The eEuroparts.com ROWE Racing team has returned this weekend with a W from the IMSA Road Atlanta Season finale, capping off a rookie season with exceeded expectations. Starting at the very bottom rung of grassroots racing only a few years ago, team owner Matt Moran is excited to carry this momentum into the off season. “When getting into a new series such as the IMSA Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, you are always aware of the obstacles you must face, whether they be known or unknown at the time. We went through the 2018 competition year with a combination of perseverance, skill, and luck. After an entire season of experience to build on, we have high hopes to continue through 2019 better than ever.” The team has been running ROWE Synthetic Motor Oil since the beginning.
For the final round of the 2018, a huge “known unknown” spiraled up the gulf coast, with the Road Atlanta race track in its path. Hurricane Michael had all the teams in the paddock packing their rain gear and getting rain tires mounted, as the forecast called for rain all the way through practice and qualifying. The bulk of the rain would happen overnight on Wednesday, and all of the weekend sessions ended up being dry.
Unlike what the team anticipated going into the weekend, both the #10 and the #12 Audi RS3 LMS were able to get a substantial amount of dry weather testing, allowing both the team engineers and the drivers to get dialed in for the race.
Before you race, you first must qualify, and the IMSA Road Atlanta CTSCC qualifying session arrived late in the afternoon on Thursday. The weather was perfect, and drivers Kieron O’Rourke (#10) and Tom O’Gorman (#12) went out on track confident of their hardware.
That confidence would shortly manifest itself in a strong qualifying performance, resulting in a pole position and a 5th place for the starting order. Tom O’Gorman was able to put together a blistering lap on his second time around, leading the TCR starting order with a 1:29.840, 7/10ths up on the next fastest car. It’s his 5th pole position in as many races.
IMSA Road Atlanta – Race Day
With both cars perfectly set up by the team engineers, a crew that had all their lists checked off, and four drivers looking to end the season on a high note, the cars rolled off the starting grid into their formation lap with less anxiety than usual. With 10 weekends under their belts, the team geared up and assumed their positions.
When the green flag fell to signal the start of the final Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Race, the sun was shining and there was a warm breeze moving through the pits. It was up to the drivers at this point.
#12 driver Tom O’Gorman quickly jumped past the #40 and #99 cars at the back of the faster GS category in attempt to form a cushion back to the #77 Compass Racing TCR entry, which would ultimately lose a few positions, quickly regain them, and follow him through the traffic giving no quarter. #10 driver Kieron O’Rourke, starting exactly mid field, took advantage of the melee at the front of the TCR field, sneaking past the #54 JDC Miller Motorsports Audi RS 3 LMS TCR and white Rumcastle VW GTI TCR. Kieron would stay in 3rd until lap 14, eventually conceding the position back to the #54.
Around 40 minutes into the race, the championship contending #74 Compass Racing Audi experienced contact with the wall in turn 6 as the crew looked on their monitors. The driver, Rodrigo Sales, was OK, although the damage of the car would ultimately take it out of the race. “Get ready get ready” came over the eEuroparts.com ROWE Racing team radio, as both the #10 and the #12 had just entered the very beginning of the potential pit window.
Each driver must run a minimum of 45 minutes to count, so the cars circulated for a lap or two. The pits opened for the GS cars, which took their pit stops. A few minutes later, the two white Audi’s streamed into the pits as the TCR and ST categories were allowed to pit.
The team executed their very first stacked pit stop, servicing both cars simultaneously. Adding a few extra seconds of fuel, the cars were released back into the yellow flag course with Kenton Koch swapped into the #12 and Lee Carpentier into the #10. Due to pitlane traffic and a few extra seconds of fuel, Kenton would follow the #77 Compass Audi back onto the track in 2nd position.
Because some of the TCR cars stayed out on course during the caution period, the #10 rejoined the course in 6th position. The caution was lifted shortly afterwards. Kenton Koch would stay on the rear bumper of the 77 for 10 laps, trying to conserve his tires and to easy on fuel for as long as he could.
After a few laps in full attack mode, the #12 got past the #77 on lap 39, ultimately holding onto the position to the end of the race while simultaneously dealing with GS traffic moving back up after their second round of pit stops. Lee Carpentier would spend nearly all this time battling wheel-to-wheel for position, bringing the car home in 5th position. That would be enough points to secure 3rd place in the championship.
The team couldn’t ask for a better way to end the season. A win, a championship podium, and two cars coming off a hot track in good shape. The entire team attended the season closing award ceremony later that night, ultimately accepting four awards over the course of the weekend. The MOTUL Pole Position award, 1st place in class at the Fox Factory 120 IMSA Road Atlanta race, 1st place for the VP Fuels Front Runner award, and 3rd in the TCR championship.
Even though the team had gone through some very tough races in the new IMSA TCR category (including a double DNF at Elkhart Lake), everyone that had a played a part in getting the team where it is now had something to smile about. Stay tuned for announcements for the 2019 season, until then, you can watch the IMSA Road Atlanta Fox Factory 120 on the FS1 sports network, starting at 7am EDT. Set your DVR’s, get a cup of coffee or tea, and enjoy some epic wheel to wheel action!