Top-Three Qualifying Runs for Mercedes-AMG GT3 and GT4 Teams for Opening Races of IMSA’s 50th Anniversary Season This Weekend at Daytona International Speedway
Ben Keating will start the Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3 from the outside of the GT Daytona (GTD) class front-row Saturday after a second-place qualifying effort Thursday for this weekend’s 57th Rolex 24 At Daytona at Daytona International Speedway (DIS).
The featured race on the kickoff weekend of IMSA’s year-long 50th Anniversary season, the 57th Rolex 24 is scheduled to start at 2:35 p.m. EST Saturday and run straight through to the finish Sunday at 2:35 p.m. EST.
Keating’s top lap of 1:45.324 (121.676 mph) Thursday was just .067 of a second off of the GTD pole winner’s time and is the best DIS qualifying result for the Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the car’s third Rolex 24 appearance.
In last year’s Rolex 24, the Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports No. 33 GT3 finished fourth in the GTD class, while in 2017 the No. 33 team finished third in GTD at Daytona, in what was Mercedes-AMG’s debut IMSA race.
Keating co-drives the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3 in this weekend’s Rolex 24 with full-season co-driver Jeroen Bleekemolen and endurance-race additions Luca Stolz and Felipe Fraga.
A second Mercedes-AMG GT3 from P1 Motorsports is competing in the Rolex 24 and full 2019 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, with full-season co-drivers JC Perez and Maximilian “Maxi” Buhk, joined by Fabian Schiller and Dominik Baumann for the Daytona opener.
Perez qualified the No. 71 Thursday and will start Saturday’s race from the inside of Row 11 on the GTD grid.
The 57th Rolex 24 At Daytona will be broadcast live in IMSA’s premiere on the NBC Sports Network family of broadcast and online channels. Pre-race coverage and the opening hours of the Rolex 24 air on NBC Sports Network from 2 to 5 p.m. EST this Saturday. Coverage picks up again from 9 p.m. on Saturday to 3 a.m. EST on Sunday, and from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. EST on Sunday for the race finish. Coverage is available in between those time slots online or through a mobile device via the NBC Sports Network App.
The weekend schedule also features Friday’s season-opening Michelin Pilot Challenge four-hour race, in which seven Mercedes-AMG GT4 entries will compete in the top-tier Grand Sports (GS) class.
Qualifying for the Michelin Pilot Challenge opener was held late Thursday. Christian Hohenadel clocked in the third fastest time and was the quickest Mercedes-AMG GT4 in the No. 57 Winward Racing/HTP Motorsport entry. Hohenadel, who turned a top lap time of 1:53.301 (113.109 mph), co-drives the No. 57 with Bryce Ward.
The sister No. 33 Winward Racing/HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT4 of Indy Dontje and Russell Ward qualified seventh with Dontje’s top lap of 1:53.683 (112.729 mph).
Four Mercedes-AMG GT4 entries qualified in the top-15 in the competitive GS field. Reigning GS team and driver champions TeamTGM and Owen Trinkler and Hugh Plumb were 11th in the No. 46 entry, and the debuting No. 35 Riley Motorsports car of James Cox, Dylan Murry and Bleekemolen was 15th.
Friday’s schedule has a final one-hour practice for IMSA WeatherTech Rolex 24 teams at 10 a.m., with the four-hour IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race scheduled from 12:15 to 4:15 p.m. EST. The Michelin Pilot Challenge Daytona opener will air on the NBC Sports Network on February 6 at 1 p.m. EST.
Ben Keating, Driver – No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3: “It was really good. First of all, I don't know what it is about this track, but I love it, and it loves me back. If you look back at the race last year, I had the fastest lap here in our car. I have always done really well here. This year goes back to the Michelin Tire test in December. All of the work we did there, all the work we did at the Rolex Roar test, we feel like we really know what makes this tire work on our Mercedes-AMG GT3. We really feel like we have learned how to make this tire work here. I'm thrilled with the lap that we had. I got a little help from a car in front of me, pulling me along a little bit, which is always nice. It would have been fun to be on the pole, but I'm happy with where we are in P2.”
Christian Hohenadel, Driver – No. 57 Winward Racing/HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT4: “The qualifying was really good. I had a nice window when I came out. There wasn’t anyone in front of me. The setup of the car was good. We found a good balance in the car for one or two laps, and we got a good result. We learned a lot at the Roar test two weeks ago, and I’m really happy for the team.”
Indy Dontje, Driver – No. 33 Winward Racing/HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT4: “We finished P7, which is really good. Our sister car finished P3, so we’re looking really well as a team. The first two cars are a bit far away, but the Mercedes-AMG GT4 did a really good job. I was really happy with the performance of the car and the balance of the car. Tomorrow will be a long race, so we’ll see what we can do. I think Russell and I are ready for it, so we’ll go for the podium.”