ORLANDO, Fla. (11 November 2020) – The Stoner Car Care Racing fielded by Automatic Racing team is set to complete one of the most demanding Michelin Pilot Challenge (IMPC) seasons on record this weekend, bringing the year to a close at the two-hour Alan Jay Automotive Network 120, part of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. Friday’s race will take the green flag at 12:00 PM ET, with NBC Sports Gold’s TrackPass bringing live coverage.
The 2020 racing season brought unprecedented challenges to the series, as well as the Stoner Car Care Racing team and its quartet of drivers. With the event schedule becoming a moving target, drivers had to walk a fine line to balance testing, racing and their professional lives.
Of the four drivers taking the wheel of the team’s pair of Aston Martin Vantage GT4s this weekend, only Kris Wilson (Golden, Colo.) is a full-time driver and driver coach. His co-driver in the No. 99 Invisible Glass Aston Martin Vantage GT4, Gary Ferrera (Houston), is the chief financial officer of the largest ATM owner/operator in the world.
Sharing the No. 09 Stoner Car Care Aston Martin are Rob Ecklin, Jr. (Lancaster, Pa.) the CEO of Stoner Car Care, the high-performance automotive car care product company founded by his grandfather, and Ramin Abdolvahabi (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.), a prominent neurosurgeon.
The Sebring race marks the second time this year for IMSA to compete on the circuit, as a July Sebring race weekend was the first event for the IMPC since the season opener in Daytona: a break of nearly six months.
Both Ferrera and Ecklin look forward to returning to the track this week for the chance to override the memories of a weekend that saw the team deal with a red flag during the race due to weather, some small mechanical issues, and some dramatic moments without traction in the ever-changing conditions.
“I’m generally pleased with the races I’ve run this year, except for Sebring back in July!” said Ecklin with a smile. “Having been out of the car for six months, I felt very out of rhythm and didn’t put in what I would consider good lap times – and that’s one of the reasons I decided to jump back in the car this weekend, for a bit of redemption. I’m anxious to get back on track and have a strong finish to the season. We had the weather situation here back in July, so hopefully we won’t have that to deal with, and if some of the mechanical gremlins are put behind us, we’ll put it all together. Flow and control, that’s the name of the game!”
“I’m hoping the weather is better!” said Ferrera, whose father was stationed at Sebring during WWII, for Army Air Corps bomber training. “We were still working on a few things back in July so if we’ve gotten the bugs out of the system, it will just be down to working on setup and driving. Hopefully we can do better – I had my own faux paux in July, spinning in the rain, and that’s never happened before. So I just want to get there and get racing.”
For the entire Stoner Car Car Racing driver roster, finding that balance this season has been difficult. But the drivers appreciate the opportunity to go to the racetrack and place their focus on something that is at once familiar and comfortable: making race cars go fast.
“With all series event changes, I wasn’t scheduling races until the last minute, since it was hard to know what would get moved or cancelled as the season progressed,” said Ecklin. “But as a competitor, you have to put that behind you and keep your head in the game. The virus has changed everything. You can either dwell on it and react to it or look past it and be more proactive – and I try to choose the latter. Every time you cross the fence to go into the racetrack, your mind and your focus shift. You’re in that “mental vacation” of focusing solely on racing and nothing else, and that hasn’t changed. It’s a credit to IMSA that we’ve been able to get in basically a full season of racing.”
“Stoner Car Care has faired relatively well through this (IMSA schedule changes due to COVID-19),” said Ecklin. “It’s a bit of a dance and it’s tough to plan with the situation changing seemingly every week. The car care side of the business has done well, but we’ve had supply issues, sourcing literally the world for triggers and bottles and things like that. Hopefully next year things will recover even more.”
While his off-track concentration covers a completely different segment of the economy, Ferrara has had to overcome some of the same challenges of Ecklin as he works to combine his hard-driving work ethic, appreciation for time with his family, and the satisfaction that comes from competition.
“For those of us who have employees and are trying to keep everyone as employed as possible and keep them safe, it’s been a tough year,” continued Ferrara. “But spending time in the car takes away a lot of the work stress. I usually have conference calls and things like that to deal with on the race weekends, but once you’re in the car, there are no phone calls or emails! You can’t think about anything when you’re racing, it’s all focus on racing – the car is my therapist!”
The Alan Jay Automotive Network 120 takes the green flag Friday at 12:05 p.m. Eastern. The race will be broadcast live in the U.S. on NBC Sports Gold’s TrackPass, while international viewers can watch viaIMSA.tv. IMSA Radio will also be available atIMSA.com. NBCSN will broadcast a two-hour race recap on Tuesday, November 24 at 4:00 p.m. Eastern (check local listings).