BRASELTON, Ga. (15 October 2020) – Finding speed, and finding it quickly, was the name of the game for the Stoner Car Care Racing fielded by Automatic Racing team on Thursday at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. The team worked to overcome a pre-race round of IMSA performance adjustments to the Aston Martin Vantage GT4 as the two-car program qualified on Thursday for Friday’s Round 7 of the 2020 Michelin Pilot Challenge, the Fox Factory 120 at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
Part of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Motul Petit Le Mans event weekend, the Fox Factory 120 is the second race at Road Atlanta in as many months.
Of the Stoner Car Care driving quartet, only Rob Ecklin Jr. was experiencing the iconic road course’s unique layout for the first time. His No. 09 Stoner Car Care Aston Martin co-driver Ramin Abdolvahabi, and the No. 99 Invisible Glass Aston Martin driver duo of Gary Ferrera and Kris Wilson helped Ecklin get up to speed through the practice sessions.
Adding to the challenge was the recent round of changes to the Balance of Performance, IMSA’s mechanism to keep the different manufacturers as close as possible in time and speed. After the race at Road Atlanta last month, IMSA reduced the Aston Martin’s horsepower through the engine mapping system, sending the team into a search for speed on the 2.54-mile, 12-turn circuit through the day’s two practice sessions.
In late afternoon qualifying, both Ecklin and Ferrera worked to find the balance between Road Atlanta’s fast, flowing early sectors, the very physical Esses complex and the high-speed downhill final corner. With little runoff and no margin for error, precision was the crucial, but a late-session red flag kept the drivers from adding to their qualifying times. Ecklin set the quick time of the day for the No. 09 Aston Martin with a lap at 1:28.672-seconds to start 16th, while Ferrera’s fast lap time of 1:29.696-seconds puts the No. 99 Aston Martin on the tenth row on Friday’s starting grid.
For Ecklin, job one was to learn the intricacies of Road Atlanta and improve with each session, a mission he accomplished in each of the three sessions on Thursday.
“I have driven this track on the sim a number of times, but never in this car,” said Ecklin, noting that the Aston Martin Vantage GT4 is not yet part of most sim setups. “And that’s a fast track! You really have to be heads up and fully focused. Obviously, it’s quite different racing the car on the track so my first session was all about acclimating to the track and learning the nuances, and the team has done a great job in coaching me and in making little adjustments to make the car faster. If you make a mistake coming down the hill into Turn 12, you give all that time back. There’s not a lot of forgiveness in terms of runoff, so it’s eyes forward and be precise.”
Ferrera lamented the lost horsepower but feels that the Aston Martin will continue to improve as the team heads into tomorrow’s race.
“We got hit with BoP which means the car is down on power compared to last month,” said Ferrera. “So we’re trying to make up for that in other places, and tune things in. We need to find a second, and that’s what we were working on today. There’s definitely a trick to getting through Turn 1 quickly, and we’ve gotten better in the Esses, but it’s hard to make up for the straight-line speed loss. It’s a matter of constant improvement – we’ve gotten back to the time we had here last month so that’s a good thing. But the car feels good, so we think it’s set up well. We’ve set an appropriate objective; we just need to get to it.”
The Fox Factory 120 takes the green flag Friday at 3:35 p.m. Eastern on Friday. The race will be broadcast live in the U.S. on NBC Sports Gold’s TrackPass (with the rebroadcast on NBCSN Wednesday, October 28 at 3:00 p.m.), while international viewers can watch live via IMSA.tv. IMSA Radio will also be available at IMSA.com.