AUSTIN, TX – May 5, 2017 – (Motor Sports Newswire) – A season-high four Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing entries in the GT Daytona (GTD) class at this weekend’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship round at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) will look to further extend the early-season success of the Mercedes-AMG GT3. Full- season Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing IMSA entrants Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports, WeatherTech Racing and SunEnergy1 Racing will be joined in Texas by Lone Star Racing, which will debut its Mercedes-AMG GT3 at COTA.
In the debut season of IMSA competition for the Mercedes-AMG GT3, Mercedes- AMG Motorsport Customer Racing teams have won the last two WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races.
At Sebring, the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3, co-driven by full-season teammates Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen and endurance-race addition Mario Farnbacher, earned the first class-victory for the Silver Arrows in 60 years in the legendary the 12-hour race. The No. 50 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3, co-driven by Cooper MacNeil and Gunnar Jeannette, raced from last on the grid to first-in-class at Long Beach.
In total, Mercedes-AMG has filled five of the combined nine top-three podium spots in the first three GTD races of the year. Keating and Bleekemolen crossed the finish line second in the No. 33 at Long Beach – giving the Mercedes-AMG GT3 its first North American one-two sweep – in addition to finishing third with Farnbacher in January’s season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona.
SunEnergy1 Racing, with co-drivers Kenny Habul, Tristan Vautier and Boris Said, finished third at Sebring to cap a breakout weekend for the first-year team. Vautier won the pole in the team’s No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 – giving Mercedes-AMG another IMSA first – and also set the fastest GTD lap of the race.
The early-season success has seen Mercedes-AMG and its drivers and teams take the lead in each of the three full-season IMSA WeatherTech GTD Championship battles heading into the fourth race of the season Saturday at COTA.
Mercedes-AMG leads the GTD Manufacturers Championship with 100 points, nine ahead of Porsche’s 91 points. Ferrari is third with 86 points.
In the IMSA GTD Driver and Team Championships, Keating, Bleekemolen and the Mercedes-AMG Riley Motorsports No. 33 lead their respective championships with 98 points. The second-place Ferrari team and its drivers have 77 points.
Mercedes-AMG GT3 driver lineups this weekend include Keating and Bleekemolen – who will be racing for their third GTD win in the last four years at COTA – in the No. 33, MacNeil and Jeannette in the WeatherTech Racing No. 50, and Habul and Vautier in the SunEnergy1 Racing No. 75.
The No. 80 Lone Star Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 will be co-driven by Dan Knox and Mike Skeen in the first of a scheduled four races this season. Knox and Skeen last raced in IMSA in last September’s race at COTA where they earned an eighth- place finish – the best of the four WeatherTech Championship races the team contested in 2016.
Circuit of The Americas is a “home-race” for Texas-residents Keating, Knox and the aptly-named Lone Star Racing team. Keating lives and runs his businesses out of Tomball, Texas, while Knox and Lone Star Racing are from the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area.
The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at COTA is scheduled to start at 2:35 p.m. CDT this Saturday, May 6. Live coverage and timing and scoring is available via IMSA.com and the IMSA mobile app. Same-day television coverage of the race can be seen later on Saturday on FOX Sports 1 (FS1) at 7 p.m. EDT.
Stefan Wendl, GT3 Project Manager, Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing: “The quick start to this season was a really great motivation for the whole team at Mercedes-AMG. It also shows that the development of our Mercedes-AMG GT3 race car is second to none. As in every series Mercedes-AMG Motorsport competes, our goal is to win. The very early success we had in the first races has given us the lead in the driver, team and manufacturer championships, and that is what makes us really proud. But the title fight is still too early at this stage of the season, there is still a hard and long way to go, and the competition in the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship is very tough.”
Ben Keating, Driver – No. 33 AMG-Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3: “Being in the championship lead is a great place to be. We have literally had a perfect season so far. No mistakes by anyone on the team, and even the full-course yellows on track have fallen perfectly into our strategy. It won’t always be like this, but we will enjoy it while it lasts. As usual, anything can happen during any race, but battling for consistent finishes is easier than battling for a win. A little cushion is nice, but the competition is fierce and we cannot afford to ease off at all. I feel very good about where we are now. I expect the Mercedes-AMG to be good at COTA, just like it has been for every race, but I don’t expect it to be the fastest car in the field. This works great for us. We need to stay clean and keep the car as close to the front as possible.”
Jeroen Bleekemolen, Driver – No. 33 AMG-Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes- AMG GT3: “I think our minds are all on trying to win the race. For sure, when you are getting close to the end of the race, and it looks good from a championship point of view, we might be conservative. It makes the pressure easier. We have a lot of confidence from the results in the last races, and we know we can do the job if we don’t make mistakes. We have all been together for a long time, which also helps. We know exactly what we need to win from experiences of the past. All of that, combined with the help of Mercedes-AMG, and we are definitely on top of our game. This should be a good track for us, but it is very hard to predict. I believe our Mercedes- AMG GT3 can do well, although we have a little disadvantage on the straights. The whole field is very close and many teams can win.”
Cooper MacNeil, Driver – No. 50 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: “I think our Mercedes-AMG GT3 will perform well at COTA. We have a bit of a smaller air-inlet restrictor since we raced at Sebring, which could come into play. The Riley Motorsports guys have been working hard since Long Beach and I am looking forward to giving them another strong result. My favorite section of the track at COTA is the esses. I am expecting them to feel magical in our Mercedes-AMG GT3.”
Gunnar Jeannette, Driver – No. 50 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3:
“Our Mercedes-AMG GT3 should be well suited to Circuit of The Americas. The higher speed nature of the track, and the need to use the curbing aggressively in every corner, should play to our strong points. That being said, I think the competition again will be very close. It certainly isn’t easy in IMSA competition at the moment, but when you do well it does make for better memories!”
Tristan Vautier, Driver – No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: “I think COTA should be a good track for the Mercedes-AMG GT3. The car is very strong in medium to high-speed corners requiring good downforce, so it should be a good fit. Overall, the car performs really well on any track, and I think it’s pretty much the most potent of all the GT3 cars. I have driven the COTA track a few times so I am quite familiar with it, but never raced on it. To be honest, I enjoy the tight, bumpy tracks we find very often in the U.S. I find them very challenging, but COTA is very special, has a great flow and very unique and interesting corners. It’s a good change in the schedule to race on a track of this type. I really look forward to it and it will be fun.”
Mike Skeen, Driver – No. 80 Lone Star Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: “Circuit of The Americas is a place that I’ve grown to love since I started going there right after its opening. It has some great passing zones and creates excellent racing with room to be aggressive. The Mercedes-AMG GT3 has proven to be a great car at many tracks and this will be no different. We have the advantage of having tested at COTA, which should give us an excellent starting point. Hopefully this will allow us to really polish the setup and make it do exactly what we need. I have also recently been able to get some more seat time in these cars in Europe in the Blancpain endurance series, so that will only help me understand what I am looking for out of the car. In the recent IMSA races, the Mercedes-AMG GT3 has proven to be quick and consistent, which is what we will need on race day. A top-five would be a strong performance for the team’s first time out this season, but I am always looking for more!”
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Source: Mercedes-Benz USA