Treble Aston Martin powered podium finishes at Watkins Glen in Michelin Pilot Challenge

Sunday, June 23, 2024


The midway point of the IMSA sanctioned Michelin Pilot Challenge Series surpassed even its own track record yesterday with both incident and accident leaving an ‘all bets off’ scenario even onto the final lap of this weekend’s two-hour affair.

Competing this time from the hot and sweaty Watkins Glen International Circuit, nine Aston Martin Racing Vantage GT4’s formed part of the twenty-five GS (GT4) strong line up alongside that of the fourteen TCR based entries.

With both the #46 Team TGM car of Paul Holton and Matt Plumb having claimed another front row start in Qualifying with the #19 Van Der Steur car of Rory Van Der Steur and Valentin Hasse-Clot close behind in fifth, even the warmup laps featured untimely accident that delayed the start after two TCR cars collided leaving one stranded in the middle of the track.

Misfortune would soon come the way of one Aston Martin Racing powered team as first the #09 Automatic Racing AMR of John Potter and Rob Ecklin ground to a halt on track forcing an early caution whilst not long later, their second AMR of Brandon Kidd and Tom Long also ground to a halt on track with their reoccurring electrical issues.

These and a race restart Drive Through Penalty for the #71 Rebel Rock AMR of Frank DePew and Robin Liddell as well as a puncture for the #19 VDS car just added the early drama.

Whilst these cars were suffering, the resulting caution periods allowed others to play with their fuel and tyre strategy as the forty minute minimum drive time requirement was still a long time away but with the GS class so equally balanced, that was the only way of turning any situation to your advantage on track.

One such early caller was the #46 Team TGM of then Paul Holton who, like the #19 VDS car of Rory Van Der Steur used these situations for early fuel top ups (and new tyres were required) whilst others would play out the more traditional long approach but again, even that came at a cost for some as the #88 Archangel AMR of Todd Coleman and Aaron Telitz would get pinged in pit lane for spinning wheels whilst on their air jack (a DTP for those guys).

Fifty minutes into the race and finally the track racing part of the equation was allowed to do its thing -or as until another incident with a TCR brought out the Safety Car again with just over an hour to go.

As the race went back to green, the #46 Team TGM was holding point at the front with the #19 VDS close behind as both cars looked to go long enough to make their fuel strategies work but with a charging BMW coming up fast. With the #46 blinking first, the #19 was able to run for another ten minutes before they were forced to pit as their team’s second #82 AMR of Brady Behrman and Scott Blind were also having something of a cracking race together within the Bronze Cup runners.

Final forty minutes and strangely, it was the #16 Skip Barber Racing School AMR of Ken Fukuda and Will Lambros holding the overall race lead by over twenty seconds on merit although they would need a final stop to make it to the end. They would make that stop with twenty minutes to go but would then undo all that good work by getting another DTP for repeated excursions across track limits.

That move by the #16 car and the similar pitting of the next two leading GS cars elevated the #46 car back into the race lead with the #19 holding seventh and the #88 car just behind. Whilst Matt Plumb held station out front, both the #19 and #88 cars slowly moved forward in the closing laps.

Securing another race win by over five seconds, the drama was not yet over as the #88 Archangel car managed to get past the #19 VDS car at the end to claim the final step of the podium (their second in succession after their race win last time out at Mid-Ohio) with the #19 car coming home in fourth.

These were also not the sole podium winning achievements of the day as the #82 VDS with Ruckus Racing AMR of Behrman and Blind powered home to finish P13 overall and P1 in Bronze Cup.

Another set of great results to complement another great Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Next stop is Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in four weeks’ time.

Photo credits – teams / series / social media
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