Team runs two cars in fight to lead North American Endurance Championship. One car starts first, other car finishes first!
With the second round of the new GRAND-Am sanctioned North American Endurance Championship (NAEC) taking place this past weekend at Watkins Glen International, the Stevenson team entered both the No. 57 and No. 75 Chevrolet Camaros in pursuit of a solid placing in the NAEC and in the season-long Rolex Series. With a little help from a new friend, the No. 75 started the race on the pole and the No. 57 finished the race in first place.
Robin Liddell and John Edwards pulled down the team’s first Rolex race win for 2012, holding off a hard-charging Turner Motorsports BMW for an exciting finish that couldn’t be more welcome by a team that has been on the road for five weeks straight. The sister car, No. 75, had not been run since the season opening race at Daytona. For this round, regular Stevenson drivers Matt Bell and super-sub Ronnie Bremer were joined by Jordan Taylor, son of Wayne Taylor and a rapidly rising young star in the world of GRAND-AM racing.
Team owner John Stevenson was delighted to have Taylor join the team for this important round of the series.
“Jordan really impressed us by coming on board at such short notice and then going out and winning the pole.” Stevenson said. “The team has been pushing really hard with so many races back to back the last month and his performance along with the outstanding drives during the race by Matt, Ronnie, John and Robin, really energized everyone and the result was our first win. I could not be prouder of this team!”
Taylor unfortunately found himself without an entry from his regular season team and thus became available for an endurance race like the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen. (Taylor was a late addition to the team after Autohaus Motorsports withdrew from the event.) When he was asked to join the Stevenson team for this race, Taylor made the best of first impressions when he put the No. 75 Camaro on the pole position.
“The weekend went really well.” Taylor commented. “It was tough having to change teams just two days before the event, but all the guys at Stevenson made it an easy adjustment. I enjoyed working with all the guys on the team, and had a good time working alongside Ronnie and Matt.
Taylor continued: “It was hard to see where we were against the competition through practice, but we were able to get the pole, which was great. For the race, we led the majority of the first two hours. It was a very solid race for us with very few mistakes. We were able to come out with a top five finish, and get some good points for the team and for Ronnie for the Endurance Championship. I have to thank everyone from Team Chevy and Stevenson Motorsports for having me in the car this week.”
Starting in the first and fifth positions on the grid, the Stevenson Camaros soon ran in tandem at the front. Earlier, in practice, Liddell had suffered a tire failure and that gave the team cause for concern. It happened again during qualifying but not before he was able to qualify in fifth position.
"What an amazing job the whole Stevenson Motorsports team did this weekend.” Liddell said. “It was a two car effort and between us we pretty much dominated the weekend. Both cars had pace all weekend although our car, No. 57, had a couple of setbacks early on in both practice and on the third lap in qualifying when the left rear tire blew out. Both blowouts came while traveling at around 150 mph and both incidents occurred on the same stretch of the track, within 100 yards from each other. This meant that our qualifying run was curtailed although we did record the fifth fastest time in the laps before the tire let go.”
Liddell and Edwards came through a hot race with a hot BMW on their tails at the end and with the thought of blown tires and an empty gas tank always in the back of their minds. For the first few hours the Camaros were in the lead. After about 2 hours and 15 minutes, Edwards took over from Liddell in the No. 57 and Bell replaced Taylor in the No. 75. With 2 hours and 15 minutes remaining, Ronnie got into the 75 and with an hour and a half to go, Robin got back into the 57.
“After some tweaks to the car, we felt more confident for the race although in the back of my mind I wondered whether we had the tire issues completely covered.” Liddell said. “After the green flag we quickly moved up to second behind Jordan in the pole-sitting No. 75. We then went ahead of him after the first pit stop to lead the race but traded places once more after the second pit stop. GRAND-AM then made a poor call on a restart after a yellow and penalized me for a jump start! It was clearly evident that I was only taking evasive action as there was clearly an incident ahead of me with cars jamming on their brakes and making contact. I saw this, and the billowing tire smoke, so I immediately reacted by pulling to the right alongside Jordan to avoid rear-ending him. The move prevented a collision and did not result in my having gained a position.
“Ironically I got back into the lead by the end of that lap”, Liddell continued, “but then had to come into the pits to serve an undeserved stop/go penalty which then shuffled us to dead last. I was a bit upset about that so I set about making up as many spots as possible and think I worked my way back up to fourth or fifth. John then took over and drove superbly, getting us back up into the lead as well as saving enough fuel to get us back on target for the fuel strategy to the finish.”
John Edwards really enjoyed being a partner in picking up the team’s first win this season.
“Finally!” Edwards said with great enthusiasm. “The Stevenson Team has been on top of its game from the very beginning of the season, but a win has eluded us so far for one reason or another, but we got a victory at what is probably the second biggest race of the season, next to the Rolex 24. We made up ground in the championship, and we are also now leading the NAEC side of the championship, which comes with a nice bonus if we can hang on at Indianapolis.”
Racing a hot car on a hot day can really push a driver and crew to the limits as Edwards notes here.
“I don't think I've ever seen a Rolex race go as long without any cautions as it did during the middle of the 6 Hour, which gave me green running for my entire 2.5 hour stint. Considering ambient temps were close to 90 degrees and our helmet blower failed halfway through my stint, it was a hard day's work! However, the car was working very well and I saved fuel throughout my entire stint so that we could make the race on only one more stop. A caution during Robin's final stint made us pit a little earlier than planned though, so Robin was very close to running out of fuel, which made his last lap the most nervous I've ever been watching a race! It was a big moment of relief to see him come out of the last corner under power and take the flag. I'm looking forward to carrying this momentum forward as we have the best shot at challenging the Ferrari for the championship in the next five races.”
Liddell continues his race recap, echoing Edwards comments about the heat in the car and all around it: “It was hot in the car due to the a/c and helmet blower failing but John soldiered on for around 2.5 hours which gave me an easier time for the last stint. We had a couple of hairy moments on restarts but essentially it came down to a battle between us and the BMW in the last hour whilst saving fuel and trying to avoid tripping over some slower GT cars or losing too much time with the faster DP's lapping us. Fortunately I held on and we came across the line in first place with just half a gallon of fuel left in the tank!
“This was a fantastic result for a great team that includes our crew as well as Chevy, Pratt & Miller and Katech engineering.” Liddell commented. “Both of the cars were fast and faultless and we have now closed the gap in points although not as much as we should have due to the Ferrari making an illegal pit stop under the last yellow and therefore jumping up to 3rd place."
One key consideration Team Manager Mike Johnson had to keep in mind was an approximate 43 minute flat out run limit on fuel if the racing was under green conditions. Fuel was tight throughout the race but, with a wave-by error by GRAND-AM race officials late in the race, an extended yellow period allowed the cars to finish without an additional fuel stop.
Both cars crossed the finish line with under a gallon of gas left in their tanks!
Johnson: “With an hour to go, we took a gamble and decided to pit for fuel and no tires knowing that we were outside our fuel window to make it to the end, but as Grand-Am screwed up another wave by procedure, they went back to yellow and that made it very close to the end. We told Robin and Ronnie every lap that they were tight on fuel as they both wanted to run at max power to defend their positions. The cars went to reserve with two laps to go, and we all feared the worst as they passed the white flag, but when they came out of the last corner, we knew we had it.”
Bell felt the GRAND-AM’s handling of the wave-by knocked the No. 75 car off the third step of the podium when he said, “Ronnie did a phenomenal job keeping us close to the front while the team scrambled to stay ahead of the strategy on fuel. Unfortunately, the No. 69 Ferrari knocked us off the podium by taking advantage of an inappropriate wave-by and an odd pit stop combined with GRAND-AM’s inability to amend the issue. This is a pretty poor way to lose a podium finish, knowing we had the pace, had the fuel mileage, and made all the right decisions to legally take it.”
Despite the one-step-away fourth place result, Bell found plenty to be happy about.
Bell: “What a fun race! I was extremely honored to be asked to join the No. 75 GT car program for this iconic race at the Glen. Jordan was a late addition, but a great one as he put the car on the pole for qualifying. This was outstanding and completely smashed any doubt that the No. 75 was every bit as fast as the No. 57, especially with someone having so much experience as Jordan Taylor. He went on to lead most of his stint and lay down some of the fastest laps of the race.”
“At the end of the day,” Bell said, “the No. 75 crew did a phenomenal job making great calls in strategy, perfect stops, and delivering each driver with the car and information needed to meet their individual goals. My congratulations to the No. 57 car for winning the Sahlen’s Six Hours at the Glen! It was an incredible feat for John and Robin as well as the entire Stevenson Motorsports team. We knew that Chevrolet and Pratt and Miller had given us a great race car, now we just need some fairness out of the series to prove it.” Johnson: “This was a total team result. The guys worked so hard at the shop for the last few months fine tuning the fuel cells in both cars to make sure we could get every last drop out of the tanks since we have the smallest cells in the class at only 16.5 gallons. All five of our drivers drove perfectly, and our pit stops were flawless once again, after we made a few changes after Road America. Every single person on the team had an effect on the outcome of the race which is why it was such an emotional win for us.”
John Stevenson wanted to be sure everyone on the team knew how much he appreciated their efforts when he said, “I have watched this team work hard all season at moving us forward in this series and here at The Glen we finally had all the pieces synch together. We have a great crew that has been on the road for five straight weeks. Despite this they never stopped pushing for perfection. They had both cars perfectly prepared for the Glen and they performed flawlessly in pit stops led by crew chief Michael Hoffman. Our Team Manager Mike Johnson and our GT car engineer Ben Johnson performed miracles on preserving fuel to get us to the end. Their strategy was invaluable.”
Stevenson lavished praise on his drivers as well. “Robin Liddell was a man on a mission to excel after so many attempts to finish ahead of the Ferrari in previous races. Ronnie came back to the team for this race and once again made a real contribution as his efforts nearly landed us a podium finish. Matt pushed the No. 75 car as he always does and he had a great run that kept us in the hunt. John too put forth another stellar effort and collectively, this team of drivers was one of the strongest – if not the strongest – in the field. What a team!”
Johnson: “It's great being in the lead of the NAEC with one race to go, but our focus is still on the regular season championship and beating that Ferrari!”
The No. 57 Camaro has picked up a top ten finish in every race this season. They have one win, five top five runs and they have been on the podium five times.
Source: Stevenson Motorsports