Stevenson Camaro GT.R Does Not Win At Rolex 24, But They Still Did Donuts
Despite setbacks, Stevenson Camaro keeps going to finish just outside the top 10
In the end, they finished in 12th place, but when Robin Liddell started 7th on the grid at the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, the opening round of the 2011 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No.16 season, the man knew he wasn't where he really wanted to be. When the green flag waved to start the race, Liddell, in the Stevenson Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro GT.R No. 57, decided the best time to improve his position was now, rather than later. At the end of lap one, he had the Camaro up to fourth place, and quickly found himself drafting three Porsche race cars on the steep Daytona International Speedway banking. By the second lap he was in third place and by the end of lap three he had moved to the place he really wanted to be all along, in first.
Liddell would hold onto the lead in the GT class for a glorious 23 laps until he experienced electrical fuel pressure issues which forced him off track and into the garage. The team lost precious time and laps to repairs, coming back to the fray in 32nd place having been 'shorted' 25 laps against the leaders.
From this difficult start came an intrepid and inspired charge to chase onward and upward. With the Camaro back in action and apparently healthy again, the No. 57 car moved up to 25th position after just over four hours on the clock. Within another hour and a half the climb in positions put them at 19th.
While charging back into the fight with a full head of steam seemed to position the team for a shot at a top five finish 19 hours on, it turns out they weren't yet finished experiencing the sometimes regressive tendencies inherent in this grueling event. Sure enough, during the night the steering rack developed an issue which forced the team to park the car once again within the Daytona garages. In total, this decidedly fast and competitive Chevrolet Camaro surrendered over two hours of track time to repairs. Once the fixes were in, the three drivers, Liddell, Ronnie Bremer and Jan Magnussen, made best use of the new track surface and took off after the race leading Porsches. The clock said they were out of time but they never stopped trying.
Team owner John Stevenson: "Obviously, we're disappointed in having some electrical issues early on in the race when we were leading," he said, "It got us down over an hour, so 25 laps are hard to overcome, but we came from 32nd to 12th, so we pushed as hard as we could to get as many points as we could. Now we'll move on. We've got the whole rest of the season to go."
Mike Johnson: "This was my 10th Rolex 24 and by far my worst. The hardest part was the fact that I don't think we could have been any better prepared and I have never worked with a driver line up that strong. At the end of the race, the car was dirty, but didn't have a scratch on it. We only added 1 quart of oil to the engine, and even less water and we finished with 5 working gears and a clutch. I think we could start another 24 hour race right now and be just as strong, but we all know that's not going to happen.
"A few hours into the race," Johnson continued, "Robin lost fuel pressure and was able to nurse it to the pits, we could not get it to run, and the data was showing a failed fuel pump so we dragged it to the garage and started ripping apart the fuel cell to service the pumps. Once we had it apart, we found that the IPU had failed and all we had to do was put in a new one which took two minutes. Of course now we had to put the cell back together and we ended up going down 26 laps."
Despite the frustration of an incorrect diagnosis, Johnson and the rest of the team never gave up. "We got a few of those lost laps back pretty quickly, he noted, "as our drivers could go around just about anyone on the track except the very fast Porsches. At that point a top 10 finish was very much in the cards, but once again, we found ourselves with another problem and back in the garage."
Robin Liddell: "The steering rack had become damaged by some debris from the racetrack."
Johnson: "This time the steering rack began losing fluid and we had to replace it which is not a quick job, so we lost another hour. At that point we just wanted to break into the top14 so that all the effort would be worth something due to the new rule that says all teams finishing 15th or worse get 15th place points."
Liddell summed up his feeling that this car could have delivered better results if not for the team's misfortunes on an otherwise warm Florida weekend. "Obviously the car was strong and we were able to lead most of the first hour and a half of the race." Liddell noted. "Regardless of the repairs, the car performed very well; it was fast and I think we really had a car to win. It was very disappointing from that standpoint but the guys worked really hard to keep coming back so we kept pushing the car hard on track to try and make back up as many positions as possible.
"The spirit of everyone on the team remained high and we kept pressing on to see what we could salvage. I want to say thanks to the guys for their unwavering enthusiasm."
Johnson: "Right now, all I care about it getting ready for Homestead and proving to ourselves once and for all that we can win the GT championship. We have no more excuses and while 12th is horrible, it gives us enough points to start the rest of the season."
While no one on the Stevenson Team could claim a high degree of satisfaction with the way this race played out, once the gremlins had been chased away for good, Mike Johnson found a way to keep spirits high in the wee hours of the morning.
Johnson: "Despite the setbacks, when the early morning fog rolled in and Grand-Am had the field running for over two hours under yellow, we did have some fun though. While running under the caution flag we decided to play some techno music for Ronnie so he wouldn't fall asleep. I put my iPhone up to the headset and opened the microphone. We all started dancing around since we were wired on energy drinks and feeling pretty slap happy!
"Later in the race, Krispy Kreme donuts suddenly showed up in the pits, so we asked Robin on the radio if he wanted one. Now, I have never said, "Pit now for Fuel, Tires and a Krispy Kreme," before! When Robin pulled into the pit, Pat Hughes handed him the brake dust and grease covered donut and Robin shoved it up under his helmet! Good for our fans, and bad for us, the videos are now on our Facebook pages! We might have to start making a tradition of playing music under yellows!"
The next race in the 2011 Grand-Am Rolex Series will be held March 4 - 5 with the running of the Grand Prix of Miami, at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
-source: stevenson motorsports