Birmingham: Stevenson Motorsports race report

Stevenson Pontiac Makes Commanding Run Back Into Championship Race; No. 57 Pontiac GXP.R Comes All The Way Back From DNF In Last Race After failing to finish at the last race, held at the Daytona International Speedway, the No. 57 Stevenson ...

Stevenson Pontiac Makes Commanding Run Back Into Championship Race; No. 57 Pontiac GXP.R Comes All The Way Back From DNF In Last Race

After failing to finish at the last race, held at the Daytona International Speedway, the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports / BryanMark Financial Pontiac GXP.R, driven by Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell turned the team's fortunes around by winning at the next race, the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama. This was the eighth round of the 2009 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No.16, and it marked the second win and third podium finish of the season for this Jacksonville, North Carolina race team.

Andrew Davis pushed his way to the front of the pack in the opening few minutes and his efforts, combined with excellent race strategy and the always-outstanding driving ability of Robin Liddell, allowed them to pull out a comfortable lead over the rest of the GT field. By the time the checkered flag waved the Stevenson car had led over 70 laps of the 103 lap race.

Team Manager Mike Johnson: "What a great comeback for our team after the huge disappointment of Daytona. We had one of those perfect weekends where the car was really fast, the drivers were fast, pit stops were awesome and we used a unique strategy that proved to work out as we planned. We actually changed strategies mid-way through the race once we realized that the difference in lap times between new and used rubber was so large. We told both drivers to push as hard as they could and made one more stop than the rest of the field. The gap between new and used rubber was about 3 seconds per lap and the other teams were running over an hour on rubber while we never went longer than 40 minutes.

"At the last stop, we waited to hear when the 70 (SpeedSource Mazda) was coming down pit lane, and once they did, we pit as well making sure we kept the lead and had the same rubber as the rest of the field. It worked out great."

Liddell agrees this was a fantastic turn around for the team that came so close to a championship in 2008 only to see so much go sour in 2009.

"Having retired from the last race, this was the perfect comeback," confirmed Robin. "I'm delighted with the job which the team did in the pits and with Mike and the guys for figuring out the winning strategy."

Andrew Davis is very familiar with the Barber circuit and he was able to put his experience and talent to good use within a few laps of the start. His charge to the font set the tone for what was to come.

"Qualifying was extremely close," said Davis, "so I knew that the start of the race was going to be a battle. It certainly was for the first 10 laps, as I tried to put as much pressure as possible on the leading Porsche. I was able to get by at the end of the back straight, and from there I was determined to drive away. The BryanMark Financial Pontiac GXP.R was well balanced for the greasy track conditions, so I found myself able to gap the field by 10 seconds before our first pit stop. It was great fun to lead at what has become my home track!"

The racing surface proved hard on tires as the aggregate in the asphalt was quite abrasive thus making tires a primary concern for every team.

Johnson: "We could not go an hour and 10 minutes on a set of tires so we waited to the 45 minute mark for the first stop to change tires, driver and add fuel. Andrew did an amazing job getting the lead and, since we knew when we were going to pit, he could charge as hard as he wanted and not conserve rubber. Robin got in and now had fresh rubber which allowed him to run 2-3 seconds per lap faster than the field and it started making sense to the team that if he got to a 50+ second lead, we could change the strategy and make it a 3 stop race. When Robin left pit lane it was just as the 70 was coming in, and we carried that to a 50+ second lead when the last yellow came out."

Liddell: "Tire wear was always going to be the main issue and in a way losing this race in the closing stages last year caused us to think outside the box this time around. Rather than conserve our tires, we opted to push hard and made three pit-stops to change tires which, as it turned out, was the correct decision.

"We could potentially have lapped the field such was the lead which we managed to extend but we played it safe, to the extent of pitting with 40 minutes remaining to take on fresh rubber in case a late caution gave us a battle on our hands in the closing stages of the race."

Davis expressed his thanks for the team's efforts when he said, "I am very proud of the effort put forth by the entire Stevenson Motorsports team. I would say this was our most complete race to date. The crew worked extremely hard to get us a great car, the pit stops were excellent, and Mike Johnson's race strategy played out perfectly.

"Coming into this event we realized the importance of keeping good tires under our #57 GXP.R, so we focused on optimizing the set-up to maximize front grip. By making an extra pit stop during the race, we were able to keep the freshest rubber on the car throughout the duration of the event. Everything else just seemed to fall into place to get Stevenson Motorsports back to the top of the podium.

"It feels great to get back into victory lane! I want to thank John and Susan Stevenson, as well as everyone at Stevenson Automotive for their unwavering support of the team."

Johnson too had his words of praise for the 'comeback crew': "Finally, a huge credit goes to Michael Hoffman and to Chris Vallely and Chris Minot who basically redesigned the entire cooling system to solve the problem we had in Daytona. We are now able to control our engine temps and water pressure a lot more which allows us to run harder and in traffic. "

Team owner John Stevenson couldn't have been more pleased with the rapid turnaround in the team's fortunes.

"I am so proud of this great team's effort to come back and win the race after our adversity at Daytona" said Stevenson. "This win was truly a team effort as everyone was a part of our successful weekend.....Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell's driving were flawless, Mike Johnson called a brilliant race, Michael Hoffman and the crew did an outstanding job of preparing the car and flawless pit stops and our engineers, Kyle Millay and Greg Jones, contributed to our first place podium finish. We're back in the hunt and we will certainly try to win all four of the remaining races."

With so few races left in the 2009 season the chances of winning an overall championship have all but dissipated for this team. But just as was the case at Barber after Daytona, no one will concede the race -- or any of the remaining races -- just yet.

Johnson: "We all know the championship is out of reach, but someone's going to win the last four races and, as John said, we are going to do everything we can to make sure it's us."

The next race on the 2009 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No.16 will be the 9th of the season with the series moving back to upstate New York at the Watkins Glen circuit.

-credit: sm

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Robin Liddell , Andrew Davis , Mike Johnson , John Stevenson , Michael Ho
Teams Stevenson Motorsports , SpeedSource