DAYTONA BEACH: Daytona International Speedway sounded like it was hosting a stock-car test rather than sports car practice as a pair of Mercedes racing machines zipped around the 3.56-mile (7.83-kilometer) road course all day on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila).
The Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 features a throaty, eight-cylinder engine, which sounds more NASCAR than German sports car.
The car was a regular in Europe this year and will arrive for the Rolex 24 At Daytona without the usual new-car bugs and gremlins.
Not only that, but championship car builder Bill Riley will be in charge of the chassis and mechanical updates throughout the season.
Thomas Jager is the AMG program manager, who will help drive the No. 33 Mercedes in the 24.
“It’s very exciting,” Jager said. “For AMG the US is a very important market and there’s a lot of road cars here. It will be great to race the IMSA series here.”
The International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) Daytona GT class, also known as GTD, has a crowded field that includes Porsche, BMW, Aston Martin, Audi, Ferrari and Lamborghini. All receive factory support.
Jager says there is not a better proving ground to show off a car company’s capabilities.
“There’s a lot competition, with many, many factories involved,” he said. “We’re looking forward to it. We have a good team and good drivers. We have time to prepare and we’ll be hopefully successful.”
Joining Jager for the Rolex 24 will be Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen, who will co-drive the No. 33 entry.
The GT3 AMG Performance-supported effort marks the fourth-straight season Keating and Bleekemolen have raced with Riley Motorsports in GTD.
They teamed up for three victories and GTD championship runner-up honors this season.
“The whole combination of the Riley team and this manufacturer is pretty awesome for us,” Bleekemolen said. “I’ve done a lot of work with these cars in Europe, so this just so cool to race here in America with this team.”
Keating campaigned a Viper the last three seasons, but that design was retired by IMSA since those cars are not manufactured these days.
“This program is incredibly exciting,” Keating said. “The Mercedes-AMG GT3 has performed so well in 2016 all over the globe.
“This appears to me to be the perfect combination of one of the best GT3 cars in the world, one of the best endurance racing teams in the world and a great group of drivers,” he added.