Following the 1-2 in the 12-hour race at Abu Dhabi last weekend, Mercedes-AMG Motorsport has also successfully completed the next endurance race of the year. In the Hankook 24H Dubai with a high-quality entry, the #75 Mercedes-AMG GT3 run by Customer Racing Team Sun Energy 1 by SPS automotive performance secured third place, just ahead of the fellow Mercedes-AMG drivers in the #4 Abu Dhabi Racing by HRT entry. The decision in the battle for the final podium slot in favour of Maro Engel (GER), Jules Gounon (FRA), Mikaël Grenier (CAN) and Kenny Habul (AUS) only came in the final minutes. In total, six Mercedes-AMG GT3s finished in the top ten of the overall classification. A 1-2 in the GT3-AM class and two further class wins in the GT3-P/A and GT4 categories round out the strong result by the performance and sports car brand from Affalterbach.
With three Mercedes-AMG GT3s on the first three rows of the grid, the Customer Racing Teams had secured themselves good starting positions for the first 24-hour highlight of the season. Multiple code-60 neutralisations and different fuel stop strategies by the teams considerably upset the order in the 79-car strong field right after the start of the race already. All the three Mercedes-AMG GT3s with the best qualifying positions were affected as well. Both the #4 (Abu Dhabi Racing by HRT, 2nd place on the grid), the #777 (Al Manar Racing by HRT, 3rd place on the grid) and the #75 (Sun Energy 1 by SPS automotive performance, 6th place on the grid) lost numerous positions in the opening part of the race and partly even lost a lap.
However, until darkness set in, all the three co-favourites successfully closed up to the front-running positions again. In spite of still frequently occurring code-60 phases as the race went on, the drivers with the Mercedes-AMG GT3s continued their recovery drivers during the nightly hours in an impressive way. At the halfway point in the race, Khaled Al Qubaisi (UAE), Hubert Haupt (GER), Raffaele Marciello (ITA) and Manuel Metzger (GER) with the #4 car were already back on course for a podium finish. Later on, the #75 entry with Maro Engel (GER), Jules Gounon (FRA), Mikaël Grenier (CAN) and Kenny Habul (AUS) and the #777 mit Al Faisal Al Zubair (OMA), Indy Dontje (NED), Martin Konrad (AUT) and Luca Stolz (GER) also established themselves in the top five again.
In the closing stages of the race, the weather conditions at Dubai Autodrome that had been perfect until then worsened by high wind that blew desert sand onto the track. Unfazed, the Mercedes-AMG drivers completed their final turns. In the process, there were also entertaining brand-internal duels for third place. Initially, Metzger and then Marciello with the #4 car successfully defended the podium slot, albeit without making up ground to the front-runners that had pulled away in the meantime. A splash-and-dash fuel stop in the closing minutes then still resulted into a position change: driving the #75 entry, Grenier overtook the #4 car and after 593 laps, he secured third place for the Sun Energy 1 by SPS automotive performance team. 7.697 seconds down, Marciello and the #4 Abu Dhabi Racing by HRT Mercedes-AMG GT3 had to make do with fourth place. Luca Stolz rounded out the outstanding brand result for Mercedes-AMG by crossing the finish line in fifth place with the #777 Al Manar Racing by HRT car.
A 1-2 in the GT3-AM class
In the GT3-AM class, the #85 Mercedes-AMG GT3 with drivers Charles Espenlaub (USA), Philip Quaife (GBR), Shane Lewis (USA) and Charles Putman (USA) caught the attention: the CP Racing GT3 held on to its pole position at the start and, as a result of the turmoil in the opening stages, even racked up several laps in the overall lead of the field. As the race went on, the AM class car also sensationally remained among the top teams in the overall classification and cemented its class lead. Eventually, it was Putman who brought the AM class win and eighth place in the overall classification home. Behind the #85 car, the #20 SPS automotive performance Mercedes-AMG GT3 made it a 1-2 in the AM class. Second place in class equalled an outstanding ninth place overall for George Kurtz (USA), Ian Loggie (GBR), Valentin Pierburg (GER) and Saudi Arabia’s first-ever female racer Saudi-Arabiens Reema Juffali (KSA).
Class win in the GT3-P/A classification
In the GT3 class with mixed line-ups of professional and amateur drivers, the #19 MP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3 dominated proceedings throughout the race weekend. Bert de Heus, Daniel de Jong, Henk de Jong and Jaap van Lagen (all NED) started from pole position and then stayed out of all the difficulties throughout the race. As the race went on, the Dutch quartet managed to stabilise the advantage over its rivals. After 584 laps, final driver Daniel de Jong brought the dominant class win home and competed the outstanding top ten record for Mercedes-AMG in tenth place overall.
Mercedes-AMG GT4 wins GT4 classification
The Customer Racing Teams with the Mercedes-AMG GT4 also showed a strong performance. With the #403 Atlas BX Motorsports car, Roelof Bruins (NED), Steven Cho (CAN), Jongkyum Kim (KOR) and Yong Hyeok Yang (KOR) moved up into the lead in the early stages of the race. The #408 Dragon Racing Mercedes-AMG GT4 with Roald Goethe, Oliver Goethe (both GER), Jordan Grogor (ZAF) and Stuart Hall (GBR) behind the wheel followed in second place. After a long double lead, the #408 Dragon Racing car finally prevailed and secured the class win.
Stefan Wendl, head of Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing: “I am mega proud of our Customer Racing Teams for the fact that, after Abu Dhabi, we were also able to start the new year in such a successful way in Dubai as well. We couldn’t have expected more than the three class wins. Too bad we missed out on the overall win this time, but we gave our opponents a tough battle and can therefore be very confident looking ahead to the next races. I wish our teams the best of luck further on as well. Congratulations to Audi and thanks for the fantastic competition.”
Maro Engel, Sun Energy 1 by SPS automotive performance #75: “After a race that was really incredibly tough, finishing on the podium is a fantastic result for us. We had many different situations that made us drop back. During the night, we had a few minor contacts as well that caused some damage to our Mercedes-AMG GT3. Nevertheless, we kept on fighting. Huge compliments to the team that made sure we made it through with the car. The podium is a great reward for the hard work by SPS. Huge congrats also to Kenny who has put in a fantastic drive. I am happy that he was able to celebrate his maiden overall podium finish in the Dubai 24-hour race.”
Jules Gounon, Sun Energy 1 by SPS automotive performance #75: “For us, this is a very good start of the new season. The SPS automotive performance team has done a good job: Maro, Kenny, Mikaël, all of them. Securing a podium finish in a field with such a strong entry is a great achievement. I am also happy for Mercedes-AMG that was very strong here with all its cars.”
Raffaele Marciello, Abu Dhabi Racing by HRT #4: “Of course, with fourth place, we didn’t achieved what we had planned. In any case, our speed was good enough. The situation with the fuel stop at the end cost us a certain podium finish. There, our strategy didn’t work out, but mistakes happen. I am looking ahead and I am looking forward to attacking here again next year.”
Luca Stolz, Al Manar Racing by HRT #777: “I think that we could even have ended a bit higher up than in fifth place. We were unlucky in many code-60 phases, so therefore, the result wasn’t any better in the end. Nevertheless, it was great fun. The entire team harmonised well and everybody has done a great job.”
Shane Lewis, CP Racing #85: “We are the winners of the GT3-AM class. I have to say it out loud so that I can believe it myself. I am so unbelievably proud. The team has done a fantastic job. The car was running so wel. The Mercedes-AMG GT3 simply is my favourite race car. We came here and won the category in a very hard race. I am so grateful and I can’t wait to celebrate with the team.”
Daniel de Jong, MP Motorsport #19: “Victory in the Pro-Am category wasn’t easy. Still, we had a good race without any problems on the car or any other incidents. During the night, everything went flawlessly, too. The car was enormously reliable and that is what brought us victory. Great!”