ALTON, Va. (23 August 2020) – The Stoner Car Care Racing fielded by Automatic Racing team was back in IMSA action this weekend, fielding a pair of Aston Martin Vantage GT4s. On Sunday, the team brought the cars home to the checkered flag in the Virginia is for Racing Lovers Grand Prix at VIRginia International Raceway, race four of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge (IMPC) season.
The team arrived with a two-pronged Aston Martin attack at VIR, with the No. 09 Stoner Car Care Aston Martin Vantage GT4 driven by Rob Ecklin Jr. and Ramin Abdolvahabi, and the No. 99 Invisible Glass Aston Martin with Charles Espenlaub and Charlie Putman behind the wheel. Espenlaub and Putman, who have driven for the team numerous times, returned to race in the United States after having raced in Europe for several years.
The weekend began with a checklist of setup options the team had planned to work through, only to have their two practice sessions – one Friday afternoon and one Saturday morning – endure reduced session times (due to weather on Friday, and due to an incident midway through Saturday practice that required an extended track repair). Qualifying was about learning the car all over again, in an extremely short amount of time.
Both Abdolvahabi (in the No. 09) and Putman (in the No. 99) reported solid improvements, with the team ready to enter the fray later in the afternoon.
Hot and humid conditions greeted the team at race start, with Michelin engineers reporting 89 ambient and 105 Fahrenheit degrees track temperatures at the 17-turn, 3.27-mile track. The green flag flew just before 3:00 p.m. Eastern, with Abdolvahabi behind the wheel of the No. 09 and Putman in the No. 99 Aston Martin. Both cars settled into the early race pace, marred only by an early yellow for a car in the tires at the Climbing Esses. But on Lap 8, Putman was hit from behind and knocked off track between Turns 4 and 5 but managed to get back on track quickly, despite being mired in the rain-slicked grass.
Both Abdolvahabi and Putman managed their respective pace as the race progressed, managing traffic and the hot conditions. The No. 09 came into pit lane with an hour and 17 minutes remaining, with Abdolvahabi handing off to Ecklin, who returned to the fray in P18. Espenlaub took the wheel of the No. 99 from Putman with over an hour left in the race, coming out P15.
Ecklin began a march toward the front only to find that the team had garnered a pit speed violation. After the stop-and-go penalty had been served, Ecklin restarted the fight, battling traffic and working his way back through the field. Espenlaub moved as high as P5 before ducking into pit lane just after Ecklin for a final refill of fuel with 30 minutes remaining. He maintained that steady race pace and brought the No. 99 Aston Martin home in 14th position, with Ecklin 17th.
“The first dry running that I got this weekend was during the race,” said Espenlaub. “So I just jumped in and went. Charlie ran a solid stint until he got hit, which put us pretty far back. But we did well on strategy and got back up there. It’s a shame the race wasn’t longer! I think the car would be very competitive if we had ample time. And of course, this is our first time back in the series in a while, so we had some learning to do. But overall, it was a good weekend. It’s disappointing to end up 14th but the team was strong and the car was strong, so hopefully we’ll be better next time.”
“Watching on the sidelines it looked like a pretty clean start, with plenty of action,” said Ecklin. “Ramin battled traffic for most of his stint. We had a clean race and neither Ramin nor I got touched, which is a first this year! I had some good racing and the car performed well. I haven’t been here in three years so pick up two positions was good.”
Next up for the Stoner Car Care Racing team is the four-hour Grand Prix at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta weekend, September 4 through 6. 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.