Great showing from first time AMR racers at Daytona opener

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Yesterdays opening salvo into the 2020 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge proved itself to be yet another exciting four hours of inter-twined GT4 and TCR class racing around the banked and infield track of the Daytona International Speedway.

Having seen Aston Martin Racing international debut their then brand new V8 Vantage GT4 with the Florida based Automatic Racing team at last years event, 2020's event saw four such cars take to the track as well as featuring two brand new AMR Customer teams to boot.

Automatic Racing fielded two such cars this year with their #99 car of Kris Wilson and Gary Ferrera being supported by the return of Rob Ecklin Jnr, Brandon Kidd and Ramin Abdolvahabi aboard the #09 car but it was only immediately prior to the Roar Official test two weeks ago did we learn of two existing Michelin Pilot Challenge crews swapping over to the AMR platform in the form of Cameron Racing and more recently, Kohr Motorsport. That news brought the Michelin Pilot Challenge AMR headcount up to four cars

Limited track/testing time for these two new teams prior to race day yesterday obviously didn't have too much of an impact upon their individual performances as both were the more dominant Astons throughout the four hour BMW Endurance Challenge.

Having Qualified in P4 yesterday, the #60 Kohr Motorsport car of Nate Stacey made early inroads through those in front on the opening laps of the race, quickly moving up to P2 and taking the early fastest lap in the process holding that position until he was pressurised into outbraking himself going into the bus stop where he lost himself four places as a result of going wide.

For Stacey and his co driver Kyle Marcelli, there had only been enough time for a quick shakedown test and general familiarisation with their new car as having only received it at about the time of the Roar. As Marcelli explained, they have a rough idea of what it could do but not how to fine fettle it to be able to extract every last drop of performance out of it turbo charged V8 engine. Generally, these new AMR drivers were very please with their CSJ Motorsport supplied machinery.

During the opening phase of the race, the other three AMR's also made steady progress up the leader board from their starting positions before a stray tyre carcass laying just off track coming out of the bus stop compelled many GS runners to pit early - fearing a Full Course Caution that eventually never came.

For those AMR cars with just two drivers (that was all except for the #09 Automatic crew with three), that stop meant for a double stint for their amateur driver, a stint that was soon interrupted just after the first hour mark with the first actual Full Course Caution as an Audi GS car spun out and collected a TCR car as it returned to the track facing the wrong way. Miraculously, the spinning Audi had only just overtaken the Invisible Glass #99 Automatic car of Ferrera before his mishap was to unfold but luckily Ferrera was on the other side of the track.

Again being able to pit (under caution), that again put the teams strategists on the spot to work out how minimum driver times would work out and where that would leave them out on track but that, of course is the beauty of endurance GT racing!

Losing about fifteen minutes to that caution period another would soon follow just after the halfway point and that at least allowed those teams who had yet had a driver change to swap over from their starting drivers to get their Pro's aboard for the first time.

Greg Liefooghe was now in the #43 Cameron Racing car and he quickly became the driver moving up the timing screen the most as he closed down of Marcelli who was now aboard the #60 Kohr Motorsport car in P6 and it wasn't too long before the new stable mates were running in succession to one another. Kris Wilson, now aboard the #99 was also doing his 'special' in also slowly lifting his yellow and blue liveried car up the order board to P12 before his fuel tank ran dry and forced him to pit.

As the race clock hit the three hour mark all the lead group of GS cars had just one splash and dash stop to make before the end and with all bar Marcelli elected to stop with about 35 minutes remaining. He however decided to stay out and try and make up some ground on the now clear track in front as only the introduction of another Caution period would ruin that idea and the few laps where the #60 car actually lead the race overall must have felt good for all concerned.

With just twenty five minutes remaining, the top half of the leader board had now all pitted for the last time, that left a clear sprint to the flag with both the Kohr and Cameron car still in a position of opportunity in P6 and P7 behind the leading gaggle of Mercedes AMG GT4's.

That opportunity however quickly spiralled into nothing as the Ford Mustang of Scott Maxwell was to be involved in a very sizeable accident at it clipped the front of Brandon Kidd's #09 Autotmatic Racing car just as the cars entered the braking area for the bus stop. Turning the Ford sideways across the front of the Stoner Care Care AMR, the #19 car would violently career into the tyre/concrete wall on the infield spinning and flipping it over round onto its roof.

Going immediately to Full Course Caution as rescue crews raced to the scene with all eyes of concern into that of the welfare of the driver, there seemed little chance of the race resuming considering time needed to extract the driver from the wreckage and repairs to the tyre wall. Thankfully, it wasn't many minutes before Maxwell was seen standing with medics and rescue crews before being taken away to the circuits medical centre for assessment.

That was unfortunately that as far as the race itself was concerned as, with only two minutes remaining, the waved final lap flag was shown to the field with barrier repairs still to be completed.

That meant, that the #60 Kohr Motorsport car of Nate Stacey and Kyle Marcelli, they would complete near seamless lights to flag front run in their Aston Martin eventually finishing P5 overall at the first time of asking. They were followed by the #43 Cameron Racing car of Ari Balogh and Greg Liefooghe not too far behind in P7 - an incredible achievement for both teams considering their unfamiliarity with the car prior to the event.

The two Automatic crews would also both finish - not as high as they may have liked but considering the bumping and grinding of being in the midfield they all did a good job with no obvious significant performance issues to dial out for the next round at Sebring next month.

As for the Series in general - 2020 appears to be another 'corker' to watch over the season and maybe - just maybe an AMR will come out on top??

Photo credits - IMSA / Kohr / Cameron / Automatic / Lagunas Photo / CSJ Motorsport

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