A PERFORMANCE NOT TO BE TAKEN LIGHTLY BY THE TEAM’S FOURTH ATTEMPT AT THE BIG RACE WHO QUIETLY WORKED THEIR WAY TO A GTD PODIUM
SunEnergy1 Racing with drivers Kenny Habul, Mikaël Grenier, Luca Stolz and Raffaele Marciello have somewhat been “the underdogs” in the GTD IMSA paddock throughout the Roar and Rolex 24 as Mikaël expressed: “All during he Roar and practice of the Rolex 24 weekend we wanted to give as much track time as possible to Kenny Habul (team owner and bronze rated driver, NDLR) so he could get valuable driving time around Daytona especially dealing with traffic. We knew our Mercedes AMG GT3 had good performance and pace and was to be reliable so we had no worries come race time.”
Having spoken to Mikaël prior to the race, he had commented they had a strategy in place for the race to allow bronze rated driver Kenny Habul to complete his 4.5 hours required drive time early in the race so to be in a good position for the last 6 hours of the Rolex 24. The race turned in their favour in a way, as Kenny started the race, and the race being neutralized many times during the course of the first couple of hours.
“That was our original plan and it ended up working for us. Although Kenny was a bit nervous about his performance knowing the car was fast, he did not want to hinder our strategy on staying on the lead lap. But Kenny delivered a great driving performance every time he was at the wheel and running competitive times. I can say, since I have been driving with him, this is the best race he has driven. I am really happy for him.”
Finishing in second place in one of the iconic races in the world is still satisfying. “Of course, we are happy with second place but at the same time being so close to the winner (16.3 seconds, NDLR) at the checkered flag after 24 hours is a bit disappointing, mentioned Mikaël. “The car has been reliable all race long and apart from front bodywork damage due to some contacts, it held together perfectly. The front damage was big enough that we were losing a bit of top speed on the long straights. We gave it all. We pushed to stay close to the #57 Mercedes AMG GT3 in the closing stages of the race but in the end, their car had more performance left in it than we did. The good side of it is we gave Mercedes AMG an unexpected 1-2 finish in the end and they were quite happy with that.”
We asked Mikaël about the highlight of the race for him and without hesitation said: “The fact the team did an outstanding job all race long. Our strategy has worked well and there were no mistakes at all during the pitstops when fueling, changing tires. The only one time we lost a couple of seconds was during a driver change when we had difficulties with one of the seatbelts. So credits to the engineers and crew for the great work they did.”
This gave the opportunity for the team to run in the top 3 from around the 12th hour of the race onwards. “I took over for my stints midway into the night and we were running in the top 3 from that point on. We actually ran in first place for a short while with Kenny at the wheel. That was after a caution period and Kenny did an amazing job for us to keep the momentum going,” said Mikaël.
Talking about pitstops, I asked Mikaël if there were any issues with the exit of pitlane as it seems several cars came close to or did hit the wall. “During the Roar, Kenny went through that experience as he was leaving on cold tires and unfortunately clipped the wall so yes, we had to be very careful leaving the pits. IMSA does not allow for tires to be pre-heated. As the pit speed is 60km/h and the pit exit is actually after going around that tight left turn, we actually have to brake somewhat to slow down because we have no traction whatsoever when the tires are cold. And that was especially worse during the night with the much colder track temperature.”
After the #57 Mercedes AMG GT3 and #21 Ferrari 488 GT3 ran into each other at corner one (which took the #21 out of contention, NDLR), SunEnergy1 Racing occupied second place and challenged #57 for the lead until the last pitstop. The #57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 taking less fuel therefore spending less time in the pits compared to them. We asked Mikaël if SunEnergy1 Racing was out of sequence compared to Winward Racing as we constantly saw the team pitting before their rival #57.
“I am not sure if it was us that were out of sequence or of it was them. Most likely, they must have elected at some point during the race during a neutralization to put less fuel in their car. Because at the last pitstop we saw they took less fuel than we did since they spent less time than us in the pits. We tried to close the gap after but couldn’t.”
Now, with such a promising result, what is next for SunEnergy1 Racing?
“Kenny, even before the race, spoke about competing in the Michelin Endurance Cup of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for this season. It makes sense for him to want to compete in the long distance races. He is only one of few drivers in IMSA that is bronze rated as most teams (like in GTD, NDLR) have mainly silver rated drivers. Over a long distance, like we saw at Daytona, we stand a chance for a podium finish.”
This means we are to see Mikaël driving with the SunEnergy1 Racing team at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours Of Sebring Presented By Advance Auto Parts the week of March 17-20 at Sebring International Raceway. It would be followed by the Sahlen’s Six Hours Of The Glen on June24-27 at Watkins Glen International and Motul Petit Le Mans on October 6-9 at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
As for the European season in which Mikaël has been known to compete in for several years now, discussions are taking place at the moment to finalize his 2021 plans. As soon as we get more details, we will certainly let you know.
Images courtesy IMSA
Photographer & Editor