Customer Racing: Rolex 24 At Daytona: Mercedes-AMG with seventh place in turbulent and rainy IMSA season opener at Daytona

27.
January 2019
Daytona Beach

The 2019 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship got underway with a memorable Daytona 24-hour race. Heavy rain largely prevented any regular racing in the final third of the race. Notwithstanding the adverse conditions, the Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports shone with a strong performance at the legendary Daytona International Speedway: Jeroen Bleekemolen (NED), Felipe Fraga (BRA), Ben Keating (USA) and Luca Stolz (GER) racked up laps in the lead throughout the race distance. With two hours remaining, a second interruption of the race brought the decision with seventh place in the GTD class for the Mercedes-AMG quartet. The second Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the field, run by P1 Motorsports, had to retire from the race after a promising performance.

  • Seventh place for Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsport in Rolex 24 At Daytona
  • Special points for the defending IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup champions
  • Mercedes-AMG GT4 with sixth place in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season opener

Daytona Beach – This year’s Daytona 24-hour race was a race of two halves: until the early hours of Sunday morning, dry track conditions allowed for fast and high-class duels. In the process, the #33 Mercedes-AMG GT3 of the Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports was among the pace-setting cars in the GTD class. Having started from second place on the grid, Jeroen Bleekemolen (NED), Felipe Fraga (BRA), Ben Keating (USA) and Luca Stolz (GER) quickly established themselves in the front-running group and led the GTD field for a large part of the race.

With a clever pit stop strategy, the team and the drivers also were in the best position at the six- and twelve-hour marks, for which valuable points in the separate IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup classification are attributed. Keating, Bleekemolen, Stolz and the Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports are the defending champions in the hard-fought endurance classification of the North American sports car series, just like Mercedes-AMG in the manufacturers’ standings.

In the early morning hours, heavy rain set in over the Daytona International Speedway and completely changed the race conditions. Initially, the field circulated behind the safety car for several laps. Information from race control that racing was to resume soon prompted Bleekemolen to come in from the lead for a strategic pit stop. However, instead of the green flag that was expected, the red flags were out to interrupt the race. When racing resumed after an interruption of around 90 minutes, the Dutchman in the #33 car had to slot in behind the new GTD class leaders. As a result, the #33 also missed out on the Endurance Cup points at the 18-hour mark.

After the restart, continuing rain made conditions extremely difficult. Turbulent situations alternated with extended safety car interventions. In the close field of the GTD front runners, Bleekemolen kept his nerves and made up further positions during the remainder of his stint. After the driver change, Luca Stolz briefly brought the #33 back into the lead until he dropped back to seventh after a spin. Soon after that, the race was again red-flagged with two of the scheduled race distance of 24 hours still remaining. This would turn out to be an early decision, because the weather didn’t allow for the race to be restarted until the end of the regular race time, so that seventh place remained the result for the Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports.

Prior to the first rain interruption, the race was over for the #71 P1 Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3: Dominik Baumann (AUT), Maximilian Buhk (GER), Fabian Schiller (GER) and Juan Perez (COL) had started from the eleventh row of the GTD class and quickly made up ground in the opening hours. At the halfway point of the race, the quartet had established itself in the top ten and temporarily was even on course for a podium finish. A too long stop for a brake change and suspension issues then led to a loss of several laps. With nine hours remaining and with the expected rain, the team decided to retire the car from the race.

Ben Keating, Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports #33: “Today, we had a car that was capable of winning and that doesn’t happen often in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. However, Mother Nature didn’t play along. The rain was horrible. First the red flag, then a green flag and then a red flag again, cars were going off everywhere. Actually, it was only a gamble about when race control would throw the final red flag. When that happened, we unfortunately were only in seventh place. We simply weren’t at the right place at the right time. I am disappointed, but we will be back again here next year.”

Jeroen Bleekemolen, Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports #33: “I am slightly disappointed as I reckon that we had a perfect race. The drivers, the team, the Mercedes-AMG GT3, everything was super. We led for so many laps and we had the feeling that we were able to win. I also knew that we were strong in the rain. But then, the weather still blew our chances and turned everything around. At the moment, I am still disappointed, but it is impossible to put blame on anyone. Everyone has done an excellent job.”

Luca Stolz, Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports #33: “Ben did a super qualifying, allowing us to start from P2. In the race, it went really well, too. We were able to stay among the frontrunners and initially concentrated on the points for the Endurance Cup. We scored full points at the six- and the twelve-hour marks. The end was then extremely difficult. There was a lot of aquaplaning and visibility was poor. My spin then cost us the lead. Unfortunately, because of the interruption, there was no longer a chance to make up for it. I feel sorry for the team to which I would like to express my thanks. They all have done a super job.”

Dominik Baumann, P1 Motorsports #71: “Ending the race like this is disappointing. Basically, the pace was very good. We weren’t the fastest, but we worked our way up from P22 to the front. A podium finish would have been within reach. In the weather conditions we had at the end, it was just a lottery anyway."

Maximilian Buhk, P1 Motorsports #71: “We had to park the car during the night. We had a problem and we don’t know exactly what the reason is yet. There were vibrations and the car pulled from the right to the left and vice versa. Also, we lost a lot of time when changing the brakes. With the rain that was forecast, we had no chance of making up for that. Nevertheless, racing for P1 Motorsports here was a great experience.”

Fabian Schiller, P1 Motorsports #71: “My final stint went off to a troublesome start already as we had changed the brakes before which lasted longer than expected. As a result, we lost two laps. Moreover, we had problems with a wheel that forced us to make another pit stop. That was how things added up and we suddenly found ourselves eight laps down. Because of that, the team decided to park the car and to retie from the race. Too bad, but we will be attacking again at Sebring!”

Stefan Wendl, head of Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing: “We have seen an odd 24-hour race. I am very happy with the performance of our two teams, it was really impressive for a large part of the race. The Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports was at the front from the very beginning and was able to secure valuable Endurance Cup points. Unfortunately, in the end, we missed out on the necessary bit of luck you need in conditions like these."

Mercedes-AMG GT4 with sixth place at Daytona
Unlike the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge had a season opener in ideal weather conditions. On Friday prior to the 24-hour race, seven Mercedes-AMG GT4s started the four-hour race that included thrilling duels and close competition until the end. In the process, the cars from Affalterbach took several turns in the lead. Eventually, Winward Racing / HTP Motorsport secured the best result of the Customer Racing Teams with the #33 Mercedes-AMG GT4: having started from sixth on the grid, drivers Indy Dontje (NED) and Russell Ward (USA) defended their sixth position in the closing stages.

Result GTD class, Rolex 24 At Daytona*:

Pos.

Nr.

Car

Team

Drivers

1.

 

11

Lamborghini Huracan GT3

GRT Grasser Racing Team

Rolf Ineichen (SUI), Mirko Bortolotti (ITA), Rik Breukers (NED), Christian Engelhart (GER)

2.

29

Audi R8 LMS GT3

Montaplast by Land Motorsport

Christopher Mies (GER), Dries Vanthoor (BEL), Ricardo Feller (SUI), Daniel Morad (CAN)

3.

12

Lexus RC F GT3

AIM Vasser Sullivan

Frank Montecalvo (USA), Townsend Bell (USA), Aaron Telitz (USA), Jeff Segal (USA)

 

 

 

 

7.

33

 

Mercedes-AMG GT3

Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports

Jeroen Bleekemolen (NED), Felipe Fraga (BRA), Ben Keating (USA), Luca Stolz (GER)

DNF

71

 

Mercedes-AMG GT3

P1 Motorsports

Dominik Baumann (AUT), Maximilian Buhk (GER), Fabian Schiller (GER), Juan Perez (COL)

* excerpt subject to confirmation by the organisers

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  • 19C0082_001
    Mercedes-AMG GT3 #33, Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports
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    Mercedes-AMG GT3 #33, Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports
  • 19C0082_003
    Mercedes-AMG GT3 #71, P1 Motorsports
  • 19C0082_005
    Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports
  • 19C0082_006
    Mercedes-AMG GT3 #33, Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports
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    Mercedes-AMG GT3 #33, Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports
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    Mercedes-AMG GT3 #33, Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports
  • 19C0082_009
    Mercedes-AMG GT3 #71, P1 Motorsports
  • 19C0082_010
    Mercedes-AMG GT3 #71, P1 Motorsports
  • 19C0082_011
    Mercedes-AMG GT3 #33, Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports
  • 19C0082_012
    Mercedes-AMG GT3 #33, Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports
  • 19C0082_013
    Mercedes-AMG GT3 #33, Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports
  • 19C0082_014
    Mercedes-AMG GT3 #33, Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports
  • 19C0082_015
    Mercedes-AMG GT4 #56 (Murillo Racing) and #35 (Riley Motorsports)
  • 19C0082_016
    Mercedes-AMG GT4 #46 (Team TGM) and #35 (Riley Motorsports)
  • 19C0082_017
    Mercedes-AMG GT4 #4 (Team TGM)
  • 19C0082_018
    Mercedes-AMG GT4 #33 (Winward Racing / HTP Motorsport) and #56 (Murillo Racing)
  • 19C0082_019
    Mercedes-AMG GT4 #65 (Murillo Racing)
  • 19C0082_020
    Mercedes-AMG GT4 #57 (Winward Racing / HTP Motorsport)
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