Intermittent power issues and an untimely yellow sidetrack the day in the Michelin Pilot Challenge
WATKINS GLEN, NY (25 June 2022) – It was a case of this close for the Stoner Car Care Racing fielded by Automatic Racing team Saturday in the two-hour Tioga Downs Casino Resort 120 at Watkins Glen International but in the end, luck was not on the team’s side.
Drivers Rob Ecklin, Jr. and Ramin Abdolvahabi drove a stellar race behind the wheel of the No. 09 Stoner Car Care Aston Martin Vantage GT4 in extremely hot conditions (85 degrees ambient temp and 127 track temp), with Abdolvahabi pacing in fifth position mid-race. But the team could not overcome the disadvantage that came with some unfortunate timing for a full course caution paired with an intermittent power issue.
Through one-hour practice sessions on Thursday and Friday, the team worked on finding the perfect balance between speed and downforce, though Thursday afternoon’s practice was cut short due to the first indication of a possible sensor issue that kept the Aston Martin down on power. Abdolvahabi took the wheel for qualifying, setting consistent lap times and placing the No. 09 25th in the race starting order with the team confident that the issue had been resolved.
In the typically chaotic start for the Michelin Pilot Challenge series, Abdolvahabi had his right-side mirror pushed in, but thankfully not dislodged. From that drop of the green, he set his focus forward, laying down consistent and competitive laps. Up to P20 by lap nine, the team made the call to bring him in for fuel and left side tires (and to fix the mirror), planning to take his stint right to the drive-time mark required for Ecklin (40 minutes minimum). With any luck, they would be able to go to the finish from the driver change.
Abdolvahabi continued his charge as teams utilized a range of pit sequences, as the Stoner Car Care-liveried Aston Martin moved up to race in fifth position with the effort looking poised for a strong result. But just after calling for Abdolvahabi to take to pit lane, a full course caution for debris on track was called and the pits were closed.
Fortunately, the pits opened in time for Ecklin to jump on board and race to the finish while still meeting his drive time requirements. Unfortunately, the range of pit strategies saw Ecklin deep in the pack for the restart.
“We just had such bad luck,” said Abdolvahabi. “We were doing so well and all we needed was 15 or 20 seconds (to get into pit lane). We were in the window coming in and everyone else had already pitted. We would have been ahead of the field by a quarter of a lap, but then the yellow dropped the pits closed. We had a good strategy, it's just unfortunate that it happened like that. The car was great and very comfortable to begin with and both Rob and I drove really well. The track was so hot and you could see that the lap times were off by two seconds.”
Ecklin took the wheel with 41 minutes remaining, at a track he knows better than any other. This is a home race for Ecklin, who grew up in nearby Corning, the son of a Corning Glass executive, so plenty of family and friends were in attendance. But unfortunately, the power issue that had affected the team’s practice session came back mid-race, making forward progress difficult. He took the checkered flag in P20 – disappointing, given the progress the team had made.
“I didn’t see any of my friends or family through the weekend, but it was nice to have people here!” said Ecklin. “It’s always good to come back, I love driving here. The car was set up well, very well balanced, but I had several power issues. It would go to power in one turn and have it be flat, then have it come back in the next corner and I was off. That happened several times in the middle of the stint, but it came back near the end. I think we got everything we could out of the car so we feel good about that.”
“Sometimes you have drives that are really strong but you don't get the result that you maybe deserved, and sometimes you have drives that aren't as strong and you get lucky,” said Automatic Racing team manager David Russell. “Today we had a really strong run, Ramin moved up right at the start and I loved the aggression there. Rob carried the torch at the end there and just kept moving up and moving up. There are a lot of pluses on the weekend: I think strategy-wise we did a really great job, so overall I think it was a really strong effort for the team. I think we need to do a little bit more testing to help understand a few technical things about the car that weren't quite right, which probably cost us that position in the end. We'll take what we got and move on.”
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 Road America 240 on Saturday, August 7. 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 Saturday, August 13 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern.
About Stoner Car Care
Stoner Car Care produces high-performance car washes, waxes, polishes, and dressings for auto enthusiasts and car care professionals. The Stoner Car Care line-up includes Invisible Glass, America's #1 Automotive Glass Cleaner, along with many other appearance products. Whether driving, washing or waxing, Performance Matters! Stoner car care proudly formulates all of our product since 1942. www.stonercarcare.com
About Invisible Glass
Automatic Racing sees their way to victory with Invisible Glass, the top-selling automotive glass cleaner in the United States. The Invisible Glass product line includes aerosol and spray bottle cleaner, Invisible Glass with rain repellent for windshields and wiper blades. Find more online at https://www.invisibleglass.
About Automatic Racing
Based in Orlando, Automatic Racing is one of the longest-running teams in the paddock, forming in 2001 and competing in all but one of the 11 MICHELIN Pilot Challenge races at Daytona. The team has been developing, preparing and racing the prestigious Aston Martin Vantage GT4 since 2012. Automatic Racing won the 2017 MICHELIN Pilot Challenge title.
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.