eEuroparts Adjusting to Learning Curve, Showing Progress Following Offseason Expansion
Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Following a rapid expansion over the offseason, IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge team ROWE Racing is finding some stability.

In 2018, the Connecticut-based crew initially entered the new TCR class at the start of the season with a single Audi RS3 LMS. They doubled their presence with a second Audi three races later at Watkins Glen and stormed to the front of the pack. By the end of its rookie season, the team had taken home victories at VIRginia International Raceway in August and at the season finale at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta in October.

What 2019 would bring, however, became a whirlwind.

“The plan as it sat at the end of last year was to have three TCR cars coming into this season,” Team Owner Matt Moran explained. “We had a lot of discussions around which cars they were going to be exactly because there were six new makes that were available to us to run this year.

“That conversation with Audi and with others evolved into ‘Well, have you guys taken a look at the GT4 car and thought about running a GT4 program (in the Grand Sport [GS] class)?’ We took a long look at that and said ‘Okay, this makes sense to have our two TCR cars and one GT4 car, rather than three TCR cars, so let’s see if we can put this together.’”

They did. Remaining with Audi and after announcing the team’s Audi R8 GT4 program, Moran then received a call to help run Roadshagger Racing’s own Audi in TCR, which competed in two races in 2019 and was now seeking a full-season effort.

Then another call came asking to field a second Audi R8 GT4. Within weeks, Moran went from having responsibility over three cars to five.

The first two races of 2019 were a challenge for the eEuroparts cars. The team was plagued by errors or collected in incidents – one of which at Sebring International Raceway damaged the Audi TCR of Lee Carpentier and Kieron O’Rourke beyond repair. But the third race at Mid-Ohio was a welcome breath of fresh air.

The No. 2 Audi R8 GT4 of Kenton Koch and Tyler Cooke took the Motul Pole Award in the GS class and finished in the top 10. In TCR, the No. 61 Roadshagger Racing by Audi came home runner-up with Jon Morley and Gavin Ernstone. The team’s No. 12 with rookie lineup Russell McDonough and Ryan Nash wound up third for its best finish to date.

“Jon drove phenomenal, that was one of the best efforts I’ve seen in a car period,” said Moran. “He survived a drive-through penalty which at the time, I thought was a death sentence… He managed to drive that car all the way back to second place. Russ was in the right place at the right time and did his job and ended up on the podium. That was awesome for them.

“We were pumped as a team to finally get some results here in 2019 because we’ve been a little snake-bit, I felt, in the first couple races with all the accidents. We came out of Mid-Ohio with four cars that are basically ready to go, so we’re very excited about that.”

An advantage of the team’s expansion has been the varying level of experience each driver brings to the table. In the team’s second Audi GT4, it’s sports car veteran Gunnar Jeannette paired up with Rodrigo Sales, who won three TCR races in his rookie season in 2018.

Tyler Cooke, in his eighth consecutive Pilot Challenge season, is joined by Kenton Koch, who has a wealth of racing experience across multiple series, but less than 10 starts in this one.

Meanwhile, Morley and Ernstone first tried their hand in Pilot Challenge for two races last year, while youngsters McDonough and Nash are embarking on their careers in sports car racing after stints in open wheel.

“The focus for our team, and really in combination with Audi, is driver development over the course of the last year,” said Moran. “From my perspective, how do you bring guys in and teach them the skills that they need in order to be successful in a short amount of time against a highly competitive field? The dynamic, I think, is a good one. We have a very open team. Everything is available for our drivers.

“We do community debriefs with everybody post every session. Everybody knows what everyone else is experiencing on the track in their cars, what changes we’re planning, whether it’s different from car to car and what the game plan is in order to get the fastest product you possibly can on the track for our drivers. Hopefully at that point, it’s their job and they can go out and be successful during races.”

Moran recognizes each driver’s talent. They switch between cars on test days for different perspectives and Moran asks the veterans to encourage the rookies, calling their times “a rabbit to chase.” 

While some of the drivers and personnel are well-versed in the Pilot Challenge, Moran’s team is still learning every day.

“The theme for us is still we’re a new team,” said Moran. “We’ve had some good things and we’ve definitely taken our medicine in some situations as well. This hasn’t been easy but I’m hopeful that we have the right combination of people working on the problem at this point.

“We’re going to be hopeful for the remainder of the season. We showed some good promise at Mid-Ohio and now we have to make some slightly different decisions and capitalize on that. We’re in a good place here right now and I don’t want to jinx it, but I think we’ll finish in a different place than we started.