The Stevenson Motorsports crew braved a difficult weekend on Belle Isle for the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, round 5 of the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season. Clutch issues prevented the team from capitalizing on a strong start to the race, but hard work by the team helped the car finish 13th. Matt Bell’s first visit to the bumpy Detroit street circuit in the No. 9 Stevenson Motorsports Audi provided for a very unique experience. In our Detroit Formation Lap OnTrack, Matt even reported that the track was bumpier than Sebring International Raceway!
Here are your questions driving our debrief column and Matt’s response, providing great insight to anyone with a question.
Tough race with mechanical issue! What happened to the clutch that caused an issue with the car? #DriverQnA
— Dusty M. (@dustythewind) July 2, 2016
MB: We believe the clutch issues are resolved now, that’s the first thing I’ll say. These are relatively new cars internationally, and they are totally new to this series, this year. There will always be unforeseen troubles with components that react poorly to the combination of environments that we experience in the regular IMSA season.
From my point of view, the car was fine in the first part of the stint. We don’t actually use the clutch except to enter and exit the pit box. With the big caution on track, the field had to come to a stop. As soon as we did this, the car stalled, which is odd since the auto-clutch should have opened at 2000rpm. Once stalled, I could not re-fire and my attempts quickly killed the battery. The track towed us to the entrance to the paddock and the crew met me there to try and solve our problems.
The biggest issue was that nobody had seen this type of failure, and were at a loss for how to mend it. After some clever thinking back at the hauler, we decided to get the engine running in neutral, and bump the car into 1st with the crew pushing. One of our dedicated team members sprinted down the paddock to clear a path for our car that could no longer stop without stalling. It was very well done, and considering everything, we were very lucky to get back on track and score a few points. This team doesn’t know when to give up!
— Jake Kilshaw (@jakekilshaw) June 4, 2016
MB: This was my first time to Detroit, and I was really surprised at how rough it was. It isn’t the same type of bumpiness as Sebring. It has these undulations and “whoops” around the whole track. It sounds like the track was paved only a couple years ago, and the rumor is that it was actually better before. They need to do some serious engineering to get this place flatter. It is interesting, but our Audi, compared to the old Camaro, makes it speed in a way that requires it to be low and stiffly sprung. Detroit didn’t do us any favors in that regard.
— Dusty M. (@dustythewind) June 3, 2016
MB: I have had a few interesting interactions, but I’d say the very first autograph session is still the most memorable. 2008, my first professional race event, my first time signing autographs, and about 10 minutes in a woman who appeared to have been laying in the sand in Daytona Beach since 1979 rolled through. First question was “How are you?”, to which I responded accordingly. Second question, “Have you ever signed a pair of these?” Her shirt dropped, as did my jaw. I couldn’t help but start laughing and tell her to keep moving. The gentleman next to me seemed more than happy to oblige her, however, so she left a mostly-happy fan.
MB: I have to say Sonoma would be the top of my wish list for tracks that IMSA adds to the schedule. I have worked there as an instructor for as long as I’ve been racing, but actually have never competed there. I think it would be a very fun venue, being so close to Wine Country, and I think it is a great layout for the series. Another track I would love to see back on is Montreal. I attended the race a few times, but never was lucky enough to drive it in anger.
MB: Before I answer this question, I think it has to be said that there are really two types of professional race car drivers. There are the ones that are just naturally gifted at driving and racing and know or care very little about the tool they use to win races. Then there are the drivers like myself, who are true car people and their passion for cars has really brought forth their driving talent. I think many people would be surprised how many of their favorite drivers are in the first category, happy to have the car their given, and when buying their own, end up with something very “vanilla”. For people like me, we can’t stand vanilla, or chocolate, for that matter. We love many flavors, each in a different way. I am a fan of the eclectic and thoughtfully-engineered cars in the world. I love old Audis, especially if their engines are force fed and have five holes in them. I really like “unicorns”, from rare imports to odd-optioned pickup trucks. I have a passion for 2-stroke diesels and Chevy COE’s (combining the two would be stellar).
All that said, and to actually answer the original question, I’m very excited for the new Audi RS3 due to come out in a year or so. I think that will be a very embarrassing car to a lot of competing brands. I’ve also had more fun than I’d like to admit in the Chevrolet SS with the 6-speed and would love one of those for a functional track car/tire smoke generator. The Ford Focus RS is a move in the right direction for a domestic brand, and I’m happy to see that cars like that are making their way into our market. I’m not too into supercars/hypercars. They are fun, but driving them is like trying to steer the bull in the proverbial china shop, if all the china was made of diamond. Getting out of a La Ferrari at my local Starbucks isn’t really my kind of attention anyway, because anyone with functional eyeballs and earholes knows that it is a very nice, flashy, expensive car. I like cars that are fun without looking at numbers or painting it red, and I think a lot of “car people” that are also drivers agree with this. Short question, long answer!
Matt’s next race will the Sahlen’s 6 Hours of the Glen at Watkins Glen International in upstate New York. The sixth round of the WeatherTech Championship goes green at 10:10 AM ET on Sunday, July 3. Watch it live on Fox Sports 1 and imsatv.imsa.com.