Winward Racing’s Russell Ward says the team did not came to Daytona with big expectations after taking an upset win in the Rolex in only the team’s first-ever GTD start.
The #57 Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo, driven by Russell Ward, Philip Ellis, Indy Dontje and Maro Engel took a hard-fought victory, made all the more remarkable by the fact that the team had never entered a 24-hour race before.
“We didn’t come here with a lot of expectations,” said Ward, the son of Winward Racing team principal Bryce Ward. “It was a learning experience, moving from GT4 in the Michelin Pilot Challenge to GT3 in the WeatherTech Championship, and the team and I have been preparing for this for a whole year.”
“At the end of the day, our team wanted it more than everybody else,” he added. “There were faster cars out there, but we just drove the wheels off the thing.”
The team had to fight for the victory, as it was engaged with an intense fight with AF Corse’s #21 Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo for a significant portion of the race. The battle came to a head when Philip Ellis collided with AF Corse’s Matteo Cressoni on Sunday morning when both cars were on an out lap.
“We were battling with the No. 21 car for 16 hours,” Ellis said. “Practically the whole race we were going at it with those guys. It was hard racing, but fair racing – that’s the way we like it, and I think the spectators want to see that as well.
“Both of us came out of the pits on cold tires,” Ellis said as he explained the incident from his perspective. “I think he saw the opportunity to make a move early, and the tires weren’t quite there yet. Maybe he just misjudged it or was taking a bit too much risk. He squeezed me off a little bit, which was enough to upset the car. Unfortunately, I hit him.
While Ellis was able to escape unscathed, Cressoni suffered a spin, a light crash into the barriers and a puncture, ultimately finishing eighth in class.
“It was very unfortunate for the 21 car – you don’t want to see battles end this way. It did this time, and fortunately we didn’t have too much damage on our car.”
Stewards ultimately deemed the collision a racing incident, leaving the #57 Mercedes clear to take a remarkable win.
“Really, really proud to deliver this victory with these three guys,” Maro Engel remarked afterwards “Didn’t put a foot wrong the last 10 days, and I can’t praise the team enough. They did an awesome job. We maybe didn’t have the fastest car out there, but on a long run, on a stint, we were super competitive.”