AMR entries leave CTSC opener bruised and empty handed

Monday, January 30, 2017

Last weekend's opening round of the 2017 Continental Tyre Sports Car Challenge at the Daytona Motor Speedway left the three Aston Martin Racing V8 Vantage GT4 entries ruing what might have been after a dramatic opening four hour encounter.

With long term series entrants Automatic Racing and TRG-AMR entering three cars between them, a thirty eight car - two category field around the infamous banked circuit was always going to add for good racing and this was no different.

Sunoco Challenge winner Max Bladon took his seat in the #09 Automatic Racing car having tried a GT4 platform for the first time at the Roar and was left (on Saturday) to qualify the yellow and blue in P15 whilst the sister #99 car qualified up in P7. The single TRG-AMR entry of Craig Lyons and Chris Wilson started slightly further back in P17.

After a two lap warm up the race itself started under caution as one of the brand new McLaren's had stopped on track on their out lap but at least that FCY was short lived allowing the cars to get down to racing.

Al Carter in the #99 quickly set about chasing down the pole setting new Ford Mustang's ahead whilst  Bladon and Lyons both held their station throughout the first half hour in the ultra competitive midfield.

The first #TeamAMR casualty was unfortunately the #3 TRG-AMR after just 40 minutes of racing when Lyons entered the bus stop slightly too fast and spun around and back out onto the banking before being immediately collected by the following #4 Porsche Cayman ending both cars race with substantial damage all round. The subsequent FCY at least allowed both the #99 and #09 Automatic Racing cars to pit and double stint their existing drivers to hold P4 and P13 respectively.

With this round being an extended four hour encounter, strategy from the teams with their two or three driver line up would be crucial as each driver would require a 45 minute minimum drive time on top of the fuel and tyre considerations.

Further cautions of track would allow Carter and Bladon to continue until just after the ninety minute mark before they eventually handed their cars over.

The #99 car now had Rob Ecklin behind the wheel but one of his first introductions into the race was being tapped into a harmless but race damaging spin at the Western Horseshoe - that would drop them down to P6 whilst Ramin Abdolvahabi (now in the #09) had dropped back from P9 to P12 before a spin for him going in too hot at T2 would loose them more time as well.

The final driver changes were made with an hour remaining - Charles Espenlaub was now in the #99 car and soon battling for a top three position as he and three other cars bore down on an unsuspecting Chris Beaufait coming off the banking into turn 1!!

However, just two laps later their chance of a podium would effectively end as the #77 McLaren dropped fluid all around the circuit between turns 2 and 6 sending both Automatic Racing cars this way and that as they (and many others) spun off the circuit at speed. Worse was to befall Espenlaub as having already dropped to P8 with that spin he also had to pit again to take on fresh rubber.

The length of clean up to that incident left just 30 minutes of racing - enough time at least for Espenlaub to try and recover the situation in the hope of bolstering their championship point position going into the next round. Come the chequered flag the #99 would finish a disappointing (for them) P7 and the #09 P11.

Daytona's display showed that the newer Ford's, Porsche's and McLarens were susceptible to 'new car' problems in longevity and reliability whilst the Vanatge GT4 is a proven platform - good things can be expected from this team through out the 2017 CTSC season.

The CTSC series now moves to Sebring in mid March for a 'more traditional' two hour race.

Photo credits - TRG-AMR / Sunoco / Automatic Racing

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