Race Weekend Central

Riley Motorsports Switches to Mercedes, SunEnergy1 Racing Reforms

On Wednesday, Mercedes officially announced their entry into the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with the new V8-powered Mercedes AMG GT3.  Riley Motorsports will serve as the primary team for the manufacturer, which will not field a factory squad in the GT Daytona class.  Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen will return to the team for their fourth season together.  Team owner Bill Riley will oversee the effort.

Representatives from Mercedes AMG are happy to take the plunge.

“We are thrilled to see the three-pointed star compete in North America’s premier endurance racing series in 2017,” said Dietmar Exler, President of MBUSA.  “Our Mercedes-AMG race car has already proven itself in worldwide competition, and should quickly become a fan favorite. We are very excited about our prospects for the 2017 racing season.”

Riley is looking forward to the move.

“It’s really an honor to be aligned with AMG,” Riley said in the press release.  “The car looks so fast even standing still, and I can’t wait to start running it in anger. I was thinking the other day how many times a Mercedes-Benz has raced at Daytona and I can’t remember once. When I look at it that way, it’s pretty significant to be involved.”

For Riley Motorsports, the new Mercedes replaces the Dodge Viper GT3-R (pictured above at Road Atlanta).  While the car is still officially eligible to race in GT3-spec championships, Keating was paying the manufacturer fee necessary for the Viper to race in IMSA (Keating is the owner of Viper Exchange, the world’s largest Viper dealership).  With the Viper ending production in 2017, the benefits from racing the car would no longer be evident.  Therefore, paying for the right to continue to race the Viper would be counter-intuitive.

Regardless, the Viper GT3-R had a great final season in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.  Keating and Bleekemolen won three races (Belle Isle Park, Road America and Road America) on their way to finish second in GT Daytona points.

In addition to the full-time No. 33 entry, Riley Motorsports is expanding to two full-time entries with the addition of the WeatherTech Racing No. 50 for Cooper MacNeil and Gunnar Jeannette.  This team was previously associated with Alex Job Racing.

Finally, Mercedes will have a third team competing full-time in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.  That team will be the second coming of SunEnergy1 Racing.  The team will be led by owner/driver Kenny Habul and run with sponsorship from Habul’s SunEnergy1 solar panel company.  Motorsport.com has renderings of the team’s No. 75 Mercedes available.  It is currently unclear who would be teamed with the Australian racer to drive the No. 75.  Also of note, it is unclear how this new team would affect Habul’s current relationship with Hendrick Motorsports and JR Motorsports in NASCAR.

Mercedes debuted the AMG GT3 this year in the Blancpain GT Sprint Series and the Blancpain GT Endurance Series in Europe.  Maximilian Buhk and Dominic Baumann shared one for HTP Motorsport and won the Blancpain GT Series championship (a combined championship of the Blancpain GT Sprint and Blancpain GT Endurance Series).  The cars were fairly quick, but ran into controversy at the Total 24 Hours of Spa in July when they were caught running outside of homologation in regards to ignition timing.  The top 6 Mercedes entries were forced to serve a five-minute stop and hold penalty in the race as well, costing the teams roughly 2.5 laps.  Despite the penalty, the best Mercedes still finished on the lead lap in second overall.

The press release notes that there are additional teams running the Mercedes AMG GT3 are likely to announce programs prior to the Rolex 24 at Daytona.  It is unclear whether these would be additional full-time teams, or teams looking to race Daytona as a one-off.  Look for more driver announcements in the run up to Daytona.


About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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