Stevenson Motorsports Pontiac and Corvette Endure At Rolex 24
At the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, the opening round of the 2009 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No.16., Stevenson Motorsports fielded a Pontiac and a Corvette in the GT class. Both cars ran strong through to the end of the race with the Pontiac finishing 6th in class and the Corvette coming across the line in 12th.
If not for a few issues late in the race, the No 57 Stevenson / BryanMark Financial Pontiac GXP.R Pontiac, driven by Andrew Davis, Jeff Bucknum and Robin Liddell, looked good for a possible podium finish. The car was up to third place near the end, despite a speed deficit to the Mazda's and Porsche's in the field.
No. 57 Stevenson / BryanMark Financial Pontiac GXP.R Race Report:
Team Manager Mike Johnson: "Robin started the race and in the first stint he was complaining of his feet being hot. When we did the driver change we had an extended stop to add a hose to the car to get more air to the pedal area. Robin had blisters on his feet so we put Andrew in the car."
Robin Liddell: "My opening stint at the start of the race was really tough as the blower fan near my feet wasn't working and as a result I blistered both feet. The fan problem was later rectified but they were pretty sore for the rest of the race.
Johnson: "We went through the rest of the driver rotation without any real problems except that we had to do two brake rotor changes. We have never had to do that before but, since we are carrying all this extra weight Grand-Am forced us to add, the ears on the rotors were actually breaking off. The rotors were coming disconnected from the rotor hat, which is a dangerous situation. And this problem happened on both our car and the No. 07 Banner Pontiac. Both times that we stopped to change rotors we lost a lap."
Liddell: "We were fourth at mid-distance and looking in very good shape but Andrew picked up a left front tire puncture which cost us four laps. With the pace at the front being so strong, we were never going to make that back up."
Johnson: "During Andrew's second stint the left front tire failed at turn five and he had to drive all the way around to the pits and that lost us time. When the tire came apart it ripped the canister off the left front shock. The car then had no working left front shock absorber for the duration of the race.
"We continued to move up as other cars had problems and we were running in fifth. We were content with that but then the No. 07 Pontiac had exhaust problems and when they went behind the wall to fix that we moved up into fourth place."
Andrew Davis: "I am very proud of the effort put forth by the entire Stevenson Motorsports organization during this challenging event. We knew that we were up against a virtually unbeatable field of Porsches, since the rule book doesn't favor our BryanMark Financial Pontiac GXP.R in terms of top speed. So, our strategy was to simply outlast the others by running a mistake free race. It seemed that our strategy had worked perfectly as we entered the final hour of the race in good position for a podium finish."
Johnson: "With about an hour and ten minutes to go, we were about 45 seconds behind the No. 33 car and two laps ahead of the No. 07, and then we got a full course yellow with about an hour to go and when the wave-bys were settled, we were only nine seconds behind. We were just outside of our fuel window but we decided to pit anyway. Robin stayed in the car and we told him to go get the No. 33 car."
Liddell: "We had been pushing throughout the entire race and it looked like we were getting a break towards the end but incredibly on the very same lap that I snatched third place, I exited a slow corner and suddenly lost all drive changing from second to third gear.
Johnson: "When the restart came we heard over the radio that the 33 car had jumped the restart and would be penalized. We all just jumped out of the timing stand, cheering and hugging and almost crying because we looked like we were going to be in third place! I got on the radio and told Robin to just bring it home, but as he was shifting from second to third gear, the tripod broke on the right rear upright! He brought the car in and the guys did a great job to replace the axle and upright in 12 minutes time. But in a matter of 30 seconds we went from a feeling of incredible euphoria to shock and disbelief! But no one gave up and once Robin got the car into the pits the guys jumped right on it and got it back in the race."
Davis: "I can't say enough about our pit stops during the race. The Stevenson Motorsports crew did a phenomenal job of making quick stops, including one of the fastest axle changes that I have ever seen! Keep in mind that the guys had been awake for well over 24 hours when they were forced to make that change."
The Stevenson crew once again demonstrated the depth of talent they possess as they quickly affected repairs each time they were called upon. The team's performance overall gave them a result that, while not as satisfying as a win, Johnson found to be very rewarding.
"I am really happy with the performance of the team, the drivers and the car. To start with a car in 19th and having it running in the top five for most of the race is truly amazing. 6th is great and gives us a great starting point for the championship."
Jeff Bucknum: "Racing is about winning races, but this team is also very hungry for a Championship, and I think we did a great job finishing in 6th place after 24hrs of racing. I know the Pontiac GXP.R is a very fast and strong car for a run at the championship this year, but unfortunately Daytona is its weakest track for fast lap times. The good news is Pratt and Miller builds a fantastic race car that is so solid and reliable that we were able to keep pushing the car every lap like it was the first lap for 24 hours."
Liddell: "Overall, we are not too disappointed as a top-six finish at this race is a good start to the season, especially when you consider all the variables in a long distance race such as this."
Davis: "Although disappointed to miss another podium appearance, we are pleased to leave this gruelling event with solid points to begin our run at the 2009 GT championship."
Bucknum: "It was really great running with the Stevenson Motorsports Team at the 24 hours of Daytona. I can honestly say this was the first time I have done a 24 hour race where I was a part of a team that had all the elements to have a great race. (Team owners) Johnny and Susan Stevenson are such great people. They are truly people that take racing seriously and know what it takes to be winners. It is hard to find team owners like them who make sure that have the best of everything from equipment crew members to drivers. And I felt so honored to be a part of their Pontiac GT team this year, driving alongside such great drivers as Robin Liddell and Andrew Davis."
Johnson summed up the race with a caution about what lies ahead for the team that finished second in last year's team and drivers championships, and received a weight penalty for their efforts.
"On the final results it will say the Pontiac's finished fourth and sixth but I think the real story is that, for us, with all the weight we are carrying and the wear on our rotors, we did really well here. We really don't know what else we could have done. When you have the two best teams from last year - and the four best drivers - and the only reason they finished that high is because the other guys made mistakes or had problems, tells you something is wrong. We made no mistakes but our weight penalty kept us from the podium."
For the balance of the season, Stevenson Motorsports will campaign the Pontiac, with Davis and Liddell aboard. Johnson would like to see Grand-Am turn back the clock on rule changes made last season in an attempt to balance the competition in the class.
"For us to really start becoming more competitive, we are going to need some help from Grand-Am. To have all the Pontiacs run consistently over a second off the pace is ridiculous. We are still being penalized for doing a good job last year and the Porsche's and Mazda's have been allowed to update their cars over the winter."
No. 97 Stevenson Motorsports Corvette Race Report:
Prior to switching to the Pontiac GXP.R for the 2008 season, Stevenson Motorsports ran a pair of Chevrolet Corvettes in the GT class. One of these, a car built by Crawford Engineering, was retained by the team and entered into the 2009 Rolex 24. It was driven by James Gue, Tom Long, Ryan Eversley and Galen Bieker. They completed 650 laps, finishing the grueling contest 45 laps off the GT leader's pace.
Johnson: "The Corvette started off well. They went through a full rotation one time and then the driver's started to double stint. They later had a lower ball joint failure which we had never seen on that car before. We took the car behind the wall and repaired it and after that they pretty much just kept moving along.
"After some time the engine started to burn oil and they had to add oil on every pit stop. With about eight hours to go Michael Gue told me the motor was getting worse and asked if we should stop the car or keep going and see what happens with the motor. We decided to keep going and so we just kept putting oil in it."
James Gue: "I was pleased with the result considering all of the factors we were up against. For most of the second half of the race we were missing 2nd gear and the engine was slowly dying due to being over-revved earlier in the race. We managed to continue on; the only other set back was a ball joint that failed at about 6 in the morning.
"All things considered, to finish the race was a great accomplishment. The team did a great job preparing the car; it ran faultlessly other than the self-inflicted problems. I just need to thank the whole crew and everyone at Stevenson Motorsports for the great job they did."
Tom Long: "Running with the Stevenson Crawford Corvette No. 97 was a great experience. Michael Gue (crew chief) & Scott Besst (engineer) made great calls on the radio, while our spotter helped keep our concentration and pace up over the night hours. I say 'hats off' to the entire crew for their determination and clockwork-like pit stops. I really would like to thank the Stevenson's for their hospitality and congratulate the entire team for a strong start to the '09 Rolex season!"
Johnson: "The guys had a good result and I think John and Susan (Stevenson) were pleased that the car finished. I was a little disappointed that we didn't have the speed we had in the last two races, but this whole deal came together so late. Two of the drivers signed up just a few days before the race, while the cars that finished in front of our Corvette were running programs that had been put together months earlier. To have such a good result given the circumstances was something we are happy about. After this strong showing perhaps someone will want to buy the car or come on board with us for the rest of the season."
The next race on the 2009 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No.16 will be held at Virginia International Raceway the weekend of April 24 -- 26.