Maro Engel praised his HTP Winward Motorsport crew after it “executed perfectly” its strategy at the end of the Rolex 24 at Daytona to secure Mercedes-AMG’s first GTD class win at the event.
Engel led home a Mercedes-AMG one-two in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opener alongside Indy Dontje, Russell Ward and Philip Ellis.
The German driver produced a mammoth 72-and-a-half minute stint before his penultimate stop, stretching out his available fuel to create the largest possible gap between SunEnergy1 Racing driver Raffaele Marciello’s second-last pit visit and his own.
When Engel came in around 10 minutes after his fellow Mercedes-AMG factory driver, it left him with a shorter final fuel intake which bolstered his lead for the run to the line.
Engel explained that carrying out the long antepenultimate stint was “critical” to setting HTP Winward on course for the win.
“The guys asked me to do as much fuel-saving as I could,” he said.
“It was a bit tricky to manage the lead whilst fuel saving, but I managed quite well and set into a good rhythm. It’s something that reminded me of my Formula E days.
“I managed to keep him [Marciello] back, and even stretch the lead a little bit whilst saving fuel. That was critical because we knew that was going to play in our hands.
“Whether it was green or yellow, we were going to have a shorter stop. We wanted to protect not only from the SunEnergy1 car, but also from any other potential cars.
“If it went yellow everyone would have bunched up and anyone would have become a threat for the win. At that point, the key was to have the shortest stop time.”
While the HTP Winward Mercedes-AMG suffered no major setbacks, Engel revealed a series of niggling issues that forced the team’s crew to adapt as it went along.
These included each of the drivers needing to adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach to their footwork after the car’s adjustable pedal box became jammed.
“It was one of those races where seemingly all of the non-performance related issues kept up,” said Engel.
“Fortunately, the pedal box got stuck in a position that was good for all four of us. It wasn’t ideal. I think Indy’s a bit shorter after the race now! And I had to stretch a bit.
“But in the end it worked. The drink system failed so that was a bit tough for about three and a half hours when I was in the car. And I clumsily broke the vent when I was trying to open it, so that didn’t help either.
“But in the end, all went well. The car handled really nice, so a big thank you to the engineers. They did a fantastic job.
“On strategy, they knew what they wanted to have and what they wanted to achieve, and they executed it perfectly.”
Clash Brought “Unfortunate” End to Ferrari Duel
The other key moment that influenced the course of the GTD race was the incident between Engel’s co-driver Ellis and AF Corse’s Matteo Cressoni with four hours left.
Ellis said after the race that the clash, which dropped the No. 21 Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo 2020 out of contention, marked an “unfortunate” end to the pair’s lead battle which had been raging for several hours.
Cressoni had only just taken over the Ferrari from Nicklas Nielsen when he found a way to sweep around Ellis at the end of the start-finish banking.
The Italian planted part of his Ferrari in front of theAMG into Turn 1, but this put him in a position to be turned around when Ellis flicked left and then right under braking.
Cressoni, who later suggested that the action was worthy of consideration for a HTP Winward penalty, ended up in the tire barriers and was forced to make an unscheduled stop to solve a left-rear puncture.
“We had been battling with the No. 21 car for basically the entire race,” said Ellis, who was not penalized for the incident.
“It was very hard but fair racing. That’s the way we like it and we want to see it, the spectators as well.
“Both of us came out of the pits with cold tires just after the pit stops. He just saw an opportunity to make a move early, but the tires weren’t quite there yet.
“Maybe he just misjudged it and took a bit too much risk. He squeezed me off a little bit, which was enough to upset the car. Unfortunately, I hit him when I corrected the car.
“It was very unfortunate for the No. 21. You don’t want to see battles end this way. Thankfully, we didn’t have too much damage on our car.”
Cressoni, meanwhile, felt that AF Corse would have been a prime contender for the victory – Ferrari’s first in GTD at Daytona in seven years – had the incident been avoided.
“I already overtook the car and I left him the space,” he assessed.
“But the problem is that he was probably watching me, and he braked on the grass. Then he completely lost the car. If I wasn’t there, he would have crashed himself.
“The damage was not so much, but the biggest problem is that we had a puncture when I crashed into the tires, and we lost a lot.
“Otherwise, the damage was not a lot. [But] it was enough to lose the chance to fight for the race.”