Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing’s debut season in the North-American IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was successfully concluded in the season finale at Road Atlanta. In spite of starting from the back of the field of GT3 cars in the GTD class, the trio of drivers with Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Mario Farnbacher managed to bring the Mercedes-AMG GT3, run by Riley Motorsports, home in an excellent fourth place.
“I would say not only did we do the best we could with the Mercedes-AMG GT3 that we had, we did better than I could have possibly imagined." said Keating "There were only four cars in this race that were on the lead lap at the end and we were one of them. We were fourth even with the slowest car within the current rules, but clean racing, great pit work and strategy kept the car in the race and kept us on the lead lap. It was an unbelievable finish. I'm thrilled with fourth. We got the maximum result and to win the NAEC was just unbelievable. I'm excited that we were able to help Mercedes-AMG win the NAEC, not only the driver championship but the teams’ and manufacturers’ championships too. It’s a big deal and a tough championship to win. Plus, I think it's the coolest trophy that exists in racing. I may be more excited about that trophy than anything else I've ever won.”
The basis for this achievement was a tactically clever, albeit risky decision prior to the start. The Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports opted for new slicks instead of rain tires. According to the regulations, this means that the car with starting number 33 was relegated to the back of the grid. However, only a few laps into the race, the demanding and undulating track on the outskirts of Atlanta in Georgia gradually dried out. While the entire field had to come into the pits for a tire change, starting driver Ben Keating benefited from his strategic advantage to take the lead in the GTD field.
In the remainder of the race that was marked by many yellow flags and safety car interventions, the No.33 Mercedes-AMG GT3 was able to establish itself in the group of the front runners and took several turns in the lead of the GTD field of 17 cars. In a thrilling and close finale, final driver Bleekemolen managed to secure fourth place and thus also scored the according points for the endurance title.
“The team did a really good job getting us out front, even being first at the eight-hour mark." said Bleekemolen "Looking back on the year, winning the North American Endurance Championship means a lot. It is four long races, you have to do really well to win it and we did. I think we really maximized our chances and our position. We couldn't have done anything better this year, no real mistakes, the Mercedes-AMG GT3 ran very well and never broke down. We just didn't have the straight-line speed the way the rules were and couldn't really fight other cars. Nevertheless, it was great to work again with the Riley Motorsports group of guys, and I can't wait to come back and do a little bit better. I think we have it in us to fight again for the championship.”
With the triple championship title win for drivers, teams and manufacturers in the demanding Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup, the Mercedes-AMG GT3 was able to prove its endurance racing qualities in an impressive way. The Endurance Cup within the IMSA series includes the classic 24-hour racer in Daytona, the Sebring 12 Hours, the six-hour race at Watkins Glen and the ten-hour-long ‘Petit Le Mans’ race at Road Atlanta as the finale.
In the overall standings, Mercedes-AMG can also look back upon a successful debut season in the hard-fought IMSA series. With top results and a pair of wins at Sebring and at the Circuit of the Americas, the Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports collected sufficient points to conclude the maiden season as runner-up in the teams’ and manufacturers’ standings.
The second regular entrant with the Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the IMSA series, the SunEnergy1 Racing team was also able to produce occasional highlights during the season. Even though the team retired from the final round at Road Atlanta, the participation of the car with starting number 75 still was a special occasion. The Mercedes-AMG GT3 raced with a design produced by Linkin Park. The two band members Mike Shinoda and Joe Hahn stopped by to visit the SunEnergy1 Racing team during the race weekend in honor and in memory of band leader Chester Bennington who passed away recently.
Tobias Moers, Chairman of the Board of Management of Mercedes-AMG GmbHlooking back on the season said, “A big compliment and congratulations to our Performance Team Riley Motorsports and its drivers for their victory in the North American Endurance Cup. Winning this prestigious title in our debut season in the IMSA series is a great achievement for Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing, especially as winning it required a lot of hard work. Had it not been for the vast experience and above all the outstanding race strategy by Riley Motorsports, this title win wouldn’t have been possible. The SunEnergy1 Racing team led by Kenny Habul has also successfully represented Mercedes-AMG in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and has produced several highlights. From that point of view, it is only consequent to keep these teams on board for next year’s IMSA season in any case. After all, we want to continue to show our huge fan community in the US which potential our Mercedes-AMG GT3 has in store. And with the Mercedes-AMG GT4, a new competition car from Affalterbach is coming up that will be making its debut in the US in 2018 as well.”
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