BRASELTON, Ga. (6 September 2020) – The Stoner Car Care Racing fielded by Automatic Racing experienced the breadth of highs and lows that have become a hallmark of an IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta (MMRA) on Sunday.
The four-hour VP Racing Stay Frosty 240 saw both Aston Martin Vantage GT4s pacing with the Grand Sport class front runners, racing to the front to clock several laps on top of the leaderboard during pit stops. But an untimely yellow and an electrical gremlin meant the team ended the day outside the top 10.
The team rolled off the truck on Friday morning with its pair of Aston Martin Vantage GT4s: the No. 09 entry with Stoner Car Care colors, driven by Brandon Kidd, Ramin Abdolvahabi and Tom Long, and the No. 99 Invisible Glass entry with Gary Ferrera and Kris Wilson.
Wilson was up to speed immediately, posting the sixth-quickest time in the first of two practice sessions, while Kidd, who last drove the car in January at Daytona, worked to acclimate to the car around MRRA, his first time racing at the legendary road course.
Kidd and Ferrera qualified on Saturday evening, with Kidd posting quick laps early and taking P10 and Ferrera earning the 19th starting position. The duo took the green flag just after Noon Eastern on a rare Sunday green flag, with ambient temperatures of 79F and track temps at 111F.
Driving a smart and conservative start, Kidd settled into a rhythm in 12th position while Ferrera dealt with a computer glitch on Lap 1 that required him to stop the Aston Martin for a computer reset. Recovering quickly, the team hoped for a yellow that would enable them to get the lap back. Instead, a yellow came out just as the team was ready to head to pit lane, necessitating an emergency stop just for fuel, and a second stop for tires.
As the green flag flew after the 19-minute caution period, Kidd began to make his move. Working his way through the field, he made his way as far as eighth position, matching the leaders on lap times. As pit stops ensued, Kidd and Ferrera were able to hold the top two positions for several laps before heading to pit lane.
Both Kidd and Ferrera came in for fuel, four Michelin tires and driver changes with just over two hours remaining. Kidd handed off to Abdolvahabi, while Wilson climbed behind the wheel of the Invisible Glass Aston Martin, both under green.
“It was awesome to be back in the car,” said Kidd. “The car was good early on but since we started the race on the same tires we qualified on, it got loose toward the end. We made a change in the pit stop and with sticker tires, it felt like a brand new car. It had good top end speed, so I was able to make a few passes up through the field with a combination of good opportunities and some luck. And I led a lap during pit stops, which was cool! I was in the top 10 for most of my stint and that was nice as well. It was just unfortunate that the yellow came out soon after our stop, as that put us a lap down.”
Also unfortunate was that the yellow flag revealing the extent of the issues for the No. 99, as an electrical issue required Wilson to keep hitting the computer reset. During a caution for debris with just over an hour remaining and with the situation getting worse, the team made the call to bring the car to the garage, settling for P18.
“The car was running great all weekend,” said Ferrera. “But then coming out of Turn 7 I went to get on the throttle and the engine just shut off. I had to pull into the grass and do a complete reset. After that I just worked on doing the best lap times I could until the yellow and I caught up to the field. The car was fine for quite a while, I did a better time during the race than I did during qualifying, but it became a real problem when Kris was in the car. It just wasn’t our day.”
Meanwhile, Abdolvahabi managed traffic and drove a quiet and steady stint, coming in to pit lane in 12th to hand the wheel to Long toward the end of the caution period. Long battled valiantly, but was unable to reach the leaders, bringing the car home in 13th position. Kidd was naturally disappointed with the finish, but heartened by the Aston Martin’s pace – and by the opportunity to work again with sports car veteran, Long.
“I’m happy with my stint but of course, disappointed not to get the finish we deserved. I wasn’t sure how I would do here for the first time, since it can be an intimidating track, but the car’s in one piece, we ran toward the front, so we’re happy with that. And it was good to have Tom Long back with the team, he was a huge asset. He brings a lot of good energy and he’s great to work with on video and data. He really helped give us a good car – he’s very technical and he really understands the car – and gave me a great deal of confidence.”
Team manager David Russell was naturally disappointed, especially given the impressive performances from Kidd and Ferrera, but positive about the direction in which the car is going.
“Brandon had never been to Road Atlanta but he learns the tracks so quick,” said Russell. “He studies them and works on the sim, and he’s a great complement to Ramin and Tom. The pace was really there today, we just got unlucky on the pit stops and the cautions. We’re still analyzing the 99 car to figure out exactly what happened, but it was unfortunate, especially given that Gary put the car on a tear. He put his head down and went after it. But we’re continuing the learning curve on this car in these conditions, getting the car to do what we want it to do.”