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Sebring Notebook: MICHELIN Pilot Challenge

Live updates from the Alan Jay Automotive Network 120 weekend…

Thursday, March 14, 4 p.m. ET

Automatic Racing Unveils Livery of New Aston Martin GT4 in Front of Large Manufacturer Presence

A large contingent of Aston Martin executives and stakeholders were at Sebring International Raceway on Thursday for the livery unveil of the No. 97 Invisible Glass/Stoner Car Care Aston Martin Vantage GT4.

Aston Martin Vice President David King and Managing Director of Aston Martin Racing John Gaw joined Automatic Racing’s Team Owner David Russell and two drivers, Rob Ecklin, Jr. and Ramin Abdolvahabi for the unveil.

"We’re proud to represent our brands with Aston Martin Racing and Automatic Racing, two institutions in the MICHELIN Pilot Challenge," said Ecklin. "David Russell has been at this a long time and Aston Martin has a long history. Stoner Car Care is excited and proud to have that association and I’m excited to be able to drive the new car. I’m very thankful and enjoying every minute of it."

The car was delivered unwrapped to the team in January, just days before the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway, and Ecklin describes how the new Aston Martin GT4 is completely unlike its predecessor.

"It really is a new car, with no comparisons to the previous generation Aston Martin," said Ecklin. "It’s got a twin-turbo eight-cylinder engine instead of the normally-aspirated eight cylinder, it’s got a better, quicker gearbox, better brake package, and it’s got air conditioning in the cockpit, which is a luxury we’ve never experienced! It’s more compliant, more stable in really hard, straight-line braking, and it’s really good in trail braking. And we’ve got the suspension and chassis completely tuned for racing. As Ramin says, it’s built from the ground up as a race car and you can feel the difference."

Up next for the MICHELIN Pilot Challenge is qualifying for tomorrow’s Alan Jay Automotive 120 at 5:55 p.m. ET on Thursday. The two-hour race will be streamed live on at noon ET and fans can follow along with updates on social media using the hashtags #AlanJay120 and #IMPC.

MICHELIN Pilot Challenge Drivers Prepare for Qualifying Following Two Practice Sessions

The IMSA MICHELIN Pilot Challenge got its first official on-track action at Sebring International Raceway Thursday with two practice sessions before lunchtime as the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts weekend officially began.

Following the second practice session, two BMW M4 GT4s topped the charts in the Grand Sport (GS) class, the No. 82 of James Clay and Devin Jones for BimmerWorld Racing and the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW of Bill Auberlen – who was fastest in first practice – and Robby Foley. A cool morning gave way to warmer temperatures later in the day, which mirrors the forecast for race day on Friday.

"The heat with the track is definitely playing a role, especially tomorrow it looks like it’s going to be even hotter," said Jones, who was fastest in second practice. "We’re trying to just keep up with the changes, but these BimmerWorld guys have done a great job. We had a fuel pump problem right before that last practice, so we were only able to get out the last 15 minutes or so. The guys hustled hard to get us on track for that practice and it was satisfying to go fastest for them, so it felt good."

In the TCR class, the newly announced No. 17 JDC-Miller Motorsports Audi RS3 LMS driven by Mikey Taylor along with Britt Casey, Jr. posted the fastest lap in both practice sessions and only had raving comments about the team and the new car.

"It’s been a great start to our program," said Taylor. "Overall, we’ve all put in a lot of work – myself, Unitronic, JDC, Out There Brands – have done a lot of work to get here. We all knew the potential was there, but it’s just great to actually realize it and see it in person.

"The car is really good and surprisingly, it can actually get better. I think that’s a worry to some of our competitors. It’s been great, both of our team cars are running really well, so I’m fairly confident for the race. But again it’s a long race."

The second JDC-Miller Audi of Stephen Simpson and Michael Johnson finished second to its sister car in both practices as well.

Wednesday, March 13, 7 p.m. ET

Stacy, Marcelli Set Sights on Sebring Three-Peat in MICHELIN Pilot Challenge

If not for the Alan Jay Automotive Network 120 being one day later than it was last year, Nate Stacy and Kyle Marcelli would be seeking their third IMSA MICHELIN Pilot Challenge win at Sebring International Raceway in exactly one year’s time.

In the No. 60 KohR Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4, the duo won last year’s race in March and followed up with a victory in the inaugural Michelin IMSA SportsCar Encore in November.

"It was a really big deal for us," said Stacy. "It was our first race of the season and after that we proceeded to go for three more podiums in a row with two more of those being wins. We came back for the Encore in 2018 and were fortunate enough to win that one by a pretty decent margin. We have a big notebook to work off here, especially with the Michelins and just really glad we’re able come back and try for a three-peat this year."

Stacy and Marcelli kicked off the weekend at the Sebring Fan Fest on Tuesday, being two of the many drivers who represented the Pilot Challenge in downtown Sebring.

"It was an awesome autograph session, a huge turnout," said Stacy. "We had an awesome pinewood derby race, we all got smoked by five-year-olds so that feels bad but it was a lot of fun. Hopefully we get to do more of that with IMSA in the future and I think it was super cool to represent such an awesome prestigious series for its 50th anniversary."

Defending TCR Champion Britt Casey, Jr. Returns to Pilot Challenge Paddock

Starting off his partial IMSA MICHELIN Pilot Challenge season this weekend at Sebring International Raceway is Britt Casey, Jr., the defending TCR class champion.

It was announced in February that Casey, Jr. and Mikey Taylor would join JDC-Miller Motorsports for a four-race TCR effort in the No. 17 Audi RS3 LMS starting this weekend and continuing at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

Given his commitments outside of track, Casey, Jr. feels this was the best opportunity for him in 2019.

"It definitely feels good to be back," said Casey, Jr. "It was a long offseason. I’m still a full-time student at Miami of Ohio which keeps me busy. I wanted to wait for something that really made sense for all involved and I think this partial season with Mikey, Unitronic and JDC-Miller Motorsports made a lot of sense just based on the knowledge that I was bringing to the table and the knowledge that the JDC crew and engineers are bringing to the table.

"I think we’re going to have four really strong races based on what these cars are capable of doing. To come back at Sebring, which is one of my favorite tracks based on history and we almost won it last year. I’m looking for a little bit of redemption this year. It is definitely something I’m looking forward to."