ORLANDO, Fla. (14 July 2020) – The Stoner Car Care Racing team fielded by Automatic Racing heads to its second home state race of the season this week, bringing a two-car team of Aston Martin Vantage GT4s to the Advent Health 120, part of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Cadillac Grand Prix of Sebring (TrackPass, 2:30pm ET).
More than five months have passed since the 2020 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge (IMPC) season opener, and much has changed in the world since that January race at Daytona. The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on every aspect of daily life, including the IMSA sports car calendar. IMSA has enacted rigorous protocols to protect teams, drivers, staff and fans – and all anticipate the IMPC series return to racing this weekend.
The Automatic Racing team resumes racing action with its Daytona lineup intact: Rob Ecklin Jr. (Lancaster, Pa.) and Ramin Abdolvahabi (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.) in the No. 09 Stoner Car Care Aston Martin, and Gary Ferrera (Houston, Texas) and Kris Wilson (Golden, Colo.) in the sister No. 99 Invisible Glass entry. While each of the four drivers awaits the weekend with heightened anticipation, the trip to Sebring is extremely personal for Ferrera.
“This will be my first ever race at Sebring, but it has an emotional attachment for me,” said Ferrera. “My dad was stationed there for a little while during WWII, for Army Air Corps bomber training. He passed away shortly after I did my first Skip Barber Advanced course – I remember telling him I was going to Sebring and he only knew it as an air base! I always think of my dad when I’m there, looking at all the cracks in the old runways and thinking of him being there during the war and going up with the bombers.”
For the drivers, the chance to be back at the racetrack with the tight-knit team is first and foremost – though no one is quite sure what to expect when the green flag falls on Friday.
“I did a race in June at Daytona and it was a blast, so I’m very much looking forward to being back with the team at Sebring and picking up where we left off in January,” said Ecklin. “And of course, I’m looking forward to getting back behind the wheel, I love the mental clarity involved with driving. You’re so focused, between man and machine and the team and the people, I love that whole package. I love being on track, in the car, and that’s what I’m looking forward to the most.”
“I am extremely excited to get back behind the wheel,” said Ferrera. “It’s been too long! I miss the team, I miss the guys, I miss everything about it. I’ve missed the teamwork. I’ve been in the car for one practice day since January, but it’s not the same – though Kris (Wilson) and I have talked or texted just about every other day.”
Sebring, with its 3.74-miles of asphalt and WWII-era concrete runway, offers a vastly different challenge to the teams and drivers than the combination road course/oval at Daytona, but Ecklin expect one thing to be similar to the January race: the other drivers in the IMPC field will be anxious to get back on track and that could translate to more than a little paint exchanged through the two-hour event.
“We really don’t know what to expect,” said Ecklin. “It’s a very full field so trying to keep the car clean will be key: from driver error, first and foremost, but you’ll also have to work your way through traffic without collecting someone else, or someone else collecting you. That’s the only way to have a shot at the front. But I know the team is ready to earn that first top-10 finish with the new Aston Martin – we got close last year, so we have to crack it. That’s the main goal this weekend.”
For the Automatic Racing team and team manager David Russell, the past five months have been a moving target of expectations and effort. The team has tested, raced in a WRL event at Daytona, and spent hours of prep time on the two Aston Martin Vantage GT4s in anticipation of the return to racing.
“We never missed a beat at the shop,” said Russell. “Everyone had the option to take time off, but almost every one of the guys wanted to stay and keep working on the cars, to keep things as normal as possible. That gave us quality time in the shop to assess and continue the learning process on the car. So much has gone into just getting to the track and rolling out.
“I’m looking forward to seeing all my teammates, it’s been a long time,” Russell continued. “We’ve tested quite a bit at Sebring and have learned so much over the past five months and have updated several systems on the car. We’re looking forward to having those lessons come to fruition. We’ve worked on a good setup and have made performance and reliability gains so we’re anxious to see where we end up at the end of the day.”
While the pandemic has created a new dynamic all around the world, Automatic is looking forward to continuing to move forward with some familiar faces starting this weekend.
“I’m impressed to see where our driver lineup has gone as well,” said Russell. “Rob has been with us for 10 years and continues to get better and better and has gained a great deal of confidence in his abilities and in the car. Both he and Ramin have come a long way. Gary and Kris have a great relationship and it shows in how they get on during the course of a race weekend. We’re looking forward to a good weekend.”
The Advent Health 120 takes the green flag Friday at 2:30 p.m. Eastern. The race will be broadcast live in the U.S. on NBC Sports Gold’s TRACKPASS, while international viewers can watch via IMSA.tv. IMSA Radio coverage will also be available at IMSA.com.