WeatherTech Mercedes Battles to Third GTD PRO Win of Season at the Brickyard
Mercedes-AMG enjoyed a highly successful weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella drove the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 to the Grand Touring Daytona Pro (GTD PRO) class victory Sunday in the TireRack.com Battle on the Bricks on the IMS road course, the penultimate round of the 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. That followed up a win Saturday for Winward Racing and the GT4 variation of the Mercedes-AMG in a four-hour IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race at the same venue.
Winward’s joy was compounded Sunday as its No. 57 Mercedes-AMG GT3 was victorious in the GTD class in the hands of Russell Ward and Philip Ellis. The GTD race was also notable for a third-place finish by Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow in the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW M4 GT3 that clinched not only the team’s second consecutive triumph in the IMSA WeatherTech Sprint Cup, but also the 2023 season championship.
Gounon assumed the GTD PRO lead just 10 minutes into the 2-hour, 40-minute contest when Motul Pole Award winner Klaus Bachler served a drive-through penalty for a start procedure violation. He and Juncadella were never seriously challenged after that, ultimately winning by 4.394 seconds over Ross Gunn and Alex Riberas in the No. 23 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3.
“It always tastes good to win a race, this is the third one after a tough summer,” said Juncadella. “There were a lot of things out of control at the last couple events that didn’t play into our favor results-wise. Performance-wise we were not far off, but obviously at this event, we were stronger. I think the Mercedes-AMG GT3 is very good around this place. “This track suits our cars and it suits our driving, and today was a smooth race,” he added. “We avoided mistakes and brought it home.”
Gounon was taken by surprise when Bachler pulled out of his lane before the start line when the cars were released at the beginning of the race, a clear violation of IMSA rules.
“I was on the radio about that right away,” Gounon said. “I knew there was going to be a penalty, so I immediately backed out of it and that opened the door for us. I think it would have been a difficult fight for us, but we were up for it.”
Jack Hawksworth and Ben Barnicoat finished third in the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3, extending their GTD PRO championship lead to 188 points over the No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C8.R GTD and drivers Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor. Juncadella and Gounon leapfrogged Bachler and his co-driver Patrick Pilet into third in the GTD standings, 227 points behind the No. 14 Lexus.
As a result, the No. 14 team and drivers only will need to leave the grid at the start of next month’s Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta to secure their first WeatherTech Championship team and driver titles.
Brickyard Win for Winward, Season Crown for PMR
The GTD class featured a more closely contested race that resulted in Ward guiding the No. 57 Winward Mercedes-AMG GT3 to a 1.268-second win over Loris Spinelli and Misha Goikhberg in the No. 78 Forte Racing Powered by US RaceTronics Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO2 after a battle that sometimes turned contentious.
Snow and Sellers led the majority of the race before determining with the championship in mind that discretion was the better part of valor. They dropped back to third place, letting Ward and Spinelli fight amongst themselves for the race win.
Spinelli’s driving was especially aggressive, to the displeasure of Ellis.
“Initially, I had a battle with Bryan, which was all clean and fair,” Ellis remarked. “That was good, and nice to watch, I guess. Then Loris came along and tried to pass me on the grass, which is quite risky. Luckily our car wasn’t too badly damaged, and in the end, I just gave back what he dished out.”
Ward was delighted to deliver Winward Racing its first WeatherTech Championship race win in 13 months. His father Bryce, the team owner, shared the winning GS-class Mercedes-AMG with Daniel Morad in Saturday’s four-hour Michelin Pilot Challenge race.
“That was our first double win,” Ward observed. “For the last couple years, this team has been kind of feast or famine. This year we’ve been struggling due to different things – sometimes performance, sometimes, mistakes, and sometimes just bad luck.
“So it's really nice to see it all come together for both cars, and it shows the potential of the team and what the group of guys we have is capable of.”
Sellers and Snow wrapped up the GTD class crown one race early, in addition to clinching their second consecutive WeatherTech Sprint Cup sub-championship. The duo won five races so far this year.
“We led quite a bit of the race, but didn’t have quite enough for the No. 57 or the No. 78,” Sellers said. “As soon as those guys (Spinelli and Ellis) started mixing it up, our goal was just to beat the No. 27 (the Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3 and drivers Roman De Angelis and Marco Sorensen), watch the points situation, and let the race win go – which is difficult to do. But in the end, we were able to achieve our goal.”
The final round of the 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the Motul Petit Le Mans, October 11-14 at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.