Maro Engel, Indy Dontje, Philip Ellis and Russell Ward won the GT Daytona class for Winward by 16sec ahead of the similar Mercedes-AMG GT3 of SunEnergy1 Racing, driven by Kenny Habul, Raffaele Marciello, Mikael Grenier and Luca Stolz, an entry run by Gradient Racing.
Although the Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan, Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R and Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage all finished on the same lap, the Winward Mercedes led more than half of its 745 laps over the course of the 24 hours.
Not only did the #57 enjoy a slight edge over the SunEnergy1 car, so too the runner up proved more than capable of keeping the Lamborghini, Porsche and Aston Martin at arm’s length whenever one of the aces took the wheel.
The only car capable of matching the fastest Benz’s pace was the #21 AF Corse Ferrari 488 but it came to grief in a clash with the winning car on an out-lap with just over four hours to go. Matteo Cressoni attempted to drive around the outside of Ellis at Turn 1 but hadn’t cleared him by the time he pinched toward the apex of the turn.
Ellis was forced up onto the curb and bounced into the Ferrari, nudging the Italian car into a spin. While the Mercedes remained undamaged, the Ferrari struck a tire wall, then limped back to pits with a puncture, eventually finishing eighth, two laps down.
Ellis commented: “We had been battling with the #21 car probably for a good 16 hours, probably the whole race we had been going at it with the guys. It was always very hard racing but fair racing… Both of us came out of the pits on cold tires just after pit stops, and I think he just saw an opportunity to make a move early and the tires weren’t quite there yet.
“I think he just misjudged it, took a bit too much risk and squeezed me off a little bit which was enough to upset the car. Unfortunately, I hit him and corrected the car. It’s very unfortunate for the #21 car. You don’t want to see battles end this way. Unfortunately, it did this time.”
Ward, who is also team principal, commented after victory: “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.”
“This is absolutely amazing,” added Engel, who was making his third start in the Rolex 24. “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.”
Stefan Wendl, head of Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing, added: “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 [Before the 24] 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.”