Mercedes-AMG Team Craft-Bamboo Racing marked its return to international competition at the Indianapolis 8 Hour presented by AWS, after over 1.5 years away due to the pandemic. Making its American debut, the #99 Mercedes-AMG GT3 entered the second round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli with a full Mercedes-AMG driver line-up of Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Luca Stolz. After a strong weekend, the Hong-Kong based team faced a rough end with their car retiring in the final 40 minutes of the race whilst fighting for the lead from 2nd place.
In what can be best described as a roller coaster race, with a constantly changing running order, the Mooneyes and Tarmac Works-sponsored car was running in P2 with just over 30 minutes to go, looking strong to secure a podium finish. Disaster struck on the Safety Car restart when the #99 made contact with both the #37 Audi and the #59 McLaren respectively within a matter of a few turns. Gounon was left with a broken suspension, unable to continue the race and forced to immediately retire the car, ending hopes of what could have been a sensational comeback victory for the team.
- Qualifying 1 Result – P1 (1:33.976) | Luca Stolz
- Qualifying 2 Result – P3 (1:34.528) | Maro Engel
- Qualifying 3 Result – P8 (1:34.830) | Jules Gounon
- Combined Qualifying Result – P1 (Avg: 1:34.444)
Pole Shootout Result – P3 (1:33.515) | Jules Gounon
The Indianapolis 8 Hour presented by AWS was the first time Mercedes-AMG Team Craft-Bamboo Racing competed on American soil. Despite the treacherous weather conditions on Friday at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the team was immediately up to the task, topping the timesheets in the official free practice.
The rain bid farewell for the rest of the weekend as the teams welcomed dry runs for Saturday’s Qualifying. The aim for the 3 Qualifying sessions was to make it into the Top-15 for the Pole Shootout which would determine the starting grid. With the team securing the fastest average time, Gounon, having previous experience at The Brickyard was tasked with the team’s bid for Pole Position. The Frenchman clocked in a strong time, just 59 thousandths shy of the #51 Ferrari on Pole and a painstakingly 0.001s away from a front-row start.
On Sunday morning, the bright yellow #99 Mercedes-AMG GT3 lined up on the second row of the grid. Engel was handed the responsibility to start the race from P3. The German had a lightning start, promoting himself to P2 by the time the field reached Turn 2. After an epic battle upfront, he remained there until the first round of pit stops under a Safety Car, which dropped him back to P6 at the 1-hour mark. Engel fought back to P2 towards the end of the second hour before the first major incident occurred with the #32 Audi R8 LMS making contact with Engel into Turn 11, spinning him around and sending both cars off-track. The #32 Audi was later penalised for the incident.
With no major damage, Engel continued but had now dropped down to P12, some 50s behind the lead. The incident heavily affected the team’s strategy, forcing the engineers to shake up the race plan. After a triple stint of 2 hours and 45 minutes, Engel came into the pits to hand the car to young German racer Stolz. Stolz was running in P9 at the 3-hour mark and moved up to P8 after an uneventful fourth hour. Following the halfway mark, there were consecutive long periods of Full Course Yellows during which the team did brilliantly to time the pit stop to perfection. Not only did Stolz un-lap himself, he assumed the lead of the race for the first time at the 5-hour mark.
Deciding to run an alternate strategy to the other Pro-class teams, Stolz came into the pit with 2 hours and 15 minutes to go and handed the car over to Gounon for his closing stint. The Frenchman was in P11 but showed intent right from the start as he started to make up for lost time. He clawed his way back to P9 at the 6-hour mark and eventually P6 at the 7-hour mark.
A major twist in the tale came when the leading #71 Ferrari came in contact with a GT4 car bringing out the Safety Car once again. Gounon dived into the pits for his final stop and with a short stop strategy, he jumped the competitors and was now in P2 with less than 45 minutes to go. Gounon was just 4s behind the leading #25 Audi as the Safety Car came back into the pits. Within moments of the green flag, the lapped #37 Audi went for an audacious move into Turn 1 and made contact with the #99 car. The damage was compounded when another lapped car of the #59 McLaren made heavy contact at Turn 8 and broke the front suspension of the Mooneyes car, forcing Gounon to retire the car, merely 36 minutes from the end.
What would have been a brilliant finish, was ruined in a matter of seconds for Mercedes-AMG Team Craft-Bamboo Racing. The team came back from setbacks throughout the race and kept challenging for the race win, however, it was not in the books this year.
Mercedes-AMG Team Craft-Bamboo Racing would like to thank Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing, Mooneyes, Tarmac Works and other partners for their omnipresent support along with the drivers, engineers and crew for their efforts throughout the weekend. Special thanks go out to event partner Lone Star Racing, who managed the car preparation alongside our team engineers, as well as equipment, personnel, and transportation support in the USA.