Mercedes-AMG teams finished first and second in the Rolex 24 GT Daytona class as HTP Winward Motorsport claimed victory on its IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship debut with Maro Engel, Indy Dontje, Philip Ellis and Russell Ward.
Engel brought the No. 57 Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo to the line 16 seconds clear of fellow factory driver Raffaele Marciello in the Gradient Racing-prepared SunEnergy1 Mercedes that was also driven by Luca Stolz, Mikael Grenier and team boss Kenny Habul.
The result marked HTP Winward’s maiden triumph in IMSA’s GTD division, as well as Mercedes-AMG’s first time prevailing in the GT3-spec class at the Rolex 24.
Defending winner Paul Miller Racing completed the podium with its Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo driven by Andrea Caldarelli, Madison Snow, Bryan Sellers and Corey Lewis.
The race was decided during the final two sets of pit stops, as Engel sought to maintain a lead that HTP Winward had possessed since the race ticked into its final five hours.
Marciello made his penultimate stop around ten minutes earlier than Engel, who managed to eke out a long stint of at least 70 minutes to give himself a shorter fuel fill when the GTD front-runners came in for the final time with around 50 minutes left.
This grew the HTP Winward car’s lead over SunEnergy1 to around 11 seconds, enabling Engel to control the pace through to the checkered flag.
After several teams played their hand at the sharp end in the opening 12 hours it was the trio of HTP Winward, SunEnergy1 and Ferrari outfit AF Corse that emerged as the protagonists of the GTD lead battle during the second half.
AF Corse had a strong showing with factory drivers Nicklas Nielsen and Daniel Serra joined by Italian GT competitors Matteo Cressoni and Simon Mann, until contact with HTP Winward ended the quartet’s chances of challenging for the win.
For much of Sunday morning, the Ferrari and the Mercedes-AMG were locked in a long and intriguing duel that changed several times both in the pits and on-track.
After making several unsuccessful passing attempts into the Turn 1 left-hander, Serra got past Engel with a move in traffic on the tri-oval at the end of hour 18, only for HTP Winward to re-establish its advantage during a full course yellow pit call not long after.
The duel then came to a head when Cressoni tried to sweep around Ellis into Turn 1, only for Ellis to lose control putting a wheel on the grass which sent the Swiss out of shape and tapped his rival into a spin. No sanctions were handed out for the incident.
AF Corse was forced to pit its vehicle after incurring damage, while Ellis continued into the lead and Stolz picked up the chase in second for SunEnergy1 Racing.
The Ferrari ultimately recovered to finish two laps down in eighth.
With the top-three disbanded, the final podium position opened up to Paul Miller which came out on top in a late-race fight with the Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.
Caldarelli moved ahead of Klaus Bachler in the penultimate hour and stayed in third through the final set of stops before finishing seven seconds down on the SunEnergy1 car.
Bachler, Jan Heylen, Patrick Long and Wright’s late stand-in Trent Hindman fought back from a tenth-hour collision with the Pfaff Motorsports Porsche and the JDC-Miller Motorsports Cadillac DPi to earn their fourth-place finish.
Darren Turner, Ross Gunn, Roman de Angelis and Ian James rounded out the top-five in the No. 23 The Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3.
In sixth was the Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 of Bill Auberlen, Robby Foley, Aidan Read and Colton Herta which started from pole after winning last weekend’s Motul Pole Award 100 qualifying race.
Turner experienced a handful of setbacks during the race, including two drive-throughs and a right-rear puncture.
Auberlen finished as the highest-placed competitor off the lead lap, while TF Sport Aston Martin driver Richard Westbrook came through in seventh.
Westbrook shared the TF Sport car with Max Root, Charlie Eastwood and Ben Keating, who performed double-duty with driving roles in both the GTD and LMP2 classes.
AF Corse’s Ferrari, Alegra Motorsports’ Mercedes-AMG and the Team Hardpoint EBM Porsche completed the top 10 finishers.
Early contenders that fell by the wayside included GRT Grasser Racing and Vasser Sullivan, both of which saw both parts of their respective two-car entries hit trouble.
Double Rolex 24 winner GRT Grasser, which started from third on the grid, saw each of its Lamborghinis succumb to engine issues, while the Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3s also encountered mechanical strife. The only Lexus finisher wound up 64 laps down.
Front-row starter Pfaff Motorsports also struggled to translate its qualifying race performance into 24-hour event form, as the Canadian Porsche squad dropped 43 laps on the leaders due to an issue that took away the car’s drive, according to Laurens Vanthoor.
RESULTS: Rolex 24 at Daytona