Perpetual Man in Motion, McAleer Helps Raise Gradient’s Mojo

By Jeff Olson

IMSA Wire Service

Before the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, Stevan McAleer received instructions from Gradient Racing owner Andris Laivins:

Just finish the race.

It had been a rough start to the 2024 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for Gradient’s No. 66 Acura NSX GT3. A mechanical problem at the Rolex 24 At Daytona resulted in a 19th-place finish in the Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) class. A crash in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Cadillac left the team in 14th place in GTD standings.

The just-finish instruction led McAleer to ask a specific question of Laivins:

“What happens if we’re P4 fighting for P3?’” McAleer said. “He said, ‘I just want to finish this race.’”

Oddly enough, that scenario – fourth fighting for third – is precisely where McAleer found himself in the final minutes at Long Beach.

“I came on the radio and said, ‘How badly do you guys want this podium?’” McAleer said. “I think I scared them a little bit. To be fair, I didn’t really have anything for Mike Skeen at the end, but it was a great weekend.”

Funny how a basic finish can revitalize things. McAleer, moved to a full-time role after the team parted with Katherine Legge in early April, helped Gradient Racing improve to 12th in the GTD championship points standings heading into this weekend’s Motul Course de Monterey Powered by Hyundai N at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

“You could see the relief on the team’s faces,” McAleer said. “Fourth place to me is maybe not great – I’m always after some of the biggest trophies – but it was certainly a win for a team whose last couple of races had been unlucky.”

Now he and co-driver Sheena Monk press forward to WeatherTech Raceway, where McAleer has memories of a victory in 2016 with Freedom Autosport in what is now the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge. WeatherTech Raceway’s offseason repaving project is the first topic of conversation leading into the weekend.

“It will be interesting to see how that suits the Acura,” McAleer said. “Looking at the lap times from last year, the car definitely had some pace. It didn’t look like it was the fastest, but it was in a window that I can work with.”

McAleer’s newfound duties with Gradient Racing are added to his already crowded schedule, joining his previous commitment to co-drive the No. 28 RS1 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS Clubsport with Trent Hindman in the Michelin Pilot Challenge. McAleer will race in both series this weekend, along with his extensive coaching obligations that include co-ownership of a Whelen Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by Michelin team with four cars entered.

In his world, a busy schedule is beneficial.

“The constant being in a race car regardless of what it is has always helped me adapt to something that I’m maybe not necessarily familiar with,” McAleer said. “People might have concerns with that, like maybe you’re not going to be as efficient as you could be. I disagree. Each car has a limit, and it’s my goal to find it. I thoroughly enjoy it.”

McAleer, who spent last weekend coaching drivers in another series at Sebring International Raceway, has multiple student clients in different series. Add his involvement with go-kart racing to his coaching and driving, and he’s eternally busy.

“That’s all deliberate for me,” McAleer said. “I’ve seen drivers’ careers disappear overnight for whatever reason – they get hurt, they move on to something else, or the team retires. There are so many variables in this sport just because of the sheer amount of funding it takes to run programs. … If I have 10 programs going, I know without a doubt that 10 programs are not going to disappear overnight.”

So, he aims for the weekend, with a crowded calendar, a never-give-up attitude, and few complaints.

“I would argue that there is nobody in the paddock as busy as I am from a driving standpoint, but that’s my own doing,” McAleer said. “When I complain that I’m tired, my wife tells me quite quickly that I did it to myself.”