A year ago, Winward Racing was competing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, sharing the track as the main support race for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
The No. 4 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT4 finished fourth in the final 2020 points, finishing third in the season-opener at Daytona and the weekend opener at Mid-Ohio with Russell Ward and Indy Dontje.
Sunday, the team celebrated its first race in the WeatherTech Championship with another Daytona podium – placing atop the box in the GT Daytona class. Philip Ellis and Maro Engel joined Ward and Dontje in the winning No. 57 Techemet/First Horizon Bank/Mobil 1 Mercedes-AMG GT3.
“We didn’t come here with a lot expectations,” Ward said. “It was a learning experience, stepping up from GT4 to GT3. Me and the crew have been preparing a long time for this – about a full year. All the time off from April until we started back up we were preparing for this. It really showed off. At the end of the day, our team wanted it more than anybody else. The car was good, but there were faster cars out there, and we just drove the wheels off the thing.”
Dontjie put the car into the lead shortly after the four-hour mark, when he passed the No. 14 Lexus of Kyle Kirkwood.
“Everything was spot on – from all the driver changes, tire changes to refueling,” said Dontje. “Everybody did his part, and this is the result of that.”
Some of the best racing of the day was between the Winward Mercedes and the No. 21 AF Corse Ferrari 488. After nose-to-tail racing for several hours, the Ferrari nosed into the tires after the two cars raced side-by-side with light contact in Turn 1. The Mercedes led all but five laps over the final four hours.
“We had been battling the No. 21 car for a full 16 hours – it seemed like we’d been going at it the entire race,” Ellis said. “It was always very hard racing, fair racing, that’s the way we like it. You want to see it, and the spectators want to see it as well. You don’t want to see battles end this way. Unfortunately it did this time, but thankfully it do enough damage to knock us out.”