Ben Keating says the widespread use of new GT3 Evo kits in this weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona is helping to boost Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports’ chances.
Keating qualified second in the GT Daytona class in the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3 which the Riley squad is using for the third consecutive edition of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opener.
Acura, Audi and Lamborghini are all debuting upgrade packages for their GT3 machinery, while Porsche is coming in with a new version of the 911 GT3 R.
“We’re one of the few cars on track that hasn’t had an evolution. Literally, almost the whole field has had an evolution,” Keating told Sportscar365.
“I really think that’s a big deal for us, because all the other manufacturers have really concentrated on making their car easy to drive, which has meant they’ve added a lot of downforce.
“And it really hurts you here. They’re spending all their time working on setup, figuring things out.”
Keating suggested that the Mercedes’ apparent advantage may be overturned at other races on the IMSA calendar, but said the package is positioned to challenge for class honors at Daytona.
“I suspect when we get to some of the tracks that are downforce tracks, the cars with evolutions will look much better than they do right now,” he said.
“It’s a short-lived thing, for two reasons. One, everybody else is going to catch up, or two, IMSA will slow us down, but it’s nice to have it while you’ve got it.
“The fact is we have done a ton of work to get it to this point. I feel like any car is a long shot in a 24-hour race, but I’m going into it knowing that we have a car that’s capable of winning, which is nice.”
Keating explained that the Mercedes has been responding particularly well to the new Michelin tires which have resulted in quicker lap times across the board in GTD.
“We have done a lot of work on figuring out exactly how to make the Michelin tire well with our car,” he said.
“I really feel like it’s paying off. I’m super excited because the Michelin tire has improved the lap times of every car. But it feels like it’s helped our car more than the field.
“It feels like it’s really made our car come alive. And our car has been really good here. It’s our third year here running the same car, so we’re very knowledgeable on what setup works.”
“I’ve Always Been Fast Here”
Keating said that he has found an affinity with the 3.5-mile circuit, after qualifying on the GTD front row for today’s race.
The 2015 Rolex 24 class winner has finished in the top four in each of his subsequent appearances in the competition, including podiums in 2016 and 2017.
Keating, who is Bronze-rated, beat multiple silver-rated competitors in a close qualifying session that was ultimately topped by Brazilian stock car ace Marcos Gomes in a Ferrari 488 GT3.
“I love this place! I’ve always been fast here,” he said.
“I don’t know what it is about this particular track. This is my ninth time to race here, and even from the beginning back in 2012 I remember having the fastest time of all GT drivers in one session back then.
“For some reason, I’ve always been really good here. It’s a place I love.”