The last three races have all been valuable learning experiences for the new eEuroparts.com ROWE Racing team, as well as the Roadshagger Racing by eEuroparts.com effort. As the drivers and engineers become acquainted with the machinery, the competition increases in both vigor and vitality. With a few hard fought podiums in TCR, the team is confident that with the right set of circumstances, the pace can be unlocked. The teams in the 2019 Michelin Pilot Challenge are evolving quickly with the ever changing conditions within the series, and IMSA always maintains an exciting proving ground in this pro-level racing. Here’s how our busy summer has progressed since the last update at Mid Ohio.
IMSA Watkins Glen: June 27-30th
Starting out the three-race mid-summer stretch was one of the biggest events of the year, a 4 hour enduro at Watkins Glen. With a high podium finish in TCR lost on the last lap in 2018, there was some extra motivation to keep the great streak in TCR going following double podiums at Mid-Ohio with the #12 and #61. Qualifying was a struggle, however, with all four cars relegated to mid field starting positions. The highest qualifier was Ryan Nash, who would start 8th in class. We did have a bonus perk, for this race we would be doing the pit stop demonstration for the fan walk!
After a fairly long weather delay, the race was fortunately confirmed to finish with the full allotted run time. When the green flag dropped, the landscape changed quickly in TCR. Outstanding drives and a brief cloudburst allowed the eEuroparts.com Racing TCR cars to triumphantly push up through the field. With a few excellent pit stops (and a front running car out of fuel on the last lap), The #12 driven by Nash and McDonough improved to 4th place, with the #61 Audi RS 3 LMS of Roadshagger Racing earning a 3rd place podium finish up from a 12th place starting position. It would be the second consecutive podium for drivers Gavin Ernstone and Jon Morely in TCR.
In the GS category, pace was hard-found in the heat soaked hills of Watkins Glen International. The #2 of Kenton Koch and Tyler Cooke came out of the gate running, working their way as high as 5th place overall by the time the first pit stop window opened. Unfortunately, when the car was being dropped off the air jacks, the rear tire grazed an air hose. The consequential drive through penalty this early would drop the #2 mid pack, a position the drivers could not recover from later in the race.
Unfortunately, the #8 would not make it this far, suffering irreparable damage in the opening sequence of the Tioga Downs 240. Spinning out on cold tires, the R8 was clipped by another car. The contact appeared small, but closer inspection revealed the worst. The upper control arm mount was torn out of the frame of the Audi, which was immediately retired.
IMSA Mosport: July 4-6th
After Watkins Glen, the team would immediately pack and head up to Canada for the second of the two weekend double header. The crew would attempt repairs on the #8 at their paddock spot on Wednesday directly following load in. Even though a new frame section was procured, the crew could not accurately cut and weld it in with the tools at the track, at least not with the accuracy that would be required. The car would need to go to a specialist shop in New Jersey, and would sit out the next two races. Luckily, a few of the crew members were able to change the starter on our main pit equipment vehicle, which had gone bad at Watkins Glen.
Mosport is a high speed course with sweeping esses and elevation change. Punctuating that was a number of fresh pavement patches at apex as well as new mandated starting tire pressures. This combination made for some challenging conditions for all the drivers in the paddock. Understeer was the talk of the paddock, and many teams struggled with their setups. Ryan Nash of the #12 was one of the few able to unlock some of these secrets during qualifying, posting 5th fastest time. For the start of the race, the #12 and the #2 would each start in 12th place with some work to do.
At the start, a mechanical issue would knock the #37 TCR Honda out of the race before the green flag fell, upgrading the #12 eEuroparts.com ROWE Racing Audi to 4th place on lap 1. Nash would continue to drive the wheels off the car, earning his way up to 2nd place by lap 28. However, he couldn’t keep attackers at bay late in his stint with failing tires. Co-Driver Russel McDonough would get into the hot seat and rejoin the pack in 11th, ultimately clawing his way back up to a 9th in class finish. In TCR however, the most exciting battles were happening at the front with Gavin Ernstone and Jon Morley in the #61.
The #61 found itself battling for the lead late in the race, and 2nd stint driver Jon Morley could smell their first win on the horizon. After a yellow flag period bunched up the field, he put his head down. With only a few laps remaining, the lapped #23 Audi wedged itself right between the #54 of Stephen Simpson and the #61 of Morley, refusing to allow the leaders to battle. Morley was forced to pass the car as if it was on the same lap, and the momentum lost allowed the #84 Honda to pass. Further back, the #17 was able to take advantage of the melee, and wiggle into the lead. When Simpson lost grip and position, contact was made, almost spinning Morley off the track.
Completely sideways, he pinned the throttle and let the front wheels do the work, re-joining the track in 3rd position through a cloud of tire smoke. It would be Ernstone and Morley’s third podium in as many races. With a win in sight it was a hard pill to swallow. Almost equally as difficult was the race for Kenton Koch and Tyler Cooke. Through effort and gumption, they squeezed every bit of pace they could out of the #2 R8 to finish in in 9th place, three positions ahead of their starting spot.
IMSA Lime Rock Park: July 18-20
Fast forward two weeks,and a double win for eEuroparts.com ROWE Racing driver Brian Putt at the SRO International race in Portland. The IMSA cars were gone through and prepared for the next race. We were entering our next race weekend in nearly triple digit heat, and it would be our home race. Last year, we had another major last lap battle with the #54, with Kenton behind the wheel of the #12 TCR at the time, ultimately finishing in 2nd and making our best result to date. This year, our main competitor would be the sweltering heat, and it would be a factor that everyone would have to go through.
Qualifying was strange (as predicted), with TCR cars posting incredibly fast lap times with their lighter chassis (around 200kg) and high downforce. Lime Rock is a very short course with some tricky corners, so it wasn’t a surprise when a Hyundai TCR showed up as the second fastest time overall by the time qualifying was over. When the dust cleared at Friday’s end, Tyler Cooke’s 0’54.901 was good for 12th place in class, with the #12 and #61 cars qualifying 10th and 11th respectively.
Come race time, the temps were well up into the 90s and the sun was strong. The team members drank a bottle of water, put on their full fire suits and helmets, and settled in to the 2 hr long Lime Rock 120. Both the #12 and the #61 would struggle with grip and understeer throughout the entire race. They tried everything they could, but relegated to finishing the race in 8th and 11th place respectively. In the GS category, the #2 was putting down burning fast laps with Tyler Cooke in the starting stint. By mid race he had made up 6 positions, and Kenton switched into the driver seat. His pace out of the gate was fast enough to regain 6th position after the rest of the pit stops cycled through.
Shortly afterwards on lap 66, Kenton noticed smoke and fire in the engine compartment, and came in for an unscheduled stop. Leaping out of the car, fire extinguisher crew member affectionately known as Big Kev jumped over the wall and put the fire out. Mechanic Eric Hampton pulled the burning debris off the exhaust and topped off the fuel tank while Kenton strapped back in. He would get back into the race 18th in class. His fast lap times weren’t enough to work his way back, and finished 17th in GS.
At the end of the race, the #2 sits 12th in the GS Championship, the #12 is in 6th place in TCR, and the #61 resides in a very favorable 3rd place in the championship.
IMSA Road America: August 2-4
A race to remember! Lightning in the area delayed our race by an hour as the light rain turned into a downpour and everyone began to ask, rain tires or slicks to start the race? Most of the GS field opted for rains along with half of the TCR field and all three of our cars. Due to the delay, our race was shortened from the original 2 hours to a 1 hour 15 minute race.
In GS, Kenton Koch got off to a wicked start in the #2 eEuroparts ROWE Racing car as he avoided a spun car and moved up from 7th to 2nd in lap one. He spent the next lap chasing down the car ahead to overtake the lead and led most of the first part of the race, enjoying a close battle with the second place car as they battled side-by-side.
Toward the end of Kenton’s stint, a true dry line formed and those cars on slicks caught up, pushing him back to 3rd place before pitting. The skies opened once again and rain saturated the track just as Tyler Cooke got in with a fresh set of rain tires to finish the race. Multiple full course cautions during the second half of the race packed up the field and we lost a few positions to finish 6th.
In TCR, the #61 Roadshagger Racing entry of Gavin Ernstone ran a string first stint and pitted just after meeting his minimum drive time to hand the car over to Jon Morley. Being the first TCR car to pit and with a solid dry line on course, we opted for slick tires as Jon headed out to rejoin the field. Not soon after, the rain returned and he held on just long enough before making a second stop for rain tires. The cautions during the second part of the race played into his favor as he gained the pass around to catch up to the back of the field.
From there, he stormed through the field, on pace to claim the lead if only there were more time left in the race. They crossed the checkered to finish third and claim that last spot on the podium after quite a race! Meanwhile, the #12 of Ryan Nash and Russell McDonough got the short end of the stick as a drive through penalty pushed them down a lap without a chance to gain it back to finish 10th. [Road America recap courtesy of Dani Koch]
With some technical updates hitting the #2 car, the team is optimistic to continue fighting for overall podium spots. The #61 is having a great scrap in the TCR championship, and the #12 is in fine tuning stages after solving a fuel gremlin. Next race: Virginia International Raceway. Last year we won TCR there (in the rain), let’s get to it and add a top spot to the upcoming recap!
Point Standings Heading To VIR
#12 – Russ McDonough and Ryan Nash: 6th place in TCR
#61 – Gavin Ernstone and Jon Morely: 4th place in TCR
#2 – Tyler Cooke and Kenton Koch: 11th in GS
#8 – Rodrigo Sales and Gunnar Jeannette: 37th in GS (DNF Watkins Glen, DNS Mosport, Lime Rock, Road America)