ORLANDO, Fla. (19 August 2020) – The Stoner Car Care Racing fielded by Automatic Racing team will see a pair of familiar faces return with the iconic Invisible Glass colors this weekend. The team heads to Virginia International Raceway for the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge Virginia is for Racing Lovers Grand Prix (Sunday, 2:55pm ET, TrackPass).
Charles Espenlaub (Tampa, Fla.) and Charlie Putman (Odessa, Texas), who first competed with the team over 12 years ago, return stateside after several years racing off American shores, back behind the wheel of the familiar No. 99 Invisible Glass colors. Rob Ecklin Jr. (Lancaster, Pa.) and Ramin Abdolvahabi (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.), who raced the No. 99 two weeks ago at Road America, head back to their regular ride, the No. 09 Stoner Car Care Aston Martin Vantage GT4.
For Espenlaub and Putman, the race marks the first time the duo has raced in North America since 2017, when Putman raced with the Automatic Racing/Stoner Car Care team in two IMPC races and Espenlaub in four.
The duo has been racing – and winning – together for over 10 years, spending much of the past three years racing in Europe and Australia. They racked up impressive stats during that time frame, earning victories in the 2018 Zurich 24h Nürburgring race on the Nordschleife, the 24h GT Series European Championship, and finishing second in the Bathurst 12 Hour race. Espenlaub and Putman also have their share of victories in the U.S., having won the 2010 Michelin Pilot Challenge (then the IMSA Sports Car Challenge) title capturing one race win and four podiums among a run of top-10 finishes in all 10 races.
“There were some gaps in their schedule, and they like to drive!” said Russell. “They’re very active in the motorsports community. They tested with us in May, our first test to get the ball rolling again. They’ve been prioritizing Europe for a while and have won multiple championships, but they’re having the same issues with international travel that so many other people are having, so we were able to secure them for a weekend. They’ve run a weekend or two with us for most of the last few years and we’re happy to have them back.”
For Ecklin and Abdolvahabi, the VIR weekend is a chance to hit the reset button on a season that has seen more than its share of on-track incidents, not of their own making with the second year Aston Martin. The team hopes to capitalize on their successful race weekend at VIR last year, as the No. 09 Aston Martin Vantage GT4 secured a sixth-place finish and set the quickest race lap.
“We definitely need to hit the ground running” said Russell. “We were successful there last year in getting the car right and setting quick times in the race, so we took that setup back in the test. We’d migrated away from that setup to try some new things, but we’re back there now. We know it’s fast and we can go from there.”
“I haven’t been to VIR in three years, but I really like that track,” said Ecklin. “It’s fast and flowing, and it suits the Aston Martin’s style. It’s a rhythm track – so for example, if you miss the right out of the Oak Tree, you’ll miss the launch down the straight and there’s your lap. But of course, thunderstorms are in the forecast, so the unpolished grip lines through the back section, will be tricky.”
The Virginia is for Racing Lovers Grand Prix takes the green flag Sunday at 2:55 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 will also be available at IMSA.com.