ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (3 August 2019) – The Michelin Pilot Challenge Road America 120-turned-75 was a tale of what might have been for Stoner Car Care Racing fielded by Automatic Racing, as the team put the Aston Martin Vantage GT4 into the race lead, only to see torrential rains late in the race ruin its chances at victory.
The two-car team – the No. 97 Invisible Glass Aston Martin and the No. 09 Stoner Car Care Aston Martin – qualified well during the Saturday morning session, with the No. 09 starting third with drivers Akhil Rabindra and Kris Wilson, and the No. 97 piloted by Ramin Abdolvahabi and Rob Ecklin Jr.
The race was delayed for 60 minutes due to lightning in the area, which was followed by a downpour and even a brief hailstorm that halted all activity at the legendary road course. When activity resumed, series organizers shortened the race from its original 120 minutes to 75, with the green flag falling shortly after 5:00pm local time.
Rabindra, an Aston Martin Academy driver, took the wheel of the No. 09 machine at the start, on a wet but rapidly drying racetrack. The 23-year-old from Bangalore, India, began his charge toward the front from the drop of the green flag, making the pass for second on Lap 3. Rabindra and the No. 2 Audi in front distanced themselves from the rest of the field by several seconds a lap, with Rabindra coming alongside and taking a look at the lead several times.
Finally, on Lap 11, knowing his stint was coming to an end, Rabindra dove inside the Audi in Turn 1 and put the Aston Martin into a race lead before he headed to pit lane for a change to Wilson.
“I had a good start sitting behind the Audi,” said Rabindra. “I believe he was on slick tires so when we reached the first corner, I was right behind him and could tell he either had engine problems or was on the wrong tires. That made it easier to pass him. Learning the lines around this track was what I was focusing on and making sure I was being patient during my stint. This is the first time I have raced on this track in the wet, but I was quite determined to put the Aston into the lead.”
Meanwhile, Abdolvahabi began moving the No. 97 Aston Martin forward as the track started to dry. The team made the call to stay out long enough to make it a one-stop race, which meant Abdolvahabi had to nurse the tires for the final couple of laps, dropping him to 13th when he came in on Lap 14 and handed the car to Ecklin.
“Once you get used to the lines in the rain, you can do much faster times,” said Abdolvahabi. “The track dried pretty fast and these tires don’t handle the dry conditions well. We had to stay out for another couple of laps to hit our strategy, and it was two laps too many and the times dropped. The weather didn’t cooperate much after that! I think we had a top 10 car if it had been dry, but that’s racing.”
Wilson picked up where Rabindra left off, moving the No. 09 Aston back toward the front from 9th when he took the wheel on Lap 14 back up to third by Lap 19. But that’s when Mother Nature ceased to cooperate.
The team had made the decision to put on slick Michelin tires, given the drying track, but rains moved back into the area with 35 minutes remaining. As another car on rain tires made a pass in the Carousel, the Aston Martin slid up and into the other car, bending the toe link and affecting the steering. Into the Kink, Wilson was a passenger as the car turned hard right, into the wall, damaging the right side of the car and putting it out of the race.
“Akhil was really battling for the lead, which was a ball to watch from the pits,” said Wilson. “He did such a great job, for never having been here before and jumping straight into the race in the rain. He did an awesome job. I think we made the right call to come into the pits and go to slick tires – there was no way to know what the weather was going to do. When the rains came, the whole plan went awry. It was a good weekend, we came through some hard times, but we’ll look forward and go on to the next race.”
“Kris did a great job but was unlucky with being on the wrong tires at the wrong time,” said Rabindra. “It does not matter how talented someone is when it is pouring rain and you are on slick tires - it comes down to luck. Things could have been a lot worse and I am glad that he (Kris) was not injured and the car wasn't too damaged in the incident. But I took a lot away from this weekend. The car has pace and the Automatic Racing guys are on top of it. It is a bit sad to be leaving this weekend without a podium when we showed so much promise, but we will be back stronger."
Ecklin found himself in a similar situation as the rain came – on slick tires with the track rapidly becoming undrivable. The team made the decision to come into pit lane for wet tires late in the race, putting the No. 97 Aston Martin into 18th position.
"The car improved all weekend and we started the race in a good position,” said Ecklin. “When the race started there was a debate going on if it would end up raining or not. For my stint, we made the decision to put slicks on the car so when the skies opened again, I had a few moments where it could have gone bad. We finished the day P18 and while it does not sound like much, we brought the car home in one piece. That makes it a good weekend given the weather and track circumstances. We will pick it up and move on to the next race."
NBCSN will broadcast the Road America 120 on Monday, August 12 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern.
About Invisible Glass
Automatic Racing sees their way to victory with Invisible Glass, the top-selling automotive glass cleaner in the United States. The Invisible Glass product line includes aerosol and spray bottle cleaner, Invisible Glass with rain repellent for windshields and wiper blades. Find more online at https://www.invisibleglass.com/
About Stoner Car Care
Stoner Car Care produces high-performance car washes, waxes, polishes, and dressings for auto enthusiasts and car care professionals. The Stoner Car Care line-up includes Invisible Glass, America's #1 Automotive Glass Cleaner, along with many other appearance products. Whether driving, washing or waxing, Performance Matters! Stoner car care proudly formulates all of our product since 1942
About Automatic Racing
Based in Orlando, Automatic Racing is one of the longest-running teams in the paddock, forming in 2001 and competing in all but one of the 11 MICHELIN Pilot Challenge races at Daytona. The team has been developing, preparing and racing the prestigious Aston Martin Vantage GT4 since 2012. Automatic Racing won the 2017 MICHELIN Pilot Challenge title.