Edited and Reviewed by Rex McAfee
Mercedes Benz to Victory Circle
The No. 79 WeatherTech Racing/Proton Competition Mercedes-AMG GT3 team secured the first IMSA GTD Pro class victory for a Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing team in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway. The team’s drivers were Cooper MacNeil, Jules Gounon, Daniel Juncadella and Maro Engel. The victory was the second in the last three years for Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing. Engel started the WeatherTech/Proton No. 79 from the GTD Pro pole Saturday afternoon and 24 hours later was back behind the wheel of the white, red and blue Mercedes-AMG GT3 to take the checkered flag just under four seconds ahead of the second-place finisher. The WeatherTech co-drivers combined to lead a class-high 229 race laps over the 24 hours.
GTD PRO Class
This weekend’s race was MacNeil’s 13th and final attempt at winning the Rolex 24 in what was his final race in IMSA competition. After multiple wins at Petit Le Mans and in the 12 Hours of Sebring, MacNeil steps away having finally completed the victory cycle in IMSA’s three major endurance races. Engel earned his first Rolex 24 win in 2021 in the GTD class with Winward Racing that, for the majority of this weekend’s race, appeared in a strong position to score another victory. Team drivers Russell Ward, Philip Ellis, Indy Dontje and Daniel Morad led a total of 177 race laps and Ellis was as the wheel and locked in a close battle with the other GTD and GTD Pro leaders for the race’s final restart with less than 30 minutes to go.
As the field charged into turn one and the first few corners of the 3.56-mile road course’s fast infield section, Ellis came together with a GTD Pro competitor and the contact ended what was looking like a storybook finish for the No. 57 team. The team originally entered a fourth driver, Lucas Auer, was injured in an incident in Thursday’s opening Rolex 24 practice session. Auer had successful surgery on back injuries sustained in the incident at nearby Halifax Health Medical Center on Friday at the same time the Winward team took delivery of a replacement Mercedes-AMG GT3 chassis, which was trailered overnight to Daytona from the team race shop in Texas.
The No. 32 Team Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 team, and co-drivers Mike Skeen, Mikael Grenier, Kenton Koch and Maximilian Götz, led a GTD class-high 227 race laps, but a potentially race-winning performance came to a crushing end halfway into the 18th hour of the race at sunrise on Sunday. A front wheel bearing defect sent Grenier from the race lead to the paddock, and the No. 32 team went more than 10 laps down for repairs. The team rejoined the race and soldiered to an eventual 15th place finish.
The No. 75 SunEnergy1 Mercedes-AMG GT3 inherited the GTD pole after Winward was forced to the back of the starting grid. Team co-drivers Kenny Habul, Luca Stolz, Fabian Schiller and Axcil Jefferies were competitive from the start of the race only to be sidelined at 9 p.m. Saturday with radiator damage. The No. 75 was officially retired early Sunday morning.
Stefan Wendl, Head of Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing: “What a fantastic race! For our brand, to win the GTD Pro class here for our second Rolex 24 victory is an amazing success. On the other hand, we also have a teary eye because of our other customer teams. Winward Racing put in a fantastic performance to fight their way from the back of the field to the front, only to be taken out of the race by an unfortunate incident in the final hour. Many thanks to all of our customer teams and congratulations to Acura for the overall win.”
Next up for Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing teams in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the 12 Hours of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway, March 16 – 19.
Great coverage folks. thanks very much.