Simple errors cost Automatic Racing a sure podium at Petit Le Mans finale

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Yesterdays final round of the IMSA sanctioned Michelin Pilot Challenge had all the hallmarks of something good for both Automatic Racing and their CSJ Motorsport partners but some poor choices  off track changed those possibilities.

Indian driver Akhil Rabindra had been again quick in their new Aston Martin Racing Vantage GT4 since joining the team at Road America back in early August and Fridays pole position for the #09 was their best Qualifying performance yet.

Running the usual two hour race format, Rabindra ran a domineering open stint (up until the first safety car intervention) leading the field by nearly three seconds by lap six. That lead was of course cancelled out by the caution but even on the restart, Rabindra was comfortably able to see off the Ford Mustang advances of Seb Priaulx.

Two more periods of full course yellow followed after that before a more significant off for a TCR car on the pit straight lead to an extended period of caution that took the cars beyond the first hour of racing. Whilst many teams used the caution to pit and fully service their cars the #09 was left out, maintaining track position behind the Safety Car.

Just after the hour mark the race went back to green but still Rabindra was kept out on track - we had seen in previous races that the team struggled with multiple pit stops for their small crew but this time it was evident that they had managed to stagger them to avoid cars queuing so pits lane space wasn't an issue.

The real issue for the team came with just 42 minutes left on the clock when another FCY was called, sealing off the pits for the start and leaving the #09 stranded on track but needing to pit. By the time that the stranded car had been removed from track only 37 minutes of the race remained yet co-driver Tom Long needed to serve a minimum of 40 minutes! Even when Rabindra did eventually pit (in the lead of a gaggle of cars going into pit lane) something else still went wrong with the stop that meant Long would leave last in that gaggle of cars and way down in the field of cars.

Not letting a poor stop distract him, Long drove some monumental opening laps to soon recover his track position to P5 with still 24 minutes remaining. That progress continued to where Long found himself just 3.2 seconds behind the leading Mustang with just five minutes remaining.

At the chequered flag the #15 Mustang would take the win only by a noticeably smaller margin from the #09 Aston Martin but the damage had already been done with the cars minimum driver time already under investigation by Race Control. Sure enough, that error by the team had been confirmed and the #09 car placed at the tail of the finishing field despite taking the chequered flag.

That must be a real disappointment for all concerned with the team, especially after securing their first pole position with the new era of turbo charged AMR's and obviously a very quick duo of drivers within the car who could have very easily secured both the team's second and that car's first podium of the year!

This meeting also marked the end of the end of racing for the team's remaining normally aspirated AMR Vantage GT4 as Automatic look to move over to a full fleet of turbo charged cars ready next season. Racing again in its gorgeous blue livery, the #99 car of Ben Waddell even lead the race going into the closing stages of the race having pitted under an early FCY but eventually had to pit for a splash - eventually finishing P17 in class.

What the last four rounds of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge have shown is that the new AMR Vantage is a serious race contender within the technical parameters of that IMSA series and is also a very comfortable car to driver. With CSJ Motorsport already conducting a number of private tests for prospective customers in-between rounds, we can hope that there might be a few more AMR's running in this series in 2020?

Photo credits - IMSA / Stoner / Automatic / CSJ 

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