Streak of four consecutive podium finishes ends on long straights of Road America
“This was our most frustrating event to date.” Said Robin Liddell who, along with John Edwards pilots the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro in the 2012 Grand-Am Rolex Series season, He was referring to the sixth place finish the team achieved despite a lack of competitive balance in the GT class this season.
Because of a rainstorm that passed over the Road America circuit when qualifying was scheduled to take place, the GRAND-AM officials decided to grid the cars by their position in the standings. This meant the Stevenson team started second on the grid, a great place to begin what in the end would be a difficult race for the eagle-adorned Camaro.
Team Manager Mike Johnson: “We did not expect Road America to be a good track for us, so starting on the front row due to qualifying being rained out helped with our early track position. We had an early yellow which the No. 69 Ferrari and No. 59 Porsche decided to take, but since we figured the race would have a lot of green flag racing, we decided to stay out front and try to pull a gap on the field. The plan was to pit under green before the other pro drivers got into their respective cars. While this plan worked great in principal, we just didn't have the straight line speed to compete with the BMW, Mazdas and the Ferrari. We slowly moved down the order as we expected and had to settle for 6th.”
John Edwards would like to see a change that results in a return to top form for the Camaro. His desire lies not with the team but with the rules for the series.
“The Stevenson Team continued to do the same great job that has delivered a streak of 4 podiums in a row coming into Road America,” Edwards said, “but unfortunately the long straights at Road America served to emphasize our weakness in top speed. Ironically, the big American muscle car has been so limited in straight line speed by the series that we are one of the slowest cars down the straightaways. At a place like Road America, this makes it very tough for us to perform.”
Edwards feels he had a good run if not for the lack of straight line speed.
“I drove under caution for a lot of my stint after there was a big crash in the early laps,” Edwards declared, “but I was able to take the lead after the Ferrari pitted and Sylvain (Tremblay – No. 70 Mazda) made a mistake to allow me to get alongside. Although I led the rest of the stint, the faster pace of the other cars was much more obvious once the finishing drivers got in. At that point, we knew we would be lucky to get a top five thanks to our lack of straight line speed, and Robin came to the line fighting hard for that spot.
“In short,” Edwards continued, “The Stevenson team did a great job and Robin drove hard to defend against much faster cars, but the best we could manage was a sixth. Hopefully some changes will come for Watkins Glen to equalize the Camaro with the rest of the field."
Liddell is convinced someone isn’t watching these races carefully enough.
Liddell: “This was not a great weekend in terms of the result but I think it must now be screamingly obvious to anyone watching that we are at a distinct disadvantage in terms of pace. I think the only car which didn't pass or drive away from us was the Audi. The fact that we were the first Chevy Camaro home was a testimony to the great job by the whole Stevenson team, the reliability of the Camaro, and our ability as drivers to defend where we could and use our small advantage on the brakes to minimize positions lost or regain the odd spot after we got passed down the straights.”
Johnson chimed in with similar sentiments when he said, “Our drivers did an amazing job battling throughout the race to keep the sixth spot as it could have easily been a seventh or eighth place finish. Unfortunately for us, we lost another 10 points to the No. 69 Ferrari and Grand-Am still has the rules in their favor, so I don't know what else we can do.”
Johnson offers this explanation of just what the team is up against this season.
“To lay it out, we weigh 2808 pounds and the Ferrari is 2800, so we are basically the same on that front, but that is where it stops.” Johnson explained. “The Ferrari has larger brakes, lower ride height, bigger tires, more downforce, better fuel mileage, a bigger fuel tank and quicker fuel delivery, plus a paddle shift system. Usually, one car has an advantage on part of the track, but a disadvantage somewhere else. We have no advantage during any part of the race where we could out drag, brake, corner, or out strategize the Ferrari. All we can do is keep performing at a very high level and see where we end up.”
Liddell again notes that perhaps the time for a rules adjustment is now, before the season slips away along with the fans that look to see competitive racing. He is looking forward to the next race – the ‘Sahlen’s Six Hours at The Glen’ – where, perhaps, the team can apply their strengths effectively and counter the advantages the Ferrari now enjoys.
“Despite the glaring disparity in performance with the way the rules exist today,” Liddell continued, ”like John I too am looking forward to getting back to Watkins Glen where hopefully over the 6 hour event we can rely on the skill of the crew, our setup and our consistency to get closer to the front by the end. Right now, Ferrari is being allowed to run away with the series which was entirely predictable but in my view unfortunate for both the fans and all the other competitors.”
Despite the lack of pace compared to the three-race winning Ferrari, Liddell and the Stevenson team retain their second place standings in the Drivers and Manufacturers season championships.
Source: Stevenson Motsports