DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Three races into the 2019 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season, not many eyes were on the 34th-place team in the point standings.
However, by year’s end, Rebel Rock Racing would go on to be the only Grand Sport team to score multiple victories throughout the year, ultimately leaping to ninth in the championship.
For the 2020 season, don’t expect Rebel Rock to slide under the radar as easily as one year ago.
“Really, with my general lack of experience and driving at this level, I think that we were hoping to get some top-five finishes if we were lucky or well prepared and made good decisions,” said Rebel Rock Team Owner Frank DePew. “I think the idea of winning a race, certainly winning two races, I mean we’re the only team to win two races last year, is pretty astonishing actually.”
DePew revived the team in Pilot Challenge for its first full-season effort since 2014 in the series. While his previous racing experience was in the likes of PCA, NASA and HSR, having veteran IMSA driver Robin Liddell by his side helped the team’s cause.
“I moved into the pro ranks, and working with someone like Robin Liddell shows you everything that you didn’t know that you should’ve known,” DePew joked.
It was Liddell’s connection with General Motors that led to the team fielding the No. 71 Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R, which drove into victory lane last year for the first time at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and later at Road America in what was the fourth-closest finish in Pilot Challenge history. Meanwhile, DePew credits the CTMP win to an unconventional testing situation he and Liddell faced.
“Robin and I went to CTMP, and we rented a Kia Forte,” said DePew, as the racecar remained at the team’s shop in DeLand, Florida. “We were able to do a track day where we just sat in the car together. I drove the Kia Forte there. Pfaff had rented the track, so there were a bunch of GT2s and McLarens and everything else, and we’re tooting around in that little Kia Forte tearing the rear tires up.
“But at the end of the day, I learned enough that when I got there with the racecar, I was able to translate that and probably got quicker through the race than the beginning of the race.”
Fast forward to 2020, the team’s 13th-place finish at the season-opening race at Daytona Int’l Speedway means they’re off to an exponentially better start than 2019. Just half an hour down the road from Daytona and two-and-a-half hours from Sebring International Raceway – which the series visits for its second race of the year on March 18-21 – the team continues its home stretch of racing.
“We like being in Florida,” DePew said. “We like being down there in the offseason and having its first two races. We love Daytona, we’re close to Daytona, and we’re close to Sebring.”
And as for any expectations or pressure to repeat last year’s success, the team’s goal is clear.
“Maybe, maybe a little pressure, but I think what we want to accomplish this year is greater consistency in order to come out on top of the point standings,” DePew said. “We had some great successes last year, but also some amazing failures, mostly on my part, and those led us to being wherever we were in the championship. In the last seven races, we were actually tied for second in the points, so we blew it in the first three races.
“This year, if we can just be consistent and consistently finish well, I feel like we’ll end up higher in the standings, whether we have a race win or not. Really at the end of the day, we’re just trying to do a better job of trying to be consistent.”