, I think we will be in it at the end. This will be my second time racing this iconic event. The first will always be special, but now that I’ve learned what I have over these past two years, those pre-race jitters of the unknown have turned into eagerness. It’s an honor to be associated with Mercedes-AMG for the 2018 season. The out-pouring of support from the manufacturer has been great and I look forward to doing the best we can for P1 Motorsports to represent the brand well.”
Robby Foley, Driver – No. 71 P1 Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3: “For us as a team it’s all very new, but we’ve prepared to the best of our ability. The Mercedes- AMG-GT3 platform has already seen a lot of success all over the world, and I’m excited to get behind the wheel of a car with such a pedigree. It’s awesome to be associated with the brand, and to represent them in one of the biggest races in the world is an honor. For me it’s a dream come true to race in the Rolex 24. Some of my earliest memories as a kid are staying up through the night watching with the hopes of one day competing, and now to be here is a special feeling. Being that it’s my first one, anticipation is high, but we’re going in well prepared which eases the nerves.”
Ted Giovanis, Driver – No. 4 TeamTGM Mercedes-AMG GT4: “We are very glad to have our two Mercedes-AMG GT4 race cars. Based on our testing, these cars should be very competitive. Mercedes-AMG and HWA have been very supportive in working with us to assure we get the appropriate support and parts to assist us in our Daytona race effort. We are as pleased as we can be looking toward the race, and we believe the Mercedes-AMG will be very competitive and will prove to be the best platform.”
Eric Foss, Driver – No. 56 Murillo Racing Mercedes-AMG GT4: “Murillo Racing as a team is very excited to run the Mercedes-AMG GT4 in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge series. The support from the whole AMG staff at the Roar test was quite astounding. ‘Mein Schatz,’ which is German for ‘my sweetheart’ and the name of our car, arrived late during the Roar, but the Mercedes-AMG personnel jumped in to help Murillo Racing get the car up to speed immediately. As a team we are hoping to put in a good result for the first round at Daytona and continue our streak of being on the podium every year here since 2014.”