Staying out of trouble was key in a wild IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (6 August 2022) – Survival was the name of the game Saturday at Road America, as the Stoner Car Care Racing fielded by Automatic Racing team avoided the trouble that caused five caution periods to bring its Aston Martin Vantage GT4 home in second in the Bronze Cup and 14th overall in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge’s Road America 240.
With ambient temperatures near 90 and track temps over 100, drivers Rob Ecklin, Jr. and Ramin Abdolvahabi knew they had a challenge ahead in the No. 09 Invisible Glass Aston Martin Vantage GT4 – with their usual Stoner Car Care Aston Martin sidelined with a differential issue, the team recalled the iconic colors back into action on Friday afternoon.
With past IMPC races as a benchmark, the team knew a four-hour race at the vaunted Wisconsin road course would hold nonstop action – and more than a few incidents. The game plan as always was to play it smart, making judicious passes and taking advantage where they could as they sought their first Bronze Cup victory (for Bronze FIA-rated drivers).
The action commenced from the drop of the green, as 39 cars diced for position. Abdolvahabi, starting 23rd, got the worst of it on lap one – hit from behind and from the side in turn three. Assessing the damage, he and the team determined that the car was not badly damaged, so Abdolvahabi continued. The first caution came only 20 minutes into the race, and the team made a strategy call to save time, calling Abdolvahabi into pit lane for left-side Michelin tires and fuel.
"On that first lap, one car shut the door on me and we made contact, which sent me into another car," said Abdolvahabi. "Then he hit me from behind. I'm just glad I was able to keep it on the road and keep it going, we're lucky we didn't get spun around. But that's the sort of thing that happens in such close racing! The car just wasn't the same after that - the steering was fine, but the toe seemed a bit off. We just didn't have the pace."
The race went green, yellow, green, yellow in rapid succession over the next hour, but Abdolvahabi made smart moves and took advantage of a round of late pit stops to move up to P14. He held steady throughout the final minutes of his stint, handing off to Ecklin with just over two hours remaining.
But shortly thereafter, it was Ecklin’s turn to get tagged from behind in what was rapidly becoming a game of bumper cars. He fought the ill-handling car but still laid down steady laps, climbing from P22 up to P16 with 40 minutes remaining. When the checkered flag flew, Ecklin was second in the Bronze Cup standings and P14 overall.
"Staying out of trouble was key today - those were some hard hits out there today,” said Ecklin. “I couldn't feel anything technically wrong with the car, but it was just off pace. I couldn't gain time anywhere. So it was a matter of managing fuel and keeping the car on track. This is a very physical track to race on for four hours, so while we're disappointed not to get the Bronze Cup win, we're happy to have brought the car home."
"Rob and I really wanted P1 in Bronze Cup," said Abdolvahabi. "The strategy was spot-on, but all those hits just took us out of contention."
“Finishing on the lead lap after four hours, with a wounded car from lap one on, with some good strategy along the way, I’m pretty happy with that,” said Automatic Racing team manager David Russell. “Driver changes were good, crew work was excellent, and we survived it with a whole car – and in this race, that’s a positive outcome.”
The Stoner Car Care team continues to support End Alzheimer’s Racing, carrying decals on the car to help their efforts to raise funds and awareness.
Next up for the Stoner Car Care team will be the VIRginia is for Racing Lovers Grand Prix from VIRginia International Raceway. The race will be live streamed in the U.S. on Peacock TV, while international viewers can watch via IMSA.tv. IMSA Radio will also be available at IMSA.com. A race replay will air on USA Network Sunday, September 4 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern.
About End Alzheimer’s Racing
End Alzheimer’s Racing began in 2019, as father and son duo Bill and Alex Slupski – both experienced kart racers who also work in sports car racing – chose racing as the “vehicle” for their program to promote awareness and raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Association. Through End Alzheimer’s Racing, they want to be an integral part of the support network for families dealing with Alzheimer’s and other dementias and be part of the cure that ends Alzheimer’s disease.