Daytona 24: Stevenson Motorsports race report

Stevenson Motorsports' Dual Finish At The Grueling Rolex 24 At this year's running of the Grand American Road Racing Association's Rolex Sports Car Series Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, Stevenson Motorsports was one of 24 teams and 44 cars competing...

Stevenson Motorsports' Dual Finish At The Grueling Rolex 24 At this year's running of the Grand American Road Racing Association's Rolex Sports Car Series Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, Stevenson Motorsports was one of 24 teams and 44 cars competing for a win in the GT class. At race end on Sunday, they were one of the few teams to survive this arduous event and see the checkered flag waved as they passed the finish line for the final time.

The grueling demands of running to the finish in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona will sap the steam and the spirit out of many of the men and women who try to finish the job they started the day before. Keeping pace, avoiding accidents, preventing mistakes, and managing wear and tear on the car as it completes lap after lap after lap is an incredibly difficult amount of activity to sustain for 24 hours straight. But for those who do see both the green flag at the start and the checkered flag at the end, the joy of completion can not be understated.

Nothing beats winning overall, but making it all the way through this incredible race is a victory all its own.

Running a pair of Chevrolet Corvettes, one built last season by Tommy Riggins Engineering (#97) and the other built this year by Crawford Race Cars (#57), the Stevenson team persevered like champions through several mechanical issues, periods of rain, heavy traffic, and even being hit by a Daytona Prototype. They didn't win this time out, but this team is filled with winners who worked as hard as or harder than any other team in the race.

A Long Week Of Long Nights For The #97 Corvette The #97 Riggins-built car finished 27th in class, completing 414 laps, and the #57 Crawford chassis did just a wee bit better, finishing 25th in class with 444 laps completed. Both cars had mechanical woes - and the #97 car suffered the debilitating effects of on track contact with another car in practice - that set them back from increasing their lap counts.

Tommy Riggins, one of three drivers in the #97 Corvette, commented after the race that, "Daytona is a great race track and a great facility. The 24 Hr. race is just a real tough event. It's tough on the cars as well as the team. Preparation is over half the equation for success in this event. And though this was my fifteenth Daytona 24 hr - and for me it's always an honor to be in this race - it is the most difficult race for a driver to do physically. It is even much more so for the crew."

On Wednesday, on the way down to Daytona, the brand new trailer used to haul equipment in support of the #97 car suffered a failure of the rear axle seals. Only the alertness of the team driver Dexter Johnson prevented a major fire from destroying the trailer and its contents. This delayed the arrival by an extra day which had an impact on our race preparation schedule.

And Friday's practice session increased the stresses placed on the crew even further. The car was hit by a Daytona Prototype while team owner John Stevenson was behind the wheel. The damage was so extensive the car had to be taken back to Riggins shop in Jacksonville, Florida for major repairs. The crew worked through the night to get the car turned around and back to Daytona on Saturday morning, in time for the start of the race.

Riggins: "Not having the Friday afternoon major crash damage to repair would have given us a chance to catch up with car preparation for the race. But the crew on the 97 car did surprisingly well considering all the setbacks."

Vic Rice also drove the #97 car, as did Spencer Trenery. Rice applauded the hard working crew members who suffered through not one, but two all- night repair sessions, plus the 24 hours of the race itself.

"I'm not sure there is a team in the paddock that spent more hours working on their car the week of the race, including two all night sessions (Wednesday and Friday) just prior to the race. This is a team that was determined to see the checkered flag fly over the #97 car. And without a single lap of practice or test time prior to Friday, the car was well balanced and reasonably quick the first time out."

Riggins agreed: "The car handled surprisingly well, especially with absolutely no constructive practice or testing time, and also the repaired crash damage with no laps to sort that out before the race. The team did extremely well, especially considering the dramas of the pre-race issues and the fact that this was the first time for some of our guys on the pit crew.

"John Hobbs, Nic Sanna, and Beau Dickinson had been up and working to get the car repaired for over 36 hours straight before the race started, and then to perform the way they did under that duress and without fail for the next entire 24 hours of the race - along with the rest of the pit crew - says a lot about their dedication and commitment to the success of this racing team."

During the race itself, the #97 car suffered several mechanical setbacks directly attributable, no doubt, to the need to spend so many hours putting things back together before the race even started.

Rice: "When the green flag dropped the car felt strong and most impressively on how deep we could brake. Suddenly a stuck throttle (wide open) caught my attention at the international horseshoe and a lucky swipe at the kill switch is all that saved us from a bad accident. Repairs were made in a few laps and we then cycled through our drivers turning competitive laps, and moving up a few spots. A sudden and unexpected gearbox failure caused us the most downtime as the removal, clutch replacement and fitment of the replacement gearbox challenged our very exhausted crew to find ways around the misfit replacements, much to their never-say-die credit.

Riggins: "A brake line and steering rack issue hurt us later on as well, but we were out of contention for a podium result by then."

Rice: "The crew refused to quit and affected adequate repairs that were good enough to let us finish the race. To just finish the race was a victory of sorts for this crew."

Riggins is quick to put the difficulties encountered in this first race in perspective when compared to the team's prospects over the entire 2007 Rolex Series season.

"The team has the foundation to do extremely well this year, though this season will be a very tough challenge with all the many different good teams and car makes involved. Grand Am has given Porsche teams a distinct rules and performance advantage in the GT class and that will probably be the toughest challenge of all for everyone else in the class to overcome."

Rice had a similar assessment.

"I was surprised to learn that our data showed our top speed to be equal to what we reached last year but that the Porsches, Mazda's and others had clearly gained some legs on the banking. I'm not sure how or why we can counter that without some much needed help from Grand-Am, but it certainly caught me by surprise."

Riggins confirmed he wasn't worried too much about the gains others had made when he said: "Although the #97 car is built to the rules of two years ago, and many rules specifications have changed that affect performance, it still has the foundation to be successful. With good preparation and a little good race luck, I think a season to be proud of should be expected."

And Rice summed up his expectations for the rest of the season this way: "After a much deserved rest I'm sure the crew, and John and Susan Stevenson, will put their heads down and go to work figuring out how to eliminate the failures that plagued us; and how to deliver the best cars possible for the next race. No driver could ever ask for more commitment from the team owners and crew."

An Impressive Debut For The Brand New #57 Crawford-built Corvette This race marked the introduction of the brand new #57 Stevenson Motorsports Corvette, which had only been completed by Crawford Race Cars a few days before the race. The Stevenson team had just one quick sliver of time at the Test Days session prior to the Rolex 24 to become acquainted with their new car. Initial assessments suggested the car had real potential then, and the race itself bore that out as the car made it to the checkered flag in its maiden run.

Along the way to completing 444 laps, the team had to address several issues that were to be expected when shaking down a new car for the first time. Lengthy stops were required to repair the gearbox and replace the power steering pump.

The #57 Corvette was driven by Marc Bunting, Lou Gigliotti, James Gue and Dominic Cicero II. Bunting and Cicero will campaign the car in the rest of the 2007 Rolex Series.

Bunting came away from his first race with the team tired yet appreciative of the car and the Stevenson Motorsports crew.

"The car was very well balanced throughout the race, although the lack of power steering made it tiring to drive over a stint. Traffic was typical for the Rolex 24 hours and, of course, the later in the race the less traffic we had to contend with.

"The team did an excellent job keeping the car running and completing the race. I am excited about the upcoming season! I do feel the car and the team have huge potential, the only thing we need to do is find time to continue testing and developing the car."

This was Cicero's first time at conquering the clock for a 24 hour event and he came away from the experience somewhat humbled by what this team had accomplished.

"The Daytona track takes a lot out of you physically. You never have a break. As for the 24 hr experience, it really is a special race and it is quite an achievement to finish the event. This was the first time I completed the event and I was amazed by the range of emotions that I went through. 24 hours sounds easy on paper but it is truly a feat to live it."

Gigliotti is a veteran Corvette pilot who joined the team for this one event. He too enjoyed being a part of a team that worked hard and never quit, despite the many obstacles fate kept throwing in their path.

"I would say that in a race of this magnitude it is more normal than not to have some teething issues with a brand new chassis. In light of the circumstances, the team did what was expected of them and more. But, while I feel the car has a lot of potential, it was really just too new to be well sorted, especially for a 24 hour race.

"The team owner, John Stevenson, put out a first class effort, and they went into this race with 100% commitment. And Susan was way more organized than I have personally experienced at the race track. Mike Hoffman and the guys were faced with a big challenge and they executed well. And the group of drivers was as good as any in the GT class. The Stevenson Motorsports team drivers could hold their own with any of the drivers out there. It was an impressive assembly of talent."

Gigliotti also came away very impressed with his new teammate - and former Trans-Am competitor - Tommy Riggins. "This was the first time I actually worked 'with' Tommy Riggins rather than compete against him and I have a better respect for the accomplishments that he has made throughout the years. Tommy has more experience in one finger than most of the Rolex competitors!"

Cicero summed up the event and predicted the future when he said, "I know there is a lot of potential here and I am looking forward to making a proper run at the championship. I think we all learned a lot, and became aware of our strengths and weaknesses. Once we fix the issues at hand, I see no reason to not be on the podium this year and contesting for the championship."

The next race in the Rolex Series will be held on March 3rd at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.

-credit: sm

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