ORLANDO, Fla. (21 January 2021) – The Stoner Car Care Racing fielded by Automatic Racing team returns to the track for this weekend’s Roar Before the 24, sporting a driver lineup that shares a combined 17-year history with the team, behind the wheel of one of the most iconic liveries in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge (IMPC).
Rob Ecklin Jr., Ramin Abdolvahabi and Brandon Kidd will share driving duties in the No. 09 Stoner Car Care Aston Martin Vantage GT4 as they prepare for next weekend’s four-hour BMW Endurance Challenge, part of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Rolex 24 At Daytona weekend.
Ecklin, from Lancaster, Pa., is the longest tenured driver with the Orlando-based team, having driven for them since 2011. Abdolvahabi (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.) will drive in his fifth-straight season and Kidd (Syracuse, NY) will pilot his fourth.
Each driver points to the stability that Automatic Racing Team Manager David Russell has created as they look for success on board one of the sports most recognizable liveries.
The Stoner Car Care colors have long been connected with the Aston Martin entry, with the team also having campaigned the instantly recognizable blue and yellow Invisible Glass entry through the years as well as part of the partnership with Stoner Car Care.
“For me, it’s all about the team culture,” said Ecklin, “That starts with David (Russell) and his leadership and the people he brings on and how they work together. It’s a good group and they put together a strong car. And I think we drivers bring some stability.
Stoner Car Care is a company he can count on, and we have a good relationship,” said Ecklin of the family-run business that he steers. “It’s half work, half pleasure, though more on the side of pleasure. It’s about representing the brand and getting brand recognition in something that represents performance and power. We get input from an outside designer and inside marketing people to decide on the liveries each year, and it’s always a tough decision – and a fun process.”
“It all starts with David (Russell),” Abdolvahabi agreed. “He is such an easy-going guy, a low-key guy, but he’s a perfectionist and he keeps the team cohesive. That attracts like-minded people, crew and drivers, so there’s really no ego or fear about asking for help. The Stoner and Invisible Glass liveries are so recognizable, and you can’t say that about that many other cars, so that brings a very enjoyable element to the program.”
“We’re blessed that we have these guys come back and run with us,” said Russell, “and we have some really solid people who have been with the team for a long time. We run it like a family operation – we want to get the job done but we want to have the kind of atmosphere where everyone can grow and learn and enjoy themselves in the process. Rob (Ecklin) has been with us since 2011, Ramin (Abdolvahabi) since 2017 and Brandon (Kidd) since 2018. Everyone gets along well, is headed in the same direction, and has similar goals. It’s very easy when you get to the racetrack, when you have solid customers – and when they’re your friends as well.
“They’re all very level-headed and they’re exceptional team players,” Russell continued. “I learn a lot from Rob on a variety of levels, personal and well as business. Ramin is a very hard worker and since he's a neurosurgeon and renowned doctor, I lean on him sometimes for medical opinions! Brandon comes from a stock car background, where things happen pretty fast, so he’s very calm in the car – and we also do some business with his financial services company.”
After a roller coaster 2020 that saw the team endure more than its share of bad luck, all three drivers are ready to start 2021 anew. While Ecklin will not attend the Roar owning to his business commitments, Abdolvahabi and Kidd are ready to get back in sync with the Aston Martin Vantage GT4.
The 2021 schedule marks the debut of a new event schedule from IMSA with, for the first time, just days between the Roar and the Rolex 24 weekend.
“It makes sense to have the Roar and the Rolex 24 back-to-back like this,” said Kidd. “I’m looking forward to the weekend – we have an awesome car; the Vantage is one of the better cars out there to drive. Coming off of a winter where you’re not doing a lot for two or three months, it’s good to get back into the race car. I’m less worried about lap time that I am about getting the depth perception back, the sensation of speed. Then next week, it’s back to being second nature. But if there’s any development work we want to do, or to try things outside of the box, this is the time to do it.”
“The focus this weekend is to get back in the rhythm,” said Russell. “IMSA has done a very crafty thing by taking the opportunity to make the Roar and the Rolex 24 back-to-back weekends. We’re only 50 minutes away, and this makes it so much easier for us. We don’t have to leave the racetrack to prep the car between the two events and it sounds as though everyone is completely on board with this.”
“The entire car has been worked through since Sebring,” said Abdolvahabi, “So the Roar is a chance to see if there are any upgrades, check the systems, and fine tune the setup. If we can come out of this weekend with a car that all three of us are comfortable with for four hours – and I’ve driven with Rob long enough that I know what he likes in a car – will be the goal. We always have a strong car, but we had so much bad luck last year so hopefully that’s behind us!”
Daytona International Speedway is the home racetrack for the team, and everyone relishes the opportunity to be a part of the legendary endurance classic weekend. For Kidd, who began his career in stock car racing, the weekend is just that much more special.
“Anytime you go to Daytona, it’s a big deal,” said Kidd. “There aren’t many places like it, and the feeling you get when you come here for the first time, it takes a while for that to wear off. Just seeing the enormity of it all, and the scale, the history behind it, it makes it so special. You can’t help but be blown away at the idea of racing there! It’s not just another race. I grew up watching races there, so it’s like a young baseball player growing up to play at Yankee Stadium.”
Teams will have five test sessions for a total of five and a half hours of track time over the three-day weekend to work on development and setup ahead of next weekend’s first race of the season. The BMW Endurance Challenge will take the green flag Friday, January 29 at 1:35pm 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.