DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Riley Motorsports knows endurance racing.
Not only has the team won three consecutive IMSA Michelin Endurance Cups from 2017 – 2019 in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, but they are now back-to-back endurance race winners in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.
Following the four-hour BMW Endurance Challenge at Daytona Int’l Speedway on Friday, the No. 35 Mercedes-AMG GT4 of Dylan Murry, Jim Cox and Jeroen Bleekemolen crossed the finish line first to claim the Grand Sport victory. The same trio of drivers also won last summer’s four-hour race at Watkins Glen Int’l – and Murry and Cox also won November’s four-hour Michelin IMSA SportsCar Encore at Sebring.
“We’re petitioning IMSA to make all races four hours now,” said Cox.
However, the Mercedes-AMG didn’t cross the finish line at normal race pace. The yellow flag came out with 15 minutes left on the clock after Scott Maxwell’s No. 19 Ford Mustang GT4 slid across the grass in the bus stop and rear-first into the tire barrier. The car flipped upside down after the incident, but Maxwell was not injured.
The win for the Riley Motorsports trio is the second of their Pilot Challenge careers. The first was that race at Watkins Glen.
“I think the whole Riley team has done well with pit stop strategy and preparation,” said Bleekemolen, who has been a part of the team for each of the endurance accomplishments. “That’s definitely a big part of it, and then obviously Jim and Dylan also drove well, so it’s the whole thing together. I’ve ran a lot with this team, also in the [Rolex] 24, and we’ve always been leading the races here, sometimes even most of the race just because they have a good car, they know how to do it.”
Murry held a decent gap over another Mercedes-AMG, the No. 57 of Philip Ellis for Winward Racing before the caution came out, but that wasn’t always the case. Stalking from second place, Ellis gained on Murry and wound up leading two laps as the final pit-stop sequence occurred. However, Riley Motorsports’ work in the pits cycled Murry back into the lead for the remainder of the race.
“To be able to drive at Daytona is one thing, to be able to win here is an entirely different level, different world,” said Murry. “I can’t describe the emotions I’m going through right now. My dad has raced here, I grew up coming to this 24-hour race all my life watching my dad race, go around, and I finally get to stand on victory lane. It’s touching and special to me. I always said if I could win one race it would be Daytona and it’s come true and it’s exciting.”
Ellis and co-driver Bryce Ward held on for the runner-up finish while their sister car, the No. 4 shared by Indy Dontje and Russell Ward, made it a podium sweep for the German manufacturer.
In TCR, Gavin Ernstone was full of excitement as he watched the No. 61 Road Shagger Racing Audi RS3 LMS driven by his co-driver Jon Morley come to the checkered flag.
Watching Morley cross the finish line first among the TCR cars under the final caution period, Ernstone stood on the pit wall reveling in the fact they had just won on the 3.56-mile circuit at the World Center of Racing.
While they’ve experienced victory once before (at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca last year) during the team’s inaugural season, it’s clear this one will be long remembered.
“It was extremely emotional for me,” said Ernstone. “Daytona is legendary all around the world. We can say we won at Daytona. I was sobbing like a baby. I couldn’t watch the last 45 minutes of the race. (It was certainly) emotional for me, I’m sure for Jon too, it was huge and one of the biggest days of my life for sure.”
The No. 61 Audi started 11th on the grid, but slowly worked its way through the field. During the final pit stop of the race, Morley came within inches of the No. 32 Speed Syndicate Motorsports Audi of Mikey Taylor. In similar fashion to the GS class winners, a clutch pit stop kept the Road Shagger machine a fraction ahead of Taylor as the two cars left pit lane nose-to-tail, but Morley kept Taylor’s Audi at bay.
Taylor and co-driver William Tally finished second, while Stephen Simpson and Michael Johnson in the No. 54 machine for JDC-Miller Motorsports finished third, making it an all-Audi podium.
“I settled in following three other Audis all with incredible drivers in them,” said Morley. “We were helping each other, drafting, I could hang with them, I’d catch them every once and awhile. It didn’t feel like I had a distinct advantage on them, but there was a lot of time left. If I stuck with them, I knew my crew would get me by them and they did.”