Consistent Mercedes-AMG Keeps Victory Parade Rolling

By John Oreovicz

IMSA Wire Service

One manufacturer is quietly on a hot streak in the Grand Touring classes of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Did you notice?

Against an onslaught of newer machinery from the likes of Porsche, Ferrari, BMW and Aston Martin, the Mercedes-AMG GT3 has claimed a total of four class wins in the three most recent races – the final two events of the 2023 season and the opener of the 2024 campaign. The No. 57 Mercedes fielded by Winward Racing was the latest winner, with Russell Ward, Philip Ellis, Indy Dontje and Daniel Morad taking GT Daytona (GTD) class honors – and four prized Rolex watches – in the Rolex 24 At Daytona in late January.

It was the second GTD class victory at Daytona for Winward and Mercedes since 2021, and it added to a Mercedes-AMG win streak that started in September 2023 at the Battle on the Bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There, WeatherTech Racing’s No. 79 Mercedes triumphed in GT Daytona Pro (GTD PRO) and Winward took home the trophy in GTD. WeatherTech Racing added another GTD PRO win a few weeks later in the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta to wrap up the ’23 season.

Mercedes also swept the 2023 IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup championships in the GT classes – WeatherTech Racing in GTD PRO with drivers Daniel Juncadella and Jules Gounon, and Korthoff/Preston Motorsports in GTD with drivers Kenton Koch, Mikael Grenier and Mike Skeen. Those, of course, led to Mercedes taking top honors in the manufacturer endurance point standings as well.

At Daytona this year, the Winward Mercedes was unable to show its potential in qualifying, with Ellis only 17th fastest from 23 GTD class entries. That was a disappointment after claiming the class pole the last two years. But the car and the crew were flawless in the race, building a comfortable lead in the second half of the contest before a late caution reduced the margin of victory to 6.8 seconds with the car in Morad’s hands.

The No. 57 Mercedes was dominant, leading 383 of the 731 laps completed in GTD, including running first over 123 of the final 134 laps.

“This one is pretty special to me. The first one wasn’t luck, of course,” said Ward, the son of Winward Racing owner Bryce Ward, referring to the team’s Rolex 24 win in 2021. “We’ve been pretty close the past two years, but just really haven’t had the luck to get it done, and to come back and close it off for the second time in 2024 is a great feeling.”

Compounding Winward’s Daytona joy, the team also earned a podium finish in the BMW M Endurance Challenge, the four-hour opener to the 2024 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season that preceded the Rolex 24. For that second-place finish, Morad was joined by Bryce Ward in Winward’s No. 57 Mercedes-AMG GT4.

Simpler Is Better for Mercedes

Morad is a Mercedes-AMG factory driver who competes for the marque in international sports car racing. The 33-year-old Canadian believes the overall user-friendliness and drivability of the AMG GT platform is what keeps it a frontrunner in multiple series around the world.

“It’s really hard to get (the setup) wrong,” Morad related. “The Ferrari guys were saying they had to do a lot of development to get it in that window. I think the Porsche guys also struggled with that with their 992, but with the AMG it seems like it’s drivable with almost anything on the car. It’s easy to adapt. Whether the setup is perfect or not, you can drive around it just with the simple tools in the cockpit.

“It’s a very, very simple car,” he continued. “I think that’s what’s beautiful about it. It’s not too complex – it’s just a raw race car. The moment I started driving the AMG I fell in love with it. To win Daytona with AMG now, it’s definitely ticked off one big box on my list.”

Like Morad, Ellis has a great deal of worldwide experience racing the Mercedes-AMG GT in both GT3 and GT4 guises. The AMG GT was introduced as a street car in 2014, followed by the racing versions a year later. Mercedes-AMG teams currently utilize an Evo development package that debuted for the 2019 season.

“The AMG has always been one of the most consistent cars in pretty much every championship it has been running in,” said Ellis, a 31-year-old Swiss/German. “It’s always been one of the frontrunners. We never go to a track where we have a super big advantage over another car; it’s never been like a dominant car at a particular track, but it has always been very good and has always had the potential to win pretty much every race. Which is certainly a very good point to have with a car!”

Ironically, the next track on the IMSA schedule is not a venue where the Mercedes-AMG has enjoyed conspicuous success. The marque’s last WeatherTech Championship class win came in 2017, when Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen, and Mario Farnbacher took GTD honors for Riley Motorsports. The car has achieved five additional podium finishes in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Cadillac since 2018, including second place in GTD for Korthoff/Preston Motorsports in 2022 and consecutive third-place results in 2022-23 for WeatherTech Racing in GTD PRO.

Ellis is hopeful of ending Mercedes-AMG’s seven-year drought at Sebring in just two weeks’ time.

“I really hope they don’t fix the bumps or modernize it because it’s the character of the track,” Ellis said. “It’s just a very fun track to race and the event itself is really cool. It’s a very grueling race, very tough inside the car and doing a double stint is very demanding on the drivers. But it wouldn’t be fun if it wasn’t a challenge.”

Sebring International Raceway hosts the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship from March 13-16, with the headliner race starting at 9:40 a.m. ET Saturday, March 16. The event also features the Alan Jay Automotive Network 120 for the Michelin Pilot Challenge at 3:15 p.m. Friday, March 15. Both races stream live on Peacock, with USA Network picking up coverage of the Twelve Hours of Sebring at 4:30 p.m. on March 16