Dreams of winning NA Endurance Championship are smacked aside in the rain
No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro GT.R slides into wall in the rain
No. 75 sister car is roughed up by a DP and forced to drop out of the race
The new for 2012 GRAND-AM sanctioned North American Endurance Championship (NAEC) concluded at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this past weekend with the team that was leading the championship coming in to the weekend – Stevenson Motorsports – knocked out of contention with broken suspensions on both cars. Prior to the bad luck, both cars had a shot at finishing on the podium.
Robin Liddell simply lost traction in a driving rain entering the pits and once the tires lost grip, he could only hold on as the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro GT.R slid into the wall. The second Stevenson entry, the No. 75 Camaro driven by Matt Bell and Ronnie Bremer, fared no better when, late in the race, an aggressive Daytona Prototype tried to squeeze between Bremer and the outside wall through a space not wide enough for two. The resulting impact damaged the Camaro to the extent that it too had to be retired early.
Liddell started third on the grid with Bell in the No. 75 car starting in ninth position. They got off to a good start in the wet conditions with Robin opening up a large lead and Matt moving up through the pack. As the rain cleared, both cars pitted for slick tires, but going into turn one, the No. 75 lost a tire, putting them a lap down early in the race. The rains came again, but this time, the No. 57 was still on slicks and hit the wall at the entrance of pit lane. The No. 75, with Ronnie Bremer driving got their lap back with 55 minutes to go and still could have sealed a team victory for the Stevenson team in the NAEC, but it all ended in a big crash on the front straight. The team repaired the No. 57 so it could continue to finish 15th, while the 75 finished the race in the garage in 17th.
Liddell: “It was a disastrous outcome for us in so many different ways; it really was a weekend to forget for the whole team. We practiced well and were quickest, but as we had seen at the test several weeks ago when we put on new tires (for qualifying) we completely lost the balance of the car and so we lined up third on the grid for the race.
“It rained hard before the start,” Liddell continued, “so the whole field started on wets, and we managed to quickly move into the lead on lap one. We were pretty comfortable out in front and managed to consolidate our lead when it started to dry out and we pitted for slicks, but soon afterwards it started raining hard on the front stretch whilst we were driving around under caution on the back stretch where there was only a sprinkling of rain. Everyone was coming into the pits for wet tires and I was the first car following the safety car into the pits. I felt like I was going pretty slowly around 30 to 40 mph when suddenly the car just aquaplaned and got away from me and I clipped the wall just yards from the start of the pit lane itself. It was an unfortunate error on my part; it probably cost us the win and we have paid a heavy price. I feel really bad for the entire team and the whole program. We were in a good position with a winning car on the day and an unforced error on my part left us down in 15th place. Needless to say I will be giving it my all in these last few races to overcome this setback and finish on top."
The Inaugural running of sports car races at Indy came at a price to all the teams in both the Rolex and Continental Tire Series. Both series had to complete their practice, qualifying and racing periods in one day, and it was the same day for both! Stevenson Team Manager Mike Johnson decided that was just too much work to cram into too little time when he said, “I used to think the 40 or so hours it takes to run the Rolex 24 was the longest day in racing, but I think Indy now takes the cake. Racing three cars in two classes in just a single day is difficult, and when you add practice and qualifying to that day, it's almost impossible. Our crew however, made it look easy as we were quickest in practice for both races and started 2 cars on the second row. Unfortunately, that's when the good feelings went away.”
The Stevenson team came into Indy having won the prior race at Watkins Glen (No. 57 car). That win put them at the top of the NAEC standings. Johnson had expected this weekend to see them continuing to run up front and putting both feet down on the podium, taking a top placing in the race and in the NAEC .
“We just had an almost perfect weekend at Watkins Glen three weeks ago” Johnson commented, “and we were closing up the GT championship and leading the NAEC so our hopes we very high. However, Robin got caught out in the changing track conditions and Ronnie was completely taken out by the No. 01 DP car. I know Robin was upset about the wreck, but we all make mistakes and we win and lose as a team. Ronnie's accident on the other hand was entirely not his fault as Memo Rojas tried a ridiculous pass on the OUTSIDE of the fastest corner we see all year and tried to squeeze his 6 foot wide DP into a 5 foot hole. Of course his car finished 2nd, and our car was destroyed. To make matters worse, GRAND-AM saw nothing wrong in the attempted pass, so we pushed the two broken cars into the trailer with no justification. All we can do now is rebuild and finish strong in the next 4 races.”
John Edwards had raced in the earlier Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge race and had learned that the rains made the Indy circuit a treacherous place. He understood completely how Liddell could have come to be just a reluctant spectator as his Camaro went off tack.
Edwards: “We had a great car for the first ever GT race at Indy, thanks to all the hard work by the team during the brutally hot two day test earlier this month. However, drastically changing conditions caught Robin out on pit entry while he was on dry tires, and he aquaplaned into the wall. Although it was a very slow speed impact, it did damage the right-rear of the car and we were out of contention for the win. I knew from driving in the GS race earlier in the day that the torrential downpours caused extreme puddles in several areas and in a very short period of time, so it is too bad that Robin hit one of those puddles and it sent him into the wall. However, we are still second in the championship and looking forward to a couple of the best tracks for the Camaro in the next two rounds, so we're looking for redemption as we go back to Watkins Glen and then on to Montreal.”
Prior to this weekend, the No. 57 Camaro had picked up a top ten finish in every race. They have one win, five top five runs and they have been on the podium five times.
In the final NAEC standings, Robin Liddell and John Edwards were tied for third place in the drivers standing and the Stevenson Team took the third spot as well, in the team championship.
For the No. 75 car, driven by Ronnie Bremer and Matt Bell, the race was progressing nicely until the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Daytona Prototype, driven by Memo Rojas attempted an ill-advised pass that resulted in both cars being knocked out of contention.
Matt Bell recounts the way the race played out for the No 75 Camaro: “My stint was relatively simple. It was very wet at the start, and the team made a last minute call to throw on rain tires-- just minutes before pit lane was closed! It was an excellent call, and they definitely got their money's worth out of the treads. I ran on those the entire stint, including quite a few laps in the dry. The car was really excellent in the wet, I just didn't quite have the confidence yet to wring it out and contest for positions. My job was to give Ronnie a clean car that he can run to the front. Unfortunately, with all the debris on the track from previous instances, my left front tire was cut down and burst in the braking zone for turn one. It was very lucky that it happened in a spot with that much runoff room, but very unlucky that it happened right at the end of pit lane-- we lost a lap as I had to slowly drive the car around the entire track.
“Ronnie was a rock star.” Bell continued, “He got in that car and immediately started banging out fast laps in the dry. The dry didn't last, nor did our car. Memo Rojas had his head on the wrong way sending himself off, and half a lap later he attempted a pass on Ronnie on the outside of NASCAR turn one, one of the fastest corners we see all year. Memo lost control, bounced off the wall, and slammed into the No. 75, destroying both ends of our car. Ronnie walked away from it, but to add insult to injury, Rojas and Scott Pruett in the No. 01 went on to finish second since GRAND-Am neglected to hand out a penalty. Ronnie and I lose our last race, and the person that killed our chances leaves Indy smelling like Champagne. It's a bitter pill to swallow.” Despite the rain, the crashes, the flat tire, and the sheer agony of not being able to finish what they started, Bell remains positive that his team remains positive at all times.
Bell: “Regardless of our finish, the Stevenson team did an incredible job. It was a hectic day but they kept ahead of all the changes and strategy. Even after I was out of the car and Ronnie was a lap down, our pit box was filled with confident conversation on how they'll get back on the lead lap. Stevenson Motorsports is an incredible bunch of people, and it's simply a shame that the season's last chance for me to experience their mighty GT car ended in a bad crash.”
Source: Stevenson Motorsport