Automatic Racing Welcomes Former Aston Martin Academy Winner, Current Candidate to IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge Driver’s Seat at VIR
Thursday, August 22, 2019

A unique opportunity awaits Aston Martin and Automatic Racing this weekend at VIRginia International Raceway in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

As part of an arrangement between a longtime IMSA team and manufacturer, two drivers with ties to the Aston Martin Racing Driver Academy will team up for the two-hour Virginia Is For Racing Lovers Grand Prix this Saturday.

Aston Martin factory driver Ross Gunn makes his Pilot Challenge debut at VIR alongside Akhil Rabindra, who made his IMSA debut at Road America. The two will be co-driving Automatic Racing’s No. 09 Aston Martin Vantage GT4.

It’s a pairing that didn’t happen by chance. Gunn, a winner of the 2015 Driver Academy, is mentoring Rabindra, who is one of 23 drivers currently competing in the Academy and seeking AMR Junior status in 2020.

If Rabindra’s debut at Road America was any indication, this could be a stellar lineup. The Bangalore, India native qualified third before charging to the lead during his stint, all in wet conditions on a new circuit. While both drivers are unfamiliar with VIR, Automatic Racing Team Principal David Russell has no concerns.

“The good news is that we have a pre-event test, so it enables us to not rush into the process too terribly much,” said Russell. “It goes back to these guys that are on the sim. They come prepared, they’ve studied it, they’ve driven it on the sim, and they’re young guys, so that’s what they do. They’ve developed that and been diligent about the process. I think for them it’s just a matter of getting the test day under their belt.”

The duo also will be learning from IMSA veteran Tom Long and Ramin Abdolvahabi, who has been with the team since 2016. That duo will share driving duties in Automatic’s second entry, the No. 97 Aston Martin AMR Vantage.

“The other big help I have this weekend is having Tom with us,” said Russell. “Nobody’s done more laps at VIR than Tom Long. He knows the track intimately, and the changes the track undergoes from week to week, month to month, year to year. He and Ramin will be valuable in that process for Akhil and Ross.”

Russell is quick to praise the development program that sent Gunn and Rabindra his way. While VIR will be a one-off for Britain’s Gunn, Rabindra will remain with the team for the final three races after competing earlier this year in the GT4 European Series.

“They choose one driver of the 20-something drivers they have to be a contracted Junior driver for next year,” explained Russell. “They help them do development and testing and public appearances and a variety of things. It’s perfect for young drivers, so I’m hoping that’s something that Aston continues. It’s something that some manufacturers are doing, and it’s really of huge benefit to these young drivers coming into in this case, GT4.”

As for Automatic Racing’s relationship with the marque, it’s a win-win for both parties.

“This year marks my 10-year relationship with Aston,” said Russell. “The relationships have been great. I have a lot of allies there and a lot of friends there that I’ve developed over time.

They’ve worked out of my workshop (in Orlando, Fla.) when they come to run the Daytona 24 Hour and the Sebring 12 Hour. That’s enabled me to nurture a lot of relationships and friendships I’ve had that are longstanding. The team has the benefit of enjoying that. It has been key for my race team to this point.”

The Virginia Is For Racing Lovers Grand Prix goes green on Saturday at 2:15 p.m. ET and can be streamed live on IMSA.tv with IMSA Radio commentary. NBCSN will televise the race on Friday, Aug. 30 at 10 p.m. ET.

For news and updates throughout the weekend, please visit IMSA.com or join the conversation on social media using the hashtags #IMPC and #LOVEVA.

 

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