August 14, 2017 —
Three Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing teams competed in this weekend’s Pirelli World Challenge SprintX Grand Prix of Utah doubleheader at Utah Motorsports Campus where a third-place finish in Sunday’s final race of the weekend kept the No. 54 Black Swan Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3, and team co-drivers Tim Pappas and Jeroen Bleekemolen, in top-three contention for the 2017 SprintX GT Pro/Am Championship. Sunday’s third-place showing was the second podium result for Black Swan in the last three Pirelli World Challenge SprintX races, dating back to a third-place GT Pro/Am finish at Lime Rock Park in May. Black Swan, Pappas and Bleekemolen have moved into third place in the GT Pro/Am Championship standings with only the season-ending Labor Day Weekend tripleheader at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) left on the 2017 Pirelli World Challenge SprintX schedule.
Sunday’s top-three result made up for a frustrating first race of the weekend for Black Swan on Saturday at the Grand Prix of Utah. Pappas was hit hard by another competitor and sent into a spin on the first lap, and he and Bleekemolen, who took over for the final half of the race, fought hard to get the No. 54 back to sixth by the checkered flag.
Black Swan was able to race more competitively on Sunday, with Bleekemolen starting from the GT Pro/Am pole and running as high as third overall by the end of the first race lap. He led the GT Pro/Am class for the entirety of his nearly 35-minute stint and held the overall race lead for several laps just before handing off to Pappas.
Pappas continued in first place only to see a caution flag just minutes into his stint erase the lead margin Bleekemolen had built. Under caution, the top competition in the GT Pro/Am field lined up right behind Pappas for what would be a quick dash to the checkered flag when the green flag flew.
Pappas crossed the finish line in fourth but he and Bleekemolen were later elevated to third in the final standings when the GT Pro/Am class winner was penalized for not meeting the minimum pit stop time.
“It was a pretty good weekend for us,” said Bleekmolen. “We had a bad race Saturday with Tim getting spun around in Turn 1. That put us a half lap down in a race with no yellows, so we were kind of out of it. Still, we had good pace, and that was good enough for sixth on the grid overall to start Sunday. I had a really good start, jumped one or two cars and got another one in turn one. That put me third, and then I even ended up leading awhile overall before handing off to Tim. We don’t have enough top speed on restarts, so there was nothing Tim could do to defend, but in the end we are pretty happy with third. We are a pretty solid third in the championship too, and I am really looking forward to the last event at COTA, where we have three races.”
Other Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing teams competing in the Utah Grand Prix included GT Pro competitors Ryan Dalziel and Daniel Morad in the No. 2 CRP Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3.
Dalziel, Morad and CRP endured a competitive but challenging weekend in GT that produced a ninth-place finish on Saturday and an eighth-place result on Sunday.
“Very tough weekend for us,” Dalziel said. “Four of our crew, including myself, battled food poisoning most of the weekend, and we just couldn’t find the speed in our Mercedes-AMG GT3. We made a whole bunch of changes but we just felt like we were missing out. Our car was much improved in race two, but we started so far back in the field there was only so much we could do. Starting 14th and finishing eighth wasn’t a bad day, but we need to make major improvements for COTA in a few weeks to keep our SprintX championship hopes alive.”
The Utah weekend also saw the GT Pro/Am debut of DXDT Racing, which ran its first race in the No. 63 DXDT Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 with co-drivers David Askew and Aaron Povoledo.
Competing on their home track at Utah Motorsports Campus, which is also where the DXDT race shop is located, Askew and Povoledo showed well in both weekend races. After a solid opening stint by Askew on Saturday, Povoledo raced to as high as fifth before ultimately crossing the finish line in seventh.
Sunday’s race moved off to an even better start, with Povoledo passing several cars and nearly breaking into the overall top-10 as the field raced into Turn 1 on the first race lap. Unfortunately, another competitor clipped the No. 63 and sent Povoledo into a spin, but he quickly recovered to regain several positions.
Povoledo handed off to Askew just short of the race’s 35-minute mark with the prospects of improving on Saturday’s seventh-place result looking promising. Askew was turning some of his fastest laps of the weekend only to get caught up in a contact incident involving other competitors that he couldn’t avoid.
Askew was uninjured, and the No. 63 was too damaged to complete the race, but the result didn’t diminish what DXDT considered a solid debut weekend with Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing. Povoledo’s fastest race lap on Sunday was the second quickest of the three Mercedes-AMG GT3 entries competing in Utah.
“In one weekend of getting our hands dirty and digging in, it is just a massive testimony to the technical crew, the engineering staff and the entire team we have here,” Povoledo recounted. “David didn’t put a foot wrong all weekend in his first-ever GT race, no mistakes, he really did a great job. I got spun out and he got caught up in someone else’s accident, but we are still very happy with the weekend. It’s also a testament to how well engineered and how strong of an overall package the Mercedes-AMG GT3 is. It is probably the best all-around GT race car of its era right now.”
Next up for Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing teams in North America is the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at VIRginia International Raceway (VIR), August 25 – 27.
The final Pirelli World Challenge SprintX race weekend of the season at COTA takes place Labor Day Weekend, September 1 – 3. The event includes the scheduled COTA doubleheader as well as a makeup race for an event earlier this year at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park that was canceled due to weather.