WATKINS GLEN, NY (26 June 2021) – The final numbers do not tell the story for the Stoner Car Care Racing fielded by Automatic Racing team in Saturday’s Michelin Pilot Challenge Tioga Downs Casino Resort 240 at Watkins Glen International.
The box score will show that the team took the checkered flag in 16th position after holding the early lead but with a second race at Watkins Glen only days away, the team knows that its No. 09 Stoner Car Care Aston Martin Vantage GT4 has the pace to contend at the historic 3.4-mile road course.
Rob Ecklin Jr., Ramin Abdolvahabi and Brandon Kidd each had solid stints through the four-hour, 104-lap race but it was hometown hero Kidd who put the spotlight on the Aston Martin, leading 11 laps in the first half of the race. In the end, untimely yellows, for an astounding one hour and 33 minutes, dented the team’s strategy and put the car a lap down to end the race.
Kidd took the green flag and just as he was settling into a rhythm, separate incidents involving four cars led to a lengthy yellow for clean-up. Returning to green just after the 30-minute mark, Kidd wasted no time in making a move toward the front, grabbing sixth on the restart and pacing among the leaders. Back to eighth after a pit stop for fuel and left side tires, he worked his way into fourth before a full course yellow sent the leaders into pit lane, and Kidd took the restart at the front of the field.
With eyes forward, Kidd held his ground and opened a gap to the chasing field behind. Showing impressive speed, especially on the same right-side tires he’d begun the race on, Kidd led 11 laps before coming to pit lane for four tires, fuel and a change to Abdolvahabi.
“The car was really good, so it was really a matter of hitting my marks,” said Kidd. “You have to be really patient. When you can see that you’re faster than the other cars, you just have to run your own race and make a move when you can. I made most of my moves coming out of the toe of the Boot – just nail the exit, dropped it into third and get back on the gas to get by.
“I was thinking about defending on the restart but our spotter (veteran Barry Waddell) said don’t do it. I trusted him and he was right. I focused forward, kept the gap and held the position – with pretty old tires. I’m glad so many people were here to watch, lots of family and friends. I’m sure they’re excited, I haven’t checked my phone yet!”
Abdolvahabi took to the fray back in the pack, focusing on speed and working his way forward. But the Aston Martin’s cooling system failed early in his stint, and with ambient temperatures in the high 90s, Abdolvahabi fought hard to hold his position. He handed the wheel to Ecklin with just under 90 minutes remaining.
“I just overheated in the car, which made it tough,” said Abdolvahabi. “But the car has a lot of pace coming into the double-header that includes next weekend. We know the car and we know what the car is capable of. Having back-to-back races also helps with your strategy and driving habits. The pace that the car has, we are looking forward to next weekend for sure."
Ecklin worked hard, but with the team on an off-sequence strategy, the yellows didn’t play in their favor. He took the checkered flag in 16th position, a lap down to the leaders.
"I've been in worse heat, but that was tough,” said Ecklin. “Luckily, I had two yellows and I was able to cycle the cooling system. We were a lap down when I went out and we weren't able to get that back, and because of that we were running in the lapped cars. But Brandon ran an incredible stint with great lap times and we had great race strategy – it's just a shame we couldn't continue that. I thought the car was performing well so it will be great to have back-to-back races and come back next weekend to get back after it."
Automatic Racing team manager David Russell was pleased with the car’s pace, especially with the second Watkins Glen event just days away.
“At the end of the day, we found the right setup up on the car that really complimented the driving team,” said Russell. “It was hot in the car, so it was cooking the drivers, but we’ve got that figured out as well. The car had really good pace so we have a lot of things to build on for next weekend. It’s good continuity, to come right back here in a few days.”
The Sahlen’s 120 takes the green flag Friday at 2:35 p.m. 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. NBCSN will broadcast a two-hour race recap, currently scheduled to air Tuesday, July 6 at 5:00 p.m. Eastern (check local listings).