Watkins Glen, NY (29 June 2019) – Stoner Car Care Racing fielded by Automatic Racing saw its first race lead with the new-for-2019 Aston Martin Vantage GT4, putting the No. 97 Stoner Car Care/Invisible Glass entry at the front of the pack early in the Tioga Downs Casino Resort 240 at Watkins Glen International.
Unfortunately, the time out front of the pack was short-lived due to an overly ambitious competitor who over drove Turn 1 and forced the Aston Martin off track on a restart, the team took plenty of positives away from a day that showed the resilience and pace of the car, team, and drivers Rob Ecklin Jr., Brandon Kidd and Ramin Abdolvahabi, who brought the car home in 16th position.
Mother Nature threw just about every weather condition imaginable at the competitors in the four-hour endurance event, part of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen event weekend. The race was delayed due to lightning in the area, forcing organizers to shorten the popular fan grid walk and evacuate the grandstands. Racing got underway an hour late under warm and dry conditions, but a storm cell that moved through late in the race which wreaked havoc as teams attempted to predict the final hour’s weather conditions.
Ecklin started the race 15th in the Grand Sport class and with judicious passes and a late pit stop, put the Aston Martin Vantage GT4 into the top 10 in the first half hour. Two early caution periods made for varying fuel strategies on pit lane, and as the field prepared to take the green flag, Ecklin had placed the Aston Martin at the front of the pack.
But his anticipation was short-lived, as the third-place car made an overly optimistic move going into the first corner and slid into Ecklin. Both cars went off track, with Ecklin returning in 20th position and the offender called into pit lane for a drive-through penalty.
“It was great to get the first lead for this car,” said Ecklin. “I had a good restart, a good gap to P2, had a good entrance into Turn 1 – and out of nowhere, I got hit and had to watch all the cars go by. But it shows how tough the Aston Martin is. I got back on track, felt the car out and it felt fine, so the damage did not hurt the car. We knew the pace was there, the car handled well, and it was a lot of fun.”
Ecklin fought his way back through the field into 9th position when he handed over to Abdolvahabi with 2:20 remaining. For Abdolvahabi – and Kidd, who took the wheel with just under 90 minutes to go – the focus was on laying down qualifying-level laps, managing traffic and taking positions as they could. But with an hour remaining, the skies opened and drenched the racetrack, putting the entire field into survival mode. Due in for fuel, the team bet that the cell would move through quickly and went with rain tires.
“I usually get the rain, but it was Brandon’s turn today,” said Abdolvahabi. “It’s always difficult when it comes in like that, when the track is half wet and half dry. It’s a tough decision between rain tires and slicks. But at the end of a four-hour race, the car is in one piece and had a strong showing. This is the car’s first lead but to get taken out like that – well, it’s racing. We had good luck and bad luck today and it all evens out. But the car shows us what it can do more and more each race. The ingredients are there.”
Kidd, who grew up in nearby Syracuse and had over 40 family and friends at the track, has raced stock cars and short track in the Finger Lakes area, but today’s race marked only his second event at Watkins Glen. Battling at every corner, he was encouraged by the car’s performance.
“When I got in the car, we were half a lap behind because of a caution and the pass-arounds,” said Kidd. “We ran competitive lap times but unfortunately we were too far back. But once it started raining, things changed fast! It was pretty hairy in the rain on slick tires, with fairly dry lines for much of the lap but hard rain in the Boot. I saw several cars spin and one car put it in the tire barrier, so once we saw that, we knew we had to go to wet tires. That was the way to go for a few laps, but the track dried quickly, and we couldn’t stay with the field. But it’s more experience in the rain. The entire team did a great job, and it was great to see the car up front. It’s disappointing to get taken out like that, but it was a great run and it shows what this car can do.”
Stoner Car Care Racing will get the No. 97 Stoner Car Care/Invisible Glass entry cleaned and prepared for its next outing in July at Lime Rock Park.