Mercedes-AMG Motorsport scored its maiden win in its second outing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. After third place in the IMSA debut during the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports won the GTD class in the 12 Hours of Sebring.
The Mercedes-AMG GT3 was the podium as the winner in the premier North-American sports car series for the first time. Drivers in the winning car from Affalterbach were Mario Farnbacher, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating. Third place in class was the Customer Racing team SunEnergy1 with Tristan Vautier, Boris Said and Kenny Habul.
Sebring International Raceway with its long tradition served as the venue for a long-awaited reunion as for the first time in 60 years, cars from the brand with the three-pointed star raced again in the 12-hour race.
Three Mercedes-AMG GT3 took part in the 65th running of the classic North-American endurance race. After third place in the season opener at Daytona, Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports was first across the finish line after 325 laps and scoring the Mercedes-AMG's maiden win in only the second race.
Drivers of the winning Mercedes-AMG GT3 No.33 were Mario Farnbacher, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating, who started the race from seventh place on the grid. In ideal weather conditions, they posted consistently fast lap times and quickly worked their way up through the field. After two hours, the team moved up into the lead of the GTD class for the first time.
The trio and the entire crew kept on putting in a faultless performance and often pulled clear from its opponents while in the lead. Only a full-course yellow and the final pit stops with one hour remaining mixed up positions at the front. Final driver Jeroen Bleekemolen kept cool, showed a great overtaking move from second place with 50 minutes remaining, extended his lead and went on to claim the maiden win, 8.667 seconds ahead of the second-placed car. In the overall classification, the Mercedes-AMG GT3 No.33 ended up in 16th place from 46 competitors.
“Here at Sebring, we had fun throughout." said Farnbacher "The set-up of the car was perfect from the very beginning and worked perfectly. The entire team with crew and drivers worked together in an outstanding way. We were able to put in fast lap times and we held on to our position among the front runners right away. Already having scored victory in our second IMSA race is sensational. Many thanks to Mercedes-AMG Motorsport and Riley Motorsports. And now, it is time to celebrate.”
In qualifying, Customer Racing Team SunEnergy1 with starting No.75 made it clear how well the Mercedes-AMG GT3 did at the 3.79 mile long track in Florida. Tristan Vautier established a new qualifying record and with his lap time of 1:59.738, he was the only driver from the GTD class to post a lap time of under two minutes.
That pole position went away due to an unplanned repair in warm-up prior to the race, so that the car had to start from the back of the field. In the race, Tristan Vautier, Boris Said and Kenny Habul then lost more time following contact with rivals.
The three worked their way up over and over again. The trio showed up in the top three for the first time with one hour remaining. The thrilling final lap decided the battle for the podium. Final driver Tristan Vautier took advantage of the car in front of him running out of fuel and drove the No.75 Mercedes-AMG GT3 across the finish line in third place in class.
“Qualifying was great fun already." said Vautier "In the race, we initially had bad luck, but we never gave up. The entire team has been working extraordinarily well and we all kept pushing until the end. That we eventually still managed to finish third is a great ending that the entire team has deserved.”
The No.50 Riley Motorsports – WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 didn’t have any luck in the race. Cooper MacNeil, Gunnar Jeannette and Shane van Gisbergen started the race from eighth place. Like the No.33 sister car, the US-based team initially made up ground and established itself in the front part of the field. A puncture and consequential damage blew any chances of a podium finish and led to the premature retirement.
Thomas Jäger, Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing Coordinator closed by saying, “Mercedes-AMG Motorsport claiming victory already in its second race in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is a fantastic performance. Congratulations to the Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports. The pole position for SunEnergy1 Racing already showed that the Mercedes-AMG GT3 really did well here, too. Unfortunately, the third Mercedes-AMG GT3 didn’t have the luck that you also need in a 12-hour race. But the performance and the lap times the teams have shown are making us very confident for the upcoming races.”
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