Mercedes-AMG® Team Riley, Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen Win at VIR
Mercedes-AMG® Team Riley Motorsports and team co-drivers Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen executed a well-run race to score the first Mercedes-AMG® GT3 win of the 2019 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season on Sunday in the Michelin GT Challenge at Virginia International Raceway (VIR).
Closing driver Bleekemolen took the lead in the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG® Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG® GT3 for the first and only time 47 minutes from the finish of the two-hour and 40-minute race. The move to the front came after a quick, final pit stop by the Mercedes-AMG® Team Riley crew two laps before the other race leaders.
Bleekemolen returned to the race in third but, with the No. 33’s tires fully up to temperature, caught and passed the second and first place competitors on successive laps, just after each returned to the race on cold tires. The No. 33 led the final 27 laps of the race, and Bleekemolen crossed the finish line .566 of a second ahead of the second-place finisher.
Bleekemolen’s charge to the front in the last half of the race followed an equally strong opening stint from starting driver Keating. Rolling off from the seventh starting position, Keating stayed in touch with the lead pack in the opening stages of the race, but far enough back to steer clear of any likely trouble ahead.
Twice in his 52-minute driving stint, competitors came together or spun directly in front of Keating. On both occasions, he not only avoided getting caught up in the incidents but also improved his on-track position.
Keating moved into the top five in the final part of his stint and pitted to hand the No. 33 off to Bleekemolen from third place.
The win was the first for the Mercedes-AMG® GT3 in IMSA WeatherTech Championship GT Daytona (GTD) competition since Keating, Bleekemolen and the No. 33 team won last year at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
Sunday’s victory also ensures that Keating, Bleekemolen and Mercedes-AMG® Team Riley Motorsports have scored at least one race win a season since debuting with Mercedes-AMG® Motorsport Customer Racing in 2017.
A second Mercedes-AMG® GT3 entry joined the No. 33 in leading the Michelin GT Challenge. Gar Robinson, co-driving the No. 74 Lone Star Racing Mercedes-AMG® GT3 with Lawson Aschenbach, led his first lap of the season when the GTD field cycled through the first round of pit stops near the end of Robinson’s race-opening stint. The duo ultimately finished the race in eight place, the No. 74 team’s second-best showing in a select schedule of five IMSA GTD races this season that concluded at VIR.
Next up for Mercedes-AMG® Motorsport Customer Racing teams in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship is the next-to-last race of the 2019 season at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, September 13 – 15. The two-hour and 40- minute race will be televised live on the flagship NBC network beginning at 3 p.m. EDT.