GruppeM Racing has scored a dominant victory in Sunday’s Suzuka 10 Hours, leading a 1-2 finish for Mercedes-AMG in the third round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge.
Raffaele Marciello took the No. 888 Mercedes-AMG GT3 to a 31.635-second win over the No. 43 Strakka Racing entry of Lewis Williamson, who held off a pair of hard-charging Audi R8 LMS cars in the end.
The sweep for the German manufacturer, which takes over the IGTC championship lead, came after a near-flawless run for both the Mercedes-AMG-backed GruppeM entry.
Only a dislodged number plate in the second hour and a flash fire during its final pit stop hampered Marciello and co-drivers Tristan Vautier and Maro Engel from a perfect race.
While starting second, Vautier took over the lead in the second hour, courtesy of a drive-through penalty for the pole-sitting No. 28 HubAuto Ferrari 488 GT3, which stalled on the grid and improperly returned to its position on the formation lap.
With near 100-degree Fahrenheit ambient temperatures leading to a high rate of tire degradation, many teams were in survival mode throughout the daytime hours of the race.
Marciello, however, was one of the first drivers to double stint in the fourth hour and completed the final two hours in the front-engined beast.
It marked Mercedes’ first major endurance race win of the year and also puts Marciello and Vautier into the lead of the IGTC drivers’ points standings heading into the season-ending California 8 Hours at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in October.
German-built cars swept the top-five overall in the Japanese race, with the No. 6 Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS of Christopher Haase, Markus Winkelhock and Kelvin van der Linde completing the podium in third.
Haase, along with the fourth-place finishing No. 06 WRT Audi of Dries Vanthoor, hunted down Williamson in the cooler final hour but were unable to get by the Mercedes.
Team Goodsmile made it three Mercedes in the top-five, and the highest-placed Japanese team, with Toyota LMP1 star Kamui Kobayashi among the drivers in the lineup.
The No. 08 Team M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 was sixth, ahead of the sister No. 44 Strakka Mercedes in seventh.
SunEnergy1 Claims Pro-Am Honors in Double Mercedes Win
Luca Stolz, Mikael Greiner and Kenny Habul picked up Pro-Am class honors with a 10th place overall finish in the No. 175 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes after an equally dominant race.
The Black Falcon-run Mercedes briefly led overall at the end of the opening hour and was regularly in the top-five overall until dropping back due to a drive-through penalty for a pit stop time infringement.
Greiner took the car to the line, less than 13 seconds ahead of the No. 28 HubAuto Ferrari, which placed second in class.
HubAuto’s sister, all-pro Ferrari dropped out of contention after contact with the No. 07 Bentley with three hours to go, which required repairs to the Davide Rigon, Miguel Molina and Matt Griffin-driven Prancing Horse and a drive-through penalty for Jules Gounon.
The Bentley, which also ran within the top-five overall at the time, ultimately retired after multiple subsequent incidents.
Porsche failed to reach the top-ten overall after numerous issues, which included a collision between the Nos. 911 and 991 Manthey and Craft-Bamboo entries in Hour 6.
A spin by Dirk Werner in the final hour relegated the Manthey entry to 12th overall, one position behind the No. 991 Craft Bamboo Porsche.
The race saw only a single Full Course Yellow and subsequent safety car period for an accident by the No. 58 Garage 59 McLaren 650S GT3 of Come Leogar, who made contact with Gounon’s Bentley in the third hour.
The final six hours and 50 minutes were run caution-free.
RESULTS: Suzuka 10H