Podium success for Aston Martin Racing crews at IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge opener

Saturday, January 28, 2023


It was to a be a podium winning return in class at least for some of the eight Aston Martin Racing Vantage GT4’s that took part in last night’s opening round of the 2023 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge Series from Daytona.

With most having attended last weekend’s Roar before the 24 Official Test, track data was good although in Qualifying, all were out gunned again by both the Porsche 718 GT4 and the new Ford Mustang for the new AMR convertee team, Van Der Steur Racing to claim the lead Aston starting position in sixth ahead of yesterday’s four-hour opener.

Issues were however at hand even before the green flag was waved as TR3 driver Paul Kiebler was unexpectedly called away from the circuit leaving IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship AMR Vantage driver John Potter of Magnus Racing the opportunity of some unexpected Daytona track time within a platform he had never driven before and the #09 Stoner Car Care Aston of Ramin Abdolvahabi and Rob Ecklin had needed an overnight engine change after Qualifying.

Under fine Florida sunshine, the opening race featuring a whopping forty-six cars finally got underway to some unexpectedly but very welcome clean opening laps with only slight adjustments in the starting running order taking place over the first half dozen laps or so.

Drama for the #64 Team TGM Aston of team boss Ted Giovanis was however soon at hand just ten minutes into the race as he spun between turns one and two but at least managed to avoid both the wall and chasing TCR pack leaders, albeit at a cost of dropping him to the rear of the GS field. That gap on track was however recoverable once the first FCY was called five minutes later for a stranded TCR car.

Back to green after an eight-minute period of caution of course led straight to another as the Rebel Rock Camaro this time found the wall between turns one and two with this caution this time allowing the pit lane to be opened for those who wanted service. The #29 TR3 car of Jon Branam as well as the #64 Team TGM car elected to stay out as the remainder of the GS field pitted for a mixture of fuel only and/or tyres leaving both the #29 and #64 cars on an entirely new fuel strategy.

By the time the race went back to green, forty minutes had already elapsed on the race clock and that allowed Giovanis to pit his #64 car as he had served his driver minimum time of forty minutes and allowed faster driver, Owen Trinkler aboard with still some three and quarter hours to go.

At the first hour mark, Branam pitted from P7 overall/P1 within their Bronze Cup sub-class to allow Potter his first racing mileage aboard a similarly functioning but less powerful and aero dependant Aston Martin at the rear of the pack.

The #19 Van Der Steur car of Wyatt Brichacek was still within the top ten having started his second stint aboard the blue and white car but Hugh Plumb in the #46 Team TGM car had already passed him for position to assume the lead AMR role within the race in sixth whilst Todd Coleman in his first AMR IMSA race had moved his #88 car up from P18 to P11 and both Automatic Racing prepared #9 and #09 cars had also moved forward to be just outside of the top ten although a pit lane violation for Ecklin in the #09 would drop them back from that just before the halfway mark of the race.

Two more quick succession FCY’s were then called as first the second placed Porsche had contact with the wall on the banking before two TCR cars came together in a heavy way whilst under braking into the Le Mans chicane. Further strife for Ecklin as he tried to serve his drive through only to find the pit lane officially closed meaning that he would have to do that all over again once the race went back to green – and also once he had served his new penalty for speeding within the pit lane too!!

Into the second half of the race and Hugh Plumb was having a great battle up front for fifth with the gaggle of Fords and Porsches around him, with ‘elbow’ being extended wide by all in various attempts to pass whilst Brett Sandberg had a close call within his #9 No Limits AMR as a TCR car ahead almost stopped in front of him having hit a new hole behind the kerb at the LM Chicane caused by cars continually cutting the corner.

After great opening stints from both Moisey Uretsky and Justin Piscitell aboard the #44 Baby Bull Racing AMR within the top ten allowed third driver Michael Cooper to climb aboard the colourfully liveried Vantage GT4 to take them to the end with just over ninety minutes remaining but he and Austin McCusker (now aboard the #19 Van Der Steur) and Tom Long (now aboard the #9 Automatic car) would still need another stop to make it to the end.

Both TGM cars momentarily ran line astern in second and third before Trinkler was forced to pit for service and Cooper assumed the lead AMR role within the race in eight as the race entered its final hour.

Plenty more ducking and diving went on as the minutes and laps ticked away as fuel and tyre strategy came massively into play. Another FCY for another Porsche into the safer wall around the banking momentarily slowed the race again and another long clean-up process and wave around left us with just over thirty minutes on the clock.

Long was the best of the Aston drivers at that restart, pushing his colourful AMR up to sixth making it Astons in 4th,5th, 6th and 10th as a further Porsche stopped on track, lifting all of them up another position on track.

With fifteen minutes to go, the gamble for the #64 TGM car had sadly not worked out as Trinkler was forced to pit for fuel, taking them out of what would have been an incredible recovery drive after their earlier spin and with the sun finally disappearing behind the main grandstand, the race entered its final laps but not even a late stopping BMW would be allowed to affect the inevitable results of the race.

As the chequered flag dropped, the #9 No Limits Automatic Racing car of Jim Jonsin, Brett Sandberg and Tom Long finished their first IMSA race together just off the podium in P5 with the #46 TGM, #44 Baby Bull, #88 Archangel and #19 Van Der Steur Astons finishing together in P9, P10, P11 and P12 respectively.

The #29 TR3 car of Branam and Potter would claim P14 overall but more importantly P1 within the Bronze Cup at their first impromptu attempt with the #09 Stoner car and the #64 TGM car rounding off the results for Aston Martin Racing in P17 and P19 but with Ecklin and Abdolvahabi also securing a podium P3 position in the Bronze Cup.

A great start, and for those who enter either the next round or the series as a full season entrant – we can look forward to all of that again as the series visits Sebring in just a few weeks’ time.

Photo credits – Teams / social media / D Gibson / B Chapman / H Pitman / J Price

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