Sometimes being different is good. Being different paid off for Mercedes-AMG GT 3 drivers Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen as they won the GT Daytona class in Sunday's Michelin GT Challenge IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at VIRginia International Raceway at Alton.
Taking on a different pitting strategy than most of the GTD teams, the team pitted for its final pit stop two laps earlier than the race leaders to save time on pit road and save fuel on the track. Bleekemolen was in third place after making the mid-race driver change, and it took him only two laps to pass the race-leading Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 driven by Mario Farnbacher and the Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R driven by Scott Hargrove, both of whom who had just pitted their cars and had cold tires.
"We had warmer tires after the final pit stops, so that was key in passing for the lead," Bleekemolen said.
"I think we pitted two laps earlier, and that's what made it work. Mario Farnbacher ran a little wide in Oak Tree and I knew it. I got him. I pushed really hard on the out lap on cold tires. it worked."
Sunday's win was the first win and first podium finish of the season for Keating and Bleekemolen, and it was the first podium finish for Mercedes in GTD. The win was the first win for Keating and Bleekemolen since a victory last July at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
"Golly, this has been a long time coming," remarked Keating.
"We've had a great car, a great team, Andy everything would have gone so well from a performance standpoint all season, then we would have the worst of luck. Today was almost the complete opposite."
Farnbacher and his co-driver, Trent Hindman, finished a close second, with Farnbacher trailing Bleekemolen by .566-second at the finish. The second-place finish allowed Farnbacher and Hindman to extend their lead over Zacharie Robichon, Hargrave's co-driver in the Porsche, to 37 points.
Drivers Cooper MacNeil and Toni Vilander, driving the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa WeatherTech Racing Ferrari 488 GT3, finished third in the GTD class as Vilander passed Hargrove for third place on the final lap of the race. The third-place finish was the third podium finish of the season for MacNeil and Vilander.