Daytona 24: Automatic Racing race report

Automatic Racing M6 Runs Strong for Six Hours Before Retirement at Daytona DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The Automatic Racing BMW M6 made its racing debut during this weekend's Grand-Am Rolex 24 at Daytona, running strong through the first six hours ...

Automatic Racing M6 Runs Strong for Six Hours Before Retirement at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The Automatic Racing BMW M6 made its racing debut during this weekend's Grand-Am Rolex 24 at Daytona, running strong through the first six hours before power train problems forced the team to retire early.

The No. 90 M6 is the first of BMW's new model to see competition on the race track, and throughout the weekend the team garnered constant attention from fans. Jep Thornton, David Russell, Tom Long and Joe Varde co-drove at Daytona, which marks Automatic Racing's first Rolex Series race.

Russell took the green flag, running strong before handing over to Long. Automatic Racing completed 87 laps in the first three hours of racing, when Long pitted and handed the car over to Thornton while the crew refueled and changed left-side tires. Over the next hour, a problem with a control arm bolt began to develop, but Thornton was able to complete his stint before handing over to Varde, and the crew quickly repaired the arm.

The next couple of hours ran smoothly, and Varde pitted during a caution early in the fifth hour to hand off to Long. A light rain was beginning to fall when the No. 90 M6 came into the pits, but the team opted for slicks.

The rain began in earnest just after the stop, but Long slowed his pace and stayed out on the track. The move was risky, but paid off when the rain cleared and teams that had mounted rain tires were forced to pit a second time.

A vibration brought Long in shortly after the six-hour mark, and the team pushed the car back to the garage for a closer look. After a valiant effort, the team was forced to retire the M6 due to a power train problem.

The early end to the 24-hour opener was a disappointment, but the team was optimistic about the data garnered and the solid performance for a full six hours. Automatic Racing took delivery of the M6 just seven weeks ago, and has already made a lot of headway in the new car's development.

"For the first race with this car, we're actually really pleased with how it went. In reality, this is a development program," said Thornton. "We're going to go back and take everything apart and we'll learn a lot from it. As the season progresses, this car is going to get better and better. The crew did a great job this weekend, and we've got to thank Fresh from Florida and the BMW Performance Driving School for their support."

"I feel like we've accomplished a lot. It was more of a shakedown run," agreed Varde, who pulled double duty as both team manager and driver. "The team did a great job putting this together. I had a great time in the car. I really appreciate everyone that gave the vote of confidence to let me drive; it felt really good out there."

"What a dream come true to do this!" said Long. "After watching it on TV for so many years, it's great to be here with a team like Automatic. It was treacherous out there in the rain. We were slow and cars with rain tires passed us, but once it started to dry out it really came back to us."

Russell commented, "it's disappointing for the team not to finish the race. On the optimistic side, the car was reasonably quick. We could have easily finished in the top ten if the car had lasted, but to get that reliability it's going to take time and R & D. Now we'll take the car back to the shop, find out where we can make improvements and find ways to make the car even better."

-credit: ar

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Series GRANDAM