Daytona24: Stevenson Motorsports race report

Twin Stevenson Camaro GT.Rs Finish In Top Ten At The Rolex 24 In debut race, after leading through the night, No. 57 car suffers gearbox problem and No. 97 car loses most of its front bodywork. Despite setbacks, both cars finish at...

Twin Stevenson Camaro GT.Rs Finish In Top Ten At The Rolex 24

In debut race, after leading through the night, No. 57 car suffers gearbox problem and No. 97 car loses most of its front bodywork. Despite setbacks, both cars finish at speed.

When the twin Stevenson Motorsports / BryanMark Financial / VinSolutions 2010 Chevrolet Camaro GT.Rs began their racing life in the 48th running of the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona International Speedway, it looked like a shot at immediate success was in the offering. The No. 57 car, driven by Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell -- joined at this race by Jan Magnussen -- took the GT class lead in the early evening hours and held first place right through to the light of morning. Then, as the dawn of a new day came around, Davis reported a problem with the gearbox as he exited the bus stop chicane and brought the car into the garage for repairs.

After replacing the gearbox, and going down a good number of laps to the new leaders in the process, Liddell, Davis and Magnussen steadily climbed back up in the standings bringing the now battle-scarred Chevrolet Camaro across the finish line in fourth place. The trio completed 683 laps of the 3.56-mile, 12-turn road course for a total of over 2,400 racing miles.

The second Stevenson Camaro, No. 97, driven by Gunter Schaldach, Mike Borkowski, Matt Bell and Brady Refenning, ran a steady pace that kept them in the top 10 throughout most of the race, climbing as high as fifth in the GT class at one point before crashing out on cold tires, resulting in a race to the finish line sans a good portion of the car's front bodywork.

Team Manager Mike Johnson wishes the time lost to repairing the cars could have been invested in track time instead but he came away from this grueling contest with a positive attitude about what had taken place overall.

Johnson: "I could not be more pleased about the performance of our team this weekend. We looked the part and we ran the part from the minute we unloaded the trailer. The cars ran flawlessly and our pit stops were consistently fast and without mistakes which is a huge achievement for a growing team. On top of that, our engineers scrubbed 8 sets of tires per car on Thursday which allowed us to gain 15-20 seconds on the out laps to our competitors in the cold weather. That advantage gave us the ability to run everyone down. Saying all that, you'd think we won and well, we should have. We led more laps than anyone else in the No. 57 car. This marked the first time we ever led at Daytona, which was great."

Johnson explained the team's decision to come in and surrender the lead to make repairs rather than soldier on at a reduced speed.

"The No. 57 was pulling away (after having led all night long) and then, at 7:00 in the morning, Andrew called in to say 5th gear wasn't working. We did the math and figured we'd be better off changing the box instead of running around 10 seconds a lap off the pace, so we brought him in."

Davis: "I have to say that this team and this crew have demonstrated time and again how hard they will work at getting the job done. I was simply amazed at how fast they changed the gearbox on the No. 57 car. Fans standing around the garage watching them work the whole time were actually applauding them when they finished!"

While one Stevenson Camaro was forced to slow down, the other one was picking up places at speed.

Johnson: "What was bad for the No. 57 was good for the No. 97 as it moved into a podium position until Mike hit the wall in turn five on cold tires. It was in the low 40's on Sunday morning and I think he just got caught out by the tricky conditions. We sent both crews to the garage to fix the car and we would have had it on the track in about 15 minutes, but our spare radiator sprung a leak and we had to start over.

"Once the No. 97 was back on track, we put our emphasis back into the No. 57 and the driver's gave it everything they had to run down the competition to finish 4th."

Mike Borkowski was making his debut as a new member of the Stevenson team. This former Trans-Am Rookie of the Year and veteran competitor felt terrible about his shunt and how it pushed the No. 97 car out of a possible podium placing.

Borkowski: ""I feel horrible for having the incident and costing us time and what would have been an even greater finish. A GT car crashed and was stuck in the wall. The next lap, he drove back on track with his broken car and was creeping very slowly at the apex of the kink. I went around the outside cleanly but then I locked the brakes when I came to turn 5. I think I got a lot of pickup on the tires from running wide at the kink. I should have slowed even earlier for the turn after running in the marbles. I blame myself and I feel terrible because everyone on our team deserved a better finish. I am more motivated than ever to redeem myself."

Matt Bell too joined the Stevenson team for the 2010 season, to co-drive the No. 6 Sunoco Camaro with Jeff Bucknum, in the Continental Tire Challenge Series. At Daytona, he was also pressed into service to support Gunter Schaldach, Borkowski and Brady Refenning in the No. 97 car for the Rolex 24. Bell found his new team to be quite an interesting and appealing environment in which to drive a race car -- or two.

Bell: "The weekend was truly amazing. Going from the No. 6 GS car in Continental to the No. 97 Rolex GT car for the 24 Hour was truly a difficult but unforgettable experience. The switch between the two classes would not have been easy had Stevenson not prepared such an easily-driven car. The professionalism expressed by the team is second to none. I have never before seen such mental and strategic agility applied to this sport, regardless of the hour of day and distance traveled. Everyone on the radio knew exactly what to do under any circumstance, this is a huge confidence booster in a driver, and it is the first time I've felt this way behind the wheel."

Bell also noted the track and weather conditions that played into Borkowski's off-track excursion.

"The track conditions left something to be desired. Every stint I took, the course would change slightly. Due to the extreme cold, the racing surface never dried off the common "dry line", which meant every lap around every turn had to be taken very carefully. Just a few inches off the beaten path could very dramatically reduce traction. Driving on fresh slicks was also something I'm sure all the drivers in the 97 car had to get used to. These Pirellis are nothing short of brilliant once they're warm, but with barely any heat in them from pit lane, more extreme caution had to be taken."

Like Bell and Borkowski, Gunter Schaldach was making his first run as a member of the Stevenson team, and his first run in a 2010 Chevrolet Camaro, and he had nothing but praise for both.

Schaldach: "The car performed exceptionally. I love the 2010 Camaro and am very proud to be driving such an awesome car. The Pratt & Miller guys have built a performance machine and I am looking forward to learning how to get that Camaro around the track.

"I also regret not yet knowing the names of all the guys on the team. I hope by next race I have all the names sorted out. I do appreciate all the energy these guys put into the team and the car. The teams I have worked with before really didn't have the pride in their work like the Stevenson group."

Team owner John Stevenson expressed his pleasure with how the 2010 season -- the biggest effort he has ever put forth in racing -- has gotten started.

"Our transition from one to four cars for the 2010 season is off to a great start! I am extremely proud of our leader and team manager, Mike Johnson. Michael Hoffman and Chris Vallely, crew chiefs of the #57 and #97 respectively, lead their crews flawlessly throughout the weekend and the 24 hour race. Robin Liddell showed his normal outstanding driving skills, especially starting in the rain, and Andrew Davis and Jan Magnussen both drove perfect races.

"We introduced the 97 team with Gunter Schaldach joining our organization for our first race. He did an outstanding job, as did Matt Bell and Brady Refenning. I am excited about our performance at Daytona and look forward to campaigning these two new Camaros for the 2010 season.

"I want to say thanks to all of my guys and drivers for an outstanding showing at the Rolex 24 hours at Daytona."

Liddell found comfort in knowing this Rolex 24 Hours ended with both cars still running and with the No. 57 car bringing home the highest ever finish for the team.

Liddell: "This was by far our best performance to date at Daytona and whilst the result was a little disappointing the pace and execution was encouraging. I think we made the most of the opportunities which came our way; in a long race like that it will not always fall your way but Mike and the team did a super job in the pits and allowed us to drive fast on track and show what we could do. I also have to say it was a real pleasure to have Jan on the team and I hope to be able to drive with him again sometime."

After two consecutive seasons of coming close to winning the GT class Team and Driver's Championships, the Stevenson team went into the first race of the 2010 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No.16 season with high hopes for an even better finish in 2010. While they didn't come away from Daytona with a win, they did score some very important championship points.

Davis: "We picked up some big points in this race and that puts us in a good starting position for the rest of the season. We found we had a great run going, with us staying in the lead for so many hours. It was a shame we had trouble with the gearbox but we came back strong and never stopped pushing hard to move back up.

Johnson: "In the end, we will look at this race as a lost opportunity. We had the goods to win and podium and we spent the time we should have been celebrating in victory lane in the garage fixing broken race cars."

The 2010 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No.16 schedule begins with the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona on January 30th

-source: stevenson motorsports

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