A double-take was required when Bernd Schneider’s name appeared on the entry list for last weekend’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race in Detroit.
The longtime Mercedes factory driver joined Kenny Habul in the Riley Motorsports-run Mercedes AMG GT3 at Belle Isle, and with his FIA GT championship, five DTM titles, and International Touring Car Championship title earned with the brand, the German’s presence in Michigan was akin to a visit by sports car royalty.
“I felt like a rookie when I did the first laps here in Detroit,” the 53-year-old told IMSA Radio. “I was missing this kind of racing; we don’t have this in Europe and it was so much fun.”
Schneider was instrumental in developing the latest Mercedes AMG GT3 model, which made the guest appearance at the bumpy Belle Isle circuit less of a shock to the system. Even with his pre-race preparations, the rough surface conditions and big disparity in speed between his No. 75 SunEnergy1 GT Daytona entry and the P2-based prototypes made for an interesting adjustment period.
“It’s really different,” he added. “I watched a few videos from IndyCar and thought I knew where to go, but the first laps were completely different because you can’t see the bumps in videos. So this was a new experience. Normally I have traffic ahead, but this time, the traffic comes from the back, which was also a new experience for myself.
“I’m quite used to the car, I don’t need so much laps for that; but the Conti tires are quite different from what I use in Europe. Took me a few laps to get used to it. The team is very good, very professional, [and] helped me a lot.”
Starting ninth, Schneider posted the fastest race lap in the GT Daytona class on the way to claiming eighth at the checkered flag.
“We made small changes and improved but Kenny was really unlucky to be held up on his fastest lap in qualifying,” he said. “That meant we started ninth on a track where overtaking is hard. Otherwise, I think we had a really good chance at a top-five finish. The experience and the team effort were very good, but position eight was not what we were aiming for.”
With his ties to Mercedes and the popularity of the AMG model in IMSA’s GT Daytona and Continental Tire Series GT4 specification, Schneider could be back for more races this season. Twenty years on from his last American sports car racing exploits, there’s an IMSA race in Monterey in September that would make for a nice anniversary visit.
“The last race I did here was in [a FIA Mercedes CLK] GT1 in Laguna Seca in !”