Stevenson Camaro Swayed From A Top 10 Finish

After qualifying in third, broken sway bar collapses any chance of a podium placing

It was the second race of the 2011 season of the Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge – at Homestead-Miami Speedway – and the No. 9 Stevenson Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro GS.R driven by Matt Bell and John Edwards began the second race from the second row. Bell set the third fastest qualifying time in his eagle-adorned Camaro, and that position at the front – ahead of a large pack of hungry wolves clad in sheet metal and wearing rubber hooves – should have led to a great result. But the eagle’s wings were clipped when a mechanical failure ended its ‘flight’.
Flight preparations began at test days as the team struggled to find the right balance of grip and speed.

Team Manager Mike Johnson: “”We seemed to struggle with grip on the test days and made a lot of changes that generally seem to make the car slower but usually work to improve grip. On Thursday night, we decided to go the other way and give Matt and John a car they could race with and Matt put in another great qualifying run to land third place on the starting grid.”

With a great perch from which to begin the hunt for a victory, this eagle took off and was soon well on the way to a successful result. Unfortunately, that result would become one of frustration with recognition of a tremendous effort made to sustain momentum while moving with a broken wing.

Johnson: “The race started great as Matt had a good race with the No. 13 BMW and the No. 15 Mustang. There were a few yellow caution periods and we pitted during one of them to put John in the car. He got back out on track quickly enough but shortly after the sway bar broke in half. From there we knew we were doomed, but somehow John, and then Matt again, were able to keep the car on the lead lap but just barely as a yellow came out as the race leading No. 96 BMW M3 was just about to pass. From there, the worst we could do was 12th, but then the right rear axle started to fail due to the broken sway bar, and with about 10 minutes to go, the alternator wire broke.”

Edwards: “The Camaro was running well in the beginning of the race but (after the part failure) the rest of the race was a struggle to keep pace. Despite this, we kept pushing to take what we could get. We ended up with an 11th place finish, but we know we salvaged what we could with what we had! We’ll be stronger next race at Barber.”

Matt Bell recounts the weekend that held promise but yielded pain.

“The race was exciting but the outcome was unexpected.” Bell said, “First off, it needs to be said that Nick Eddy made some incredible calls for the setup on the big Camaro before the race, after an already unexpected 3rd place qualifying effort. The whole team, in fact, did an outstanding job rolling with the punches and making sure we kept on our feet at such a difficult track, one maybe not so good for the Camaro in the past.”

Bell continues: “I did my best in the early part of the race to make up a position or two and keep at the front of the pack. My stint was mostly uneventful and an early caution took me out of the car, and placed John Edwards into the driver seat. John was outstanding early in his stint, but a broken front sway bar quickly stopped his forward progress through the field.

“The strategy called for John to bring the limping car back in,” Bell said, “so I could finish the race and that is when the action really started. The wounded car was definitely a handful, especially on the oval where it acted more like a dirt track racer than a road course car. Before long the extra strain on the drive train from excess roll caused an axle boot to break, filling the car with smoke from the grease. It soon became a reality that parts began to fail and my driving style became one where survival was paramount over winning!

“By the closing laps of the race the big Camaro had worn tires, poor brakes, only one sway bar, a broken and vibrating axle, a failed charging system, and cosmetic damage delivered courtesy of some other competitors and even a brush with the oval wall! Despite all this, the Stevenson Camaro took the checker in a solid 11th place. It may not be a win, but a testament to how substantial this race car is. It may have rolled back to the paddock a bit uglier than it left, but it came back on its own power after finishing a very tough race!

“I want to say thanks again to the whole Stevenson Motorsports team, especially and including John and Susan Stevenson for giving John Edwards and I the opportunity to work with such a dedicated, professional group of people.”

Despite the wounded warrior, an eagle afflicted with multiple fractures, Mike Johnson was just thankful the flight came to an end when it did.

Johnson: “One more lap and would have been dead on the back straight, but the checker came out and we finished 11th. It was the best and worst 11th we have ever had.”

The next race weekend in the 2011 Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge 10 race schedule takes place April 8 – 9 at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama.

More information about the Stevenson Motorsports team, and the new Stevenson performance shop, can be found on Facebook/Stevenson-motorsports.com.

For more information on the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, go to www.grand-am.com
Stevenson Motorsports operates out of a facility located in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

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