MONTEREY, Calif. (14 September 2019) – The Stoner Car Care Racing fielded by Automatic Racing squad battled through adversity during a rough and tumble WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca 120 for the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge series Saturday, bringing both Aston Martin Vantage GT4s to the checkered flag in the top 15.
Rob Ecklin Jr. and Aston Martin Academy Driver Akhil Rabindra took the wheel of the No. 09 Stoner Car Care Aston Martin Vantage GT4 this weekend, while Gary Ferrera and Kris Wilson piloted the No. Invisible Glass Aston Martin.
The team continued the learning curve on its pair of new-for-2019 Aston Martins through a promoter’s test day session on Thursday and two practice sessions on Friday, working on the cars’ balance and grip which are critical on WeatherTech Raceway’s tricky 2.238-mile, 11-turn configuration.
The two-day event was not without its share of drama. At the end of Friday afternoon practice, the No. 09 Aston Martin experienced a coolant issue when the cooling fan shut off just before the checkered flag.
The team jumped into action and quickly determined that no damage had been done to the engine, though significant amounts of Stoner Car Care cleaner was required to return the Aston Martin’s engine compartment to pristine condition. Armed with an additional sensor on the coolant fan, Ecklin qualified the car he termed “perfectly balanced” in seventh position in the Grand Sport class, with Ferrera placing the No. 97 Invisible Glass Aston Martin on the eighth row of the starting grid.
At the drop of the green flag, Ecklin took the fight to the drivers ahead, setting lap times consistent with the leaders and working his way into fifth position. Ecklin held his position despite tire degradation late in his stint, handing the wheel to Rabindra 45 minutes into the two-hour race. Rabindra continued the fight, making smart passes and staying out on track late into the stint, working his way into second position. The team gambled on strategy, hoping for a late yellow, but in the end, needed a pair of quick late splashes of fuel, bringing the car home in 15th position.
“That was a really fun run,” said Ecklin. “I have to give it to the Automatic Racing team; they had that car ready to go despite the cooling issues we had yesterday. I was able to just race the car and go deep into my stint on the tires. We were able to run with the leaders in lap times. We’re frustrated not to finish in the top 10, or even the top five. We just didn’t get the break we needed with the yellow late in the race. The car is competitive and we’re so close, we’re just one race away from a very good finish.”
“Rob did an excellent job to start the race,” said Rabindra. “He got us up to P5 and was putting down some really competitive lap times, doing a great job with tires and fuel. We were in a very good position to score points and even podium. When I got in, we started fuel saving during the yellow and that’s when the temperature started to go up again. We tried to gamble on strategy, to try to make it to the end on fuel, but unfortunately, we didn’t win that. I’m not sure what happened with the fuel, whether it was an issue in the car or in the fueling rig. But the team did a great job, we’ll look forward to next time.”
The No. 97 Invisible Glass Aston Martin had an equally adventurous afternoon, with Ferrera starting 15th and Wilson jumping into the car 45 minutes into the race. Both ran afoul of the same car during their stints, the No. 82 BMW, with Ferrera putting a wheel off midway through his stint to avoid the BMW exiting Turn 11. Late in the race Wilson came up on the battle between the 82 and another car, with both braking late in the corner ahead of him. Wilson had nowhere to go, making contact with the BMW and damaging the front splitter. Despite the damage, Wilson brought the car home in 11th position.
“We got moving right from the start,” said Ferrera. “It was a group of cars battling hard from the outset. There were guys dive bombing, but I wanted to finish the race, so I tried to stay out of that. I ended up going off at (Turn) 11 because I didn’t want to turn in on the guy and get hit. Kris drove like crazy and ended up having contact with the guy that caused me so many problems, but it all worked out. It’s a lot of fun to race with these guys, we all work so hard.”
“Gary did an awesome job,” said Wilson, who also acts as Ferrera’s driver coach. “He battled his way up to 11th position until he had the problem with the 82 car. I’ve worked with him for three years and he is getting better and better, and he’s working so hard, doing his homework and improving his race craft. We went with two tires on our last stop to try and make up positions, but by the end of the race, there were too many cars around me that had even fresher tires. I was sliding around so much, I felt like a sitting duck. The Automatic Racing guys have done such a great job, though. We’re still learning the new car but we’re getting better every time out.”Next up for the Stoner Car Care Racing team will be the final event of the season at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, part of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Petit Le Mans weekend. The green flag will fly on the Fox Factory 120 Friday, October 11 at 1:25 p.m. Eastern live on IMSA.tv. NBCSN will broadcast a two-hour race recap the following Friday, October 18, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.