Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen co-drove the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 to a fourth-place GT Daytona (GTD) class finish Sunday in the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase at Road America. The highest finishing Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing team in the race, the No. 33 also led the points- leading Ferrari team across the finish line to close the gap in the GTD championship standings with three races remaining.
Rebounding from a tough race start that saw the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3 get out- run in the charge into Turn 1 on the opening race lap, Keating steadily worked his way back up the GTD running order in his 55-minute opening stint. He climbed up to fifth place before handing the No. 33 off to Bleekemolen.
Bleekemolen left the pits in sixth place and raced his way back into the top five with one-hour to go in the two-hour and 40-minute race.
The key move of the race for the No. 33 came in the team’s final pit stop with just over 45 minutes remaining. The Mercedes-AMG Team Riley strategists elected to short fuel the No. 33, disconnecting the fuel hose a full six seconds earlier than usual.
The move worked as Bleekemolen left the pits ahead of the Ferrari and in fourth place. He held the position to the race finish and took the checkered flag just as the No. 33 ran out of fuel.
Kenny Habul and Tristan Vautier co-drove the other Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the race and overcame an unscheduled repair in the pits to finish 12th in the No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3.
Starting last in the GTD field after a post-qualifying tire change sent them to the back, Habul stayed on the lead lap in his race-opening shift and pitted from 11th place 51 minutes into the race to hand off to Vautier.
Vautier was back in the pits just minutes later, however, after the right rear suspension of the No. 75 collapsed. The SunEnergy1 crew immediately traced the issue to a broken upper rocker suspension assembly and quickly replaced the part in a pit-side repair. Vautier returned to the race, but after losing two laps to all of the cars in front, could do little more than bring the No. 75 home to the 12th place finish.
With three races remaining on the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship schedule, Mercedes-AMG is now just one point behind Ferrari for the lead in the GTD class manufacturer championship standings, 264 – 263.
The No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT team and Keating and Bleekemolen have closed to within 15 points of the class-leading Ferrari team and drivers atop the GTD championship standings, 254 – 239.
Next up for Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing teams and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway (VIR), August 25 – 27.
Ben Keating, Driver – No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3: “It was an incredibly exciting race from my stint in the Mercedes-AMG GT3. We just don’t have the power to be able to stay up with the others at the start and I lost several positions on the first lap. It was very frustrating but I slowly made up a few as other drivers made mistakes. I didn’t pass anybody on top speed, that’s for sure. The only way we gain a position is in the pits, and that was very evident today. We took a gamble and we decided to short fill on the last stop because we were under a yellow flag. We ended up running out fuel on the way to the checkered flag and just beat Ferrari by about a half a car length. If the checkered flag had been another 100 yards away, we would have lost the position. We all can’t believe it worked out the way it did, but we’re thrilled with the fourth-place finish. It was great pit work that put us in that position, and the Riley guys are the best at that deal.”
Jeroen Bleekemolen, Driver – No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports
Mercedes-AMG GT3: “This is for me actually the worst result I’ve ever had at Road America – I have been lucky to win and be on the podium mostly here – but it was one of the best races I’ve had at this track. We really maximized our car, strategy and fuel. It just died at the finish after we had to short fill to jump people in pit lane. We really cut it close! So, we did everything right to move us up the order but it’s just hard to race people with the current speed we have on the straights. I’m happy with what we did today, definitely the maximum, and hopefully we will be able to fight a bit better in the next races.”
Tristan Vautier, Driver – No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: “It’s getting a bit tiring to keep saying ‘on to the next one.’ It’s been the story since Austin in May when we finished third, but the worst thing to do in these situations is to get discouraged. We will just keep going, but it was not an easy weekend. Our pace over a lap was not as good as we wanted. We’re figuring some stuff out, even today and as the race went on. We just want a solid race with no drama, no problems.”
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