Winward Racing and team co-drivers Russell Ward, Indy Dontje, Philip Ellis and Maro Engel earned the first Rolex 24 At Daytona victory for the Mercedes-AMG GT3 on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway (DIS). The team and drivers secured a historic win in the team’s debut in the nation’s premier endurance race, which ran for the 59th time this weekend at DIS. Engel drove the winning No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 across the finish line just ahead of the No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing entry, anchoring a one-two Mercedes-AMG GT3 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona (GTD) class finish.
The victory marked a string of “firsts” for Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing and the Winward team and drivers. In addition to the first Daytona win for the Mercedes-AMG GT3 and Winward Racing, the victory was the first for all four drivers at the “World Center of Racing,” and came in the Rolex 24 debuts of Ward, Ellis, Dontje and the Winward team.
The No. 57 Winward Racing entry was the highest starting Mercedes-AMG GT3 of the three competing in the Rolex 24. Ward started the race in fifth and he and his teammates seldom ran lower than that throughout the twice around the clock race.
All four drivers led race laps in the No. 57 to combine for a GTD-class high 362 laps up front. Dontje first put the Winward Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the lead for 14 laps early Saturday evening in his second driving stint of the race. Ward followed and returned to the front of the GTD field after taking over from Dontje. From there, the No. 57 maintained or battled for the lead for the rest of the race.
For the final six hours, Winward’s toughest competitor was the No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Kenny Habul, Mikael Grenier, Luca Stolz and Raffaele Marciello.
The No. 75 drivers maintained a steady pace in the top-10 throughout the race’s opening hours on Saturday, but Stolz first gave a sign of things to come when he moved up to fourth in the seventh hour.
By Sunday morning, the No. 75 was lapping on pace with the Winward entry, with Stolz and Marciello frequently right on the No. 57’s bumper. The No. 75 led 13 race laps, but in the end, Engel built just enough of a gap to secure the win. Marciello followed Engel across the finish line to seal the first Mercedes-AMG GT3 one-two IMSA race finish since Long Beach in 2017.
Debuting Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing team and season- long IMSA GTD entrants Alegra Motorsports made it three Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the top-10.
Co-drivers Daniel Morad, Billy Johnson, Maxi Buhk and Mike Skeen, and the No. 28 Alegra Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 team, persevered through a myriad of typical endurance race issues for a hard-earned ninth- place finish.
Next up for Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing teams in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the 12 Hours of Sebring, March 17 – 20, at Sebring International Raceway.
Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing teams competing in SRO Motorsports Group America series make their season debut at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California, March 5 – 7.
Stefan Wendl, Head of Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing: “I am very, very happy for our Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing teams, and for all of the people involved, so that we could achieve this fantastic victory here at such an iconic race. We’ve been able to put the name of Mercedes-AMG in the record book for the famous Rolex 24 At Daytona. I can only thank the teams, all of our three customer teams, which worked together from the Roar on in preparation and with the strategy to optimize the car for the end of the race. It’s amazing to see that we started the race just average and ended up with the perfect car to control the lead of the race. Thank you to all involved and to those back home in Germany.”
Russell Ward, Driver – No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: “We didn’t come here with a lot of expectations. It was a learning experience for us, a step up for us from GT4 to GT3. The crew and I have been preparing a long time for this, about an entire year. All the time off we had from April 2020 to when we started back racing, we’ve been preparing for this. I think it really showed off. At the end of the day, our team just wanted it more than everybody else out there.”
Indy Dontje, Driver – No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: “I feel great. I’m still getting a lot of messages from Holland, from home, that I’m one of the five Dutch guys who won this race, so it’s really something to be proud of. Winning the Rolex 24 in GTD with this team as rookies, we were underdogs the whole weekend, and in the end to win it with such great speed, is unbelievable. The whole weekend was intense and really busy, but I really enjoyed every moment. I’m really happy.”
Maro Engel, Driver – No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: “This is absolutely amazing. Huge thank you to my three amazing teammates. It’s their first time at Daytona in a GT3 car – and HTP Winward Racing’s first time at Daytona in GTD – and what a performance they all did. And we had an absolutely fantastic Mercedes-AMG GT3. The car was such a pleasure to drive, and the strategy was just perfect. I’m
overwhelmed and I’m just super happy.”
Philip Ellis, Driver – No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 and No. 4 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT4: “Honestly, I’m just speechless. When Maro crossed the line, I was standing on the pit wall bawling my eyes out. It’s crazy to think these guys at Winward are here for the first time. Russell, Indy and I being here for the first time in a GT3 car. It’s amazing to be a part of it, and amazing to be a part of the first Rolex 24 win for Mercedes-AMG at Daytona as well. And to make it a one-two just adds to it. In my opinion, it couldn’t be any more perfect.”
Raffaele Marciello, Driver – No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes- AMG GT3: “It was a challenging race, and our car got damage pretty much at the beginning, so we had to fight quite a bit with the car. At the end, to finish second – I’m not happy, of course, I wanted to win – but the result for the Mercedes-AMG GT3 is a great result. One-two is really, really special, so I’m happy for everyone with Mercedes-AMG.”
Luca Stolz, Driver – No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: “I’m happy about second place, and a Mercedes-AMG GT3 one and two finish is awesome. It’s my third time here at Daytona, and it was two times really unlucky. It’s good to be finally in victory lane. The team did great.
We had a great car and a great driver line-up, and thanks to Kenny for putting a great team together. It was not an easy race. We had to push really, really hard. In the end, we just fell 10 seconds too short, but that’s what racing is about. I hope we can come back again and win.”
Maxi Buhk, Driver – No. 28 Alegra Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3: “Ninth in the end was not the result we aimed for. We had quite high expectations coming from the Roar. In the beginning, it looked like we had some serious pace, but all of a sudden, we lost a bit. It didn’t work out as we wanted to, and in the end it’s a bit disappointing, but there is always next time.”
Billy Johnson, Driver – No. 28 Alegra Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3: “This was my first race in the Mercedes-AMG GT3 car and also my first race with Alegra in a Mercedes-AMG. We got the car at the last minute and didn’t have much time to prep it and test it, so we went into
this race weekend learning the car. At the end it was a good points day for us. We brought the car home in one piece and we finished the race, so the car was reliable and excellent. We had a really good set up but there are still some things to learn. We’ll take what we learned for this weekend and apply it to the next race. Overall, it was a great weekend for the car, and for me, and the debut of the team with the Mercedes-AMG GT3.”