The No. 191 Aston Martin brings home a win and a third-place finish in two World Racing League endurance races this weekend
Elkhart Lake, Wis. (9 May 2021) – Stoner Car Care Racing fielded by Automatic Racing dominated the Can Am Endurance Cup weekend at Road America, capturing a victory and a third-place finish in Round Four of the 2021 World Racing League (WRL) season.
Rob Ecklin Jr. (Lancaster, Pa.), Steven Davison (Washington, DC) and Ramin Abdolvahabi (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.) combined to pilot the No. 191 Aston Martin Vantage GT4 through two races, 16 hours and 349 drama-filled laps at “America’s National Park of Speed,” with 77 cars in four separate classes making for nonstop action at the iconic 4.048-mile circuit.
The temperature gauge read a mere 55 degrees as Ecklin took the green flag at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday. Starting 21st, he warmed his tires quickly and raced into the top four with only 37 minutes expired off the clock.
But 45 minutes into the race, two cars came together in The Kink, requiring enough clean up time to necessitate a red flag. Ecklin ducked into pit lane as soon as the race resumed, handing the wheel to Davison, who returned to the fray in 16th position. The Automatic Racing squad, led by team manager David Russell, engineer Kirt Wightman and strategist Renu Malhotra, chose to bring the car back to pit lane four laps later and establish themselves on an alternate fuel strategy, hoping that the chips would fall their way at race’s end. By the time Abdolvahabi jumped into the car with just over two hours elapsed, the field had spread out enough that the team was able to come into pit lane for service and maintain their position in the top three.
The most significant “moment” in the race came with three and a half hours to go. Tagged on the left side in Turn 7 while passing a lapped car on the inside, Davison was sent into a spin but recovered quickly, heading into pit lane for regular service, a change to Abdolvahabi and a quick check to confirm there was no significant damage.
Abdolvahabi immediately set his sights on the lead, engaging in a 30-lap battle with the lone prototype in the field, with both cars trading the lead throughout the stint. Unfortunately, a penalty for a pass under yellow put the team back in fifth position. With just under 90 minutes remaining and more than a minute behind the leaders, Ecklin took the wheel for a double stint to try and get back as many positions as possible.
Putting the hammer down, Ecklin made a daring pass in Turn 5 to grab second position. Then, with 11 minutes remaining, he slid to the inside and out maneuvered the prototype, grabbing the race lead. Ecklin put his head down and powered to the checkered flag and the apparent victory, setting the team’s quick time of the day on Lap 174 of 176 race laps, with a time of 2:27.762. Unfortunately, race stewards deemed late race contact too much for a series whose mission statement guarantees contact-free racing, and the team was penalized one lap, which put them back to a very disappointing fourth.
With Sunday’s race starting an hour earlier than Saturday’s, ambient temperatures hovered in the low 40s as drivers took the green flag. Davison started sixth but his forward progress was halted during a lengthy yellow 10 minutes into the race, as a car spun and stopped sideways in the exit of the Carousel. After four laps of yellow, Davison recommenced his charge, climbing steadily through the field on his double stint, claiming second and setting the team’s fast time of the race with a lap of 2:28.028 before handing off to Abdolvahabi.
Abdolvahabi played a patient game, running consistent laps as the gap to the leader, the No. 242 BMW, remained in the 40-second range. The second caution of the day flew just as the car entered the pit window, and Abdolvahabi headed in for scheduled service. As the race returned to green, the Aston Martin came out of pit lane right on the rear wing of the BMW, and two laps later, Abdolvahabi drew alongside at start/finish and made the pass for the lead going into Turn One. Returning to his signature consistent laps, Abdolvahabi pushed out to a 21-second lead and led for 21 laps before heading to pit lane and a hand-off to Ecklin, who returned to the race in second position, back behind the now-familiar BMW – but only for a lap, as the leader pitted, giving Ecklin a 36-second lead with 3:22 remaining.
A full course yellow brought the field back to Ecklin, who took the opportunity to come in for service after leading 15 of his stint’s 16 laps. Ecklin came back out on track again behind the No. 242 BMW, only to see second position become a race lead of nearly two laps when the BMW was given a two-lap penalty for unsafe driving during the yellow. With two hours remaining, Ecklin focused on hitting his marks and keeping the Aston Martin under control.
Coming into pit lane for a final splash of fuel with 45 minutes remaining, Ecklin briefly lost the lead, but roared back in front when the BMW came to pit lane for full service. Maintaining his lead and keeping his composure, Ecklin took the checkered flag with a winning margin of 46.690 seconds – driving a nearly four-hour stint to bring the car home.
“It helped that I had two caution periods to break it up!” said Ecklin. “Everything worked perfectly today – pit stops, time in the pits, strategy, with solid performances from all the drivers. Everything really came together. With no pressure from behind, we could just run our race and bring it home. It was a great fight for P1 both yesterday and today, and today, the race really came to us.”
“It’s really difficult to win in endurance racing and in my mind, it comes down to three things,” said Davison. “One, the drivers – you have to stay clean and consistent. Two, you have to have good pit stops, and we have the most professional team out here. Third, you need a little bit of luck! We got a little of all three today. But Rob Ecklin is our closer, I’ve never seen anybody more solid to finish a race. It’s so exciting to watch him, and I’m glad it’s him and not me! We feel vindicated today, to earn the win after what happened yesterday. We ran a clean, hard race.”
“That was a good weekend, but a stressful one!” said Abdolvahabi. “We started P21 yesterday and just plugged away, and that’s the name of the game in endurance racing. Even with the penalties, we fought back, and that showed what the team can do. And today, we were so consistent. I was just chipping away at the leader, looking for a weakness, and I was able to make the pass for the lead. The team made some great strategy calls all weekend – it really was a team effort. The pit stops were immaculate, the pit strategy was spot on and all three drivers put the hammer down. It was very satisfying.”
“The ebb and flow of these races is amazing, between penalties, pace and pit strategy,” said Russell. “There are so many variables that are largely out of your control so you have to keep your head down and stick to your plan. Kirt and Renu had great strategies in both races. You also have to execute on pit lane and the crew just crushed it today, with the fastest stops in the race. And of course, all three drivers did a phenomenal job. We had decided to double-stint the drivers today and all three drivers did a great job. Steven set the quick lap of the day and Ramin first took the lead, and Rob was able to stay in at the end. We felt that it made more sense to leave Rob in since he was so familiar with the condition of the car and the track at the end. That gave us an advantage and we needed every advantage in the book. Everyone equally contributed to the results this weekend!”
The next IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race slated on the Stoner Car Care Racing schedule is Watkins Glen International in June.