Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen will compete in next year’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the No. 33 AMG-Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 in an all-out bid for the 2017 GT Daytona team and driver championships.
The GT3 AMG Performance-supported effort marks the fourth-straight season Keating and Bleekemolen have raced with Riley Motorsports in GTD, but 2017 will be the team’s first in the IMSA-debuting Mercedes-AMG GT3.
Mercedes-Benz USA and Mercedes-AMG announced earlier today that its Mercedes-AMG Customer Sports Program will enter IMSA for the first time, and the No. 33 team is expected to be one of the program’s major contenders in its inaugural season.
“This program is incredibly exciting,” Keating said. “The Mercedes-AMG GT3 has performed so well in 2016 all over the globe, and this appears to me to be the perfect combination of one of the best GT3 cars in the world, one of the best endurance racing teams in the world and a great group of drivers. This should be a very strong package for 2017.”
Racing Dodge Vipers GT3-Rs the last three years, Keating, Bleekemolen and the Riley Motorsports team won at least two races each season, including three victories and GTD championship runner-up honors in 2016.
“I am thrilled with this program,” Bleekemolen said. “First of all, it’s great to be back again with the whole Riley team and Ben Keating, one of the best teams in the business and a great driver combination.
“Secondly, to drive a Mercedes again is just great. I have won a lot in a Mercedes – the 24 Hours of Nurburgring, the Dubai 24 Hours twice, the 12 Hours of Abu Dhabi – and I hope we can add more to the list next season.”
AMG-Team Riley Motorsports will make its race debut in 2017’s season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona.
“It’s really an honor to be aligned with AMG,” said AMG-Team Riley Motorsports team owner and director Bill Riley. “The car looks so fast even standing still, and I can’t wait to start running it in anger.
“I was thinking the other day how many times a Mercedes-Benz has raced at Daytona and I can’t remember once. When I look at it that way, it’s pretty significant to be involved. There’s a lot of new teams in IMSA for 2017 but we are very anxious for the challenges.”
AMG-Team Riley Motorsports and its sister WeatherTech Racing entry are completing a two-day test at Daytona today after a productive first session on Tuesday.
“It will be exciting to race in GTD in 2017,” Keating said. “The GTD class will definitely be the most competitive class in the series. I believe it is the most fun to compete at this level, and I have so much confidence in the AMG GT3.
“While many of the other new manufacturers coming in will be racing in a 24-hour race for the first time, I know that the AMG GT3 swept the entire podium at the 24 Hours of Nurburgring in 2016. That is confidence inspiring.
“Add to this the fact that Riley will be supported with some of the best engineers and drivers from AMG with lots of experience in this car, and I feel really good about 2017.”
Bleekemolen races with many different teams in several series around the world each year but always looks forward to his U.S. races with Keating and the Riley team.
“The team feels like a second family to me,” Bleekemolen said. “We understand each other well and that can only help to get our grips on a new car. Besides always trying to work hard to win I also have to say we have a lot of fun along the way.”
Part of the fun of the new Mercedes-AMG GT3 program for Keating, Bleekemolen and Riley will be racing in support of and getting to know a new fan base of dedicated Mercedes-AMG racing followers.
“Mercedes-AMG has a very active customer base in the USA,” Keating said. “It seems very appropriate to be racing an AMG GT3 in IMSA in the hardest and biggest endurance races in the USA. We hope to begin a successful racing history for AMG specifically for GT3 racing in the USA.”