Tales from the paddock – Stefan Wendl: “In terms of material, performance and resilience, there simply is no better endurance test”
With the Nordschleife season about to get underway, Stefan Wendl, Head of Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing, tells us about the new features and the challenges of the forthcoming year in motorsport.
- This is what happened: Results and facts
- News from the Mercedes-AMG Motorsport teams
- Three questions for Stefan Wendl
- Social media news: What’s new online?
This is what happened: Results and facts
- Formula One: Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton register a one-two win in the season opener in Australia
- Australian GT Championship: Three wins and ten podium finishes for the Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the four rounds of the Australian GT Championship hosted by Melbourne
Perfect start to the season: The new Formula 1 season began with a near-perfect weekend for Mercedes at Albert Park in Melbourne. Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas had already made it a front row lockout for the team in Saturday’s qualifying session. For Lewis, it was pole position number 84 in the premier class and his eighth in Australia. Indeed, Lewis has started from pole in the Australian Grand Prix for the past six seasons, But Sunday belonged to Valtteri. The Finn snatched the lead from his team-mate going into the first corner and then went on to claim his fourth Grand Prix victory. By clocking the fastest race lap, he also scored the newly introduced bonus point. In fact, during the the race Valtteri set the fastest lap 16 times. For the team, it was the 45th one-two victory in Formula One, the fourth win in Australia since 2014 and the 88th overall.
Dream start to the Australian GT season for Mercedes-AMG: Two podium lockouts, one victory and a P3 finish as well as a double podium for second and third place were the haul for Mercedes-AMG Motorsport from the first four rounds of the Australian GT Championship. The Australian race series got underway with four 25‑minute sprint races at the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne under the auspices of Formula 1. Kenny Habul (AUS), the reigning champion in the Bronze Driver class of the Intercontinental GT Challenge, won the second and fourth rounds for SunEnergy1 Racing, with victory in the third race going to Peter Hackett (AUS) of Eggelston Motorsport. To this solid result have to be added the four podium appearances by Max Twigg (AUS, Waste Management WM / Scott Taylor Motorsport); he may not have lifted a winner’s trophy but he came away from the weekend with the biggest points tally, which was enough for him to take over at the top of the drivers’ standings in the Australian GT Championship. It would be nice to see a repeat of this performance on the second race weekend of the Australian GT Championship (2nd - 4th May), which will be hosted by the Barbagallo Raceway.
Championship lead successfully defended at Sebring: The 12-hour Sebring race in Florida was the second fixture of the 2019 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Changeable weather with heavy rain at the start of the race made the already difficult track at the Sebring International Raceway an even bigger headache for everyone concerned. Jeroen Bleekemolen (NED), Felipe Fraga (BRA) and Ben Keating (USA) in the number 33 Mercedes-AMG entered by Riley Motorsports hung on to their lead in the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup with a fifth place in the GTD class and bonus points at the four-hour and eight-hour stages. This threesome, Riley Motorsports and Mercedes-AMG have a half-time lead in the drivers’, team and manufacturers’ championships after two of the four events (24h Daytona, 12h Sebring, 6h Watkins Glen, 10h Petit Le Mans), in each case by a three-point margin. The number 71 P1 Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 driven by Maximilian Buhk (GER), JC Perez (COL) and Fabian Schiller (GER) finished just outside the points in eleventh place after sustaining two punctures.
In the second race of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, Jim Cox and Dylan Murry (both USA) of the Riley Motorsports team finished fourth with the best result of all the Mercedes-AMG GT4s in the starting line-up. Bryce Ward (USA) and Christian Hohenadel (GER) in the number 57 car entered by Winward Racing / HTP Motorsport also managed a Top Ten finish in ninth position. Reigning champions in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge and pole-sitters at Sebring Owen Trinkler and Hugh Plumb (both USA) of Team TGM were in contention for victory for most of the race but were forced off the track half an hour before the end and had to settle for 13th. The next stop on the itinerary for the North American racing series with involvement of the GTD and GS classes takes place on the weekend of 3rd - 5th May at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Strong start to the season in the China GT Championship: Craft Bamboo Racing got their 2019 China GT Championship campaign off to a successful start at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia with a win and a runner-up spot. Jazeman Jaafar (TWN) and Frank Yu (HKG) in the number 77 Mercedes-AMG GT3 were second in the first race. In Race 2, the number 88 sister car driven by Alessio Picariello (BEL) and Jeffrey Lee (TWN) then registered the first victory of the season for a car built in Affalterbach. Xu Jia (CHN) and co-driver Mitch Gilbert (AUS) also made a podium appearance for their P3 finish in the first race.
On this opening weekend of the new season, the Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing teams were unbeatable in the GT4 class. In round one, the pairings of Alex Fontana (CHE) and Christian Chia (CAN) in the number 5 Mercedes-AMG GT4 and Sunny Wong (HKG) and Rainey He Xiaole (CHN) in the number 6 car secured a comfortable one-two win for Phantom Pro Racing. In the second race, the customer teams went one better with a podium lockout. Taking the chequered flag behind race winners Sunny Wong and Rainey He Xiaole (#6) were Will Bamber (NZL) and Peter Yang Liao (TWN) in the number 22 D2 Racing Sport car and the Phantom Pro Racing pairing of Fontana and Chia (#5). This triumph in the season opener was the first one-two-three win in the China GT Championship for the Mercedes-AMG GT4 after it was fielded on only one occasion in this competition last year. The next event will take place on the weekend of 3rd - 5th May at the Ningbo International Circuit.
Three questions for Stefan Wendl, Head of Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing
It’s all systems go on the Nordschleife! A few days ago, the Nürburgring hosted the test and setup sessions for the VLN Endurance Championship, and this coming weekend, the 2019 season gets underway with the 65th ADAC Westfalenfahrt. One of the issues that Mercedes-AMG Motorsport along with the other GT3 manufacturers and teams will be deeply concerned about is the much-debated adjustment of the balance of performance (BoP) which envisages a 5% brake on the top classes.
Stefan, what’s the mood in the team as the VLN season approaches?
Stefan Wendl: Broadly speaking, we are always happy to be racing on the Nordschleife. The so-called ‘Green Hell’ is the most beautiful track in the world, but it’s also the most challenging. Every customer racing vehicle we develop has its first outing on tarmac here. In terms of material, performance and resilience, there simply is no better endurance test. And of course, the VLN is also an indispensable preparation for the 24‑hour race. But in any case, our teams enjoyed considerable success in the most recent VLN season with three overall wins and four more podium finishes. So we have every reason to look forward to the new season.
The season opener of the VLN will take place against the background of discussions on BoP. Where does Mercedes-AMG stand on this matter?
Stefan Wendl: We naturally respect the decision of the FIA and the DMSB to slow down the cars in the top classes in the interests of safety. Whether the proposed 5% reduction in performance is the right way to do this will be discussed with the ADAC Technical Committee and the other manufacturers within the framework of the Technical Working Group set up for this purpose. Unfortunately, the decision was announced at a very late stage. Consequently, the displeasure expressed by many of the teams is understandable. Our Mercedes-AMG GT3s conformed to the 2018 BoP specifications during the test and setup sessions, so to that extent, the lap times were of only limited significance. That’s a pity, but with the interval between announcement of the BoP changes and the VLN tests being so short, we didn’t have any other possibilities. Between now and the first VLN race, we will inform our teams of the relevant technical changes so they can start the season in compliance with the regulations.
You mentioned the standout event on the Nordschleife calendar. What are your plans and expectations for the 24 Hours Nürburgring?
Stefan Wendl: We have used the past few weeks to engage in many constructive discussions with teams and drivers around the world. Our programme continues to evolve, as is evident from the addition of the Intercontinental GT Challenge and the new Blancpain GT World Challenge. At the same time, there are the regular fixtures such as the 24 Hours Nürburgring. Obviously, we will be doing everything we can to deliver a strong result here this year. After victories in 2013 and 2016, we are due another one in 2019 – if these things go on a three-year cycle. In addition, we aim to lay on another entertaining support programme for the fans who turn up at the track and also unveil some innovations; unfortunately, I am unable to reveal more at the moment.
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