Stoner Car Care Aston Martin more than happy with their Sebring result

Friday, March 18, 2022

On a typically wild day for the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge at Sebring International Raceway, the Stoner Car Care Racing fielded by Automatic Racing team dodged a multitude of incidents to bring the No. 09 Stoner Car Care Aston Martin Vantage GT4 home in second position in the Bronze Cup, 18th overall in Thursday’s Alan Jay Automotive Network 120.

2022 marks the first year of Bronze Cup competition in the Grand Sport (GS) class, awarding points to the FIA Bronze-rated drivers. Both team drivers must be Bronze rated for the team to be eligible, a ranking that both Stoner Car Care drivers fulfill.

Drivers Rob Ecklin, Jr. (Lancaster, Pa.) and Ramin Abdolvahabi (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.) combined to pilot the Aston Martin through numerous hazards, while taking advantage of four yellow flags to maintain a one-stop race strategy. But in the end, a late yellow meant that the Bronze Cup leader was able to make it to the end on fuel, snatching victory from the Stoner Car Care team. 

Due to the “Super Sebring” schedule that saw both the FIA World Endurance Championship and the Weather Tech SportsCar Championship competing in endurance events, the Michelin Pilot Challenge field conducted its race “weekend” on Wednesday and Thursday. Abdolvahabi had qualified the No. 09 in 18th position on Wednesday and took the green flag Thursday afternoon in warm and humid conditions.

Abdolvahabi had barely settled in when the first yellow flag flew – unfortunately, for the Automatic Racing sister car, the No. 27 Aston Martin. On the restart, Abdolvahabi took the measure of the Bronze cup leader and took the lead on lap seven. As cars began to cycle through pits cycles 45 minutes into the race, he continued to climb through the field, taking seventh position.

But as the yellows began to multiply, the team embarked on an inventive strategy: conserve fuel and make it to the end on only one stop. A cause for concern regarding that strategy came with just under an hour remaining, when two cars came together close enough to the previous yellow that IMSA officials did not open pit lane. 

With extensive wall repair necessitated by the incident, and with the team perilously close on fuel – and on drive time, as each driver is required to drive a minimum of 40 minutes – crew members breathed a collective sigh of relief as IMSA opened pit lane. Abdolvahabi came in with 48 minutes remaining for four tires and fuel and the change to Ecklin. But with the field bunched up, the Aston Martin came back out in 20th position.

With the Bronze Cup leader running P11, Ecklin had his work cut out. He kept his head down and focused forward, hoping to run green the rest of the way in case the Bronze Cup leader ran out of fuel. But it was not to be, as a late yellow ruined the strategy.

Both drivers however, came away from the race with plenty of positives on the day.

“That was a crazy day,” said Ecklin. “It was a wild stint. There were cars everywhere, spinning, facing you, connecting, knocking each other off. We dodge some serious bullets, congrats to Ramin as well. I’m happy I was able to pick my positions, keep the car clean and bring it home after a very competitive race. The car was so consistent, it really could have kept going.”

“We didn’t get that many green laps,” said Abdolvahabi. “I was able to pass the Bronze Cup leader early but there were so many long yellows, though that initially played into our hands. We were in good position there near the end, but the racing gods didn’t cooperate with that late yellow. The car was there, the strategy was there, but we needed a bit of luck. But it was a good race for me – at least it was fun when it was green! It was good points for the Bronze Cup, and there are plenty of races remaining.”

Source material – Stoner Car Care

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