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Mercedes-AMG Braced For Challenging IMSA Debut

Mercedes-AMG drivers fighting straight-line speed deficit in Daytona…

Photo: John Dagys

Photo: John Dagys

Mercedes-AMG drivers are hoping to overcome a straight-line speed deficit to achieve a strong finish in its first appearance in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s GT Daytona class at the Rolex 24.

First introduced in 2016, the Mercedes-AMG GT3 was an instant hit in Europe and took five out of the top six positions at the Nürburgring 24, but has struggled for top-end speed on the Daytona banking.

All three cars were rooted to the bottom of the speed traps on Thursday, although the No. 33 Riley Team AMG entry of Jeroen Bleekemolen set the second quickest time in Friday’s final practice session.

The best of the Mercedes-AMG contingent will start 18th in class for the race, courtesy of SunEnergy1 Racing’s Boris Said.

AMG Customer Sports coordinator Thomas Jaeger said he’s been pleased by the initial customer response in IMSA, with a fourth Mercedes entered by Lone Star Racing set to join later in the season, but conceded that the car’s true performance would not be evident until after Daytona.

“America is a very important market for Mercedes-AMG and that’s why it makes absolute sense to enter the racing scene as well,” he told Sportscar365.

“So far, we are very happy with car sales and teams are very positive. We hope that we can build the program as we have it in Europe and all over the world, and be successful with our cars here in future.

“I think [at Daytona], performance-wise it will be difficult, but we will see. The track is new for us and the tires are new, so we have to learn quite a lot.

“We made progress in the last tests but I’m more confident for the next rounds, because on the normal tracks you could say, it suits the car better.

“We have a quite good car in corners and in braking, but here it’s a lot of straight line speed, so for the race I think we’re not in the best position.”

Jaeger is also driving the No. 50 WeatherTech Racing entry alongside Cooper MacNeil, Gunnar Jeannette and Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup champion Shane van Gisbergen.

“For these tracks with long straights, it wouldn’t be bad to get a little larger restrictor, but we will see,” the German added.

“The car is really good on consistency during the race, it’s very reliable and hopefully in the end with a good strategy, good pitstops and everything, we will be in a good position at the end of the race.

“Everything is possible, especially if we have rain during the night which is forecast.”

2016 GTD runner-up Bleekemolen, who will share with regular co-driver Ben Keating, AMG works driver Adam Christodoulou and Mario Farnbacher, has conducted extensive testing with the car over the winter and qualified a Black Falcon-entered Mercedes on pole for the recent 24 Hours of Dubai race.

However, while pleased with the overall package, the Dutchman agreed that Daytona would likely be the Mercedes’ weakest circuit on the IMSA schedule.

“It’s going to be tough, but we knew that already. It’s a really good car, and with that comes low top speed, because they’re going to slow it down,” Bleekemolen said.

“If it turns out we’re going to be too slow, then I’m sure they will make it right for the next race, but it’s just a shame that this is the big one and you want to do well.

“Maybe we don’t have the best car here, but I think we’ve done everything else right.

“All the cars are running great, the setup feels good, so we’re well prepared. In the end, with a strange yellow, anyone can win, so you should never give up, even though we might have the slowest car.”

Bleekemolen added that he was impressed with the Riley team’s adaption to running the Mercedes-AMG after three years with the Dodge Viper GT3-R.

“I think it’s a very all-round car and it should be quick at most of the tracks,” he said.

“The whole package is good and the Riley team is so experienced, they know how to set up a car, make sure the pitstops are good and get everything prepared in a 100 percent perfect way, so we should be fighting for wins.

“If not, then something is wrong, because we have everything in place to be out there.”

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