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ASCHENBACH: Heat Wave

Lawson Aschenbach files his latest Sportscar365 column following Portland PWC weekend…

Photo: Halston Pitman/Blackdog Speed Shop

Race car drivers rarely get to experience the thrill of learning a new track. Personally, it’s been years since I’ve stepped foot on a facility for the first time.

It’s exciting, but this can also present multiple challenges when you have limited track time and a two-driver format during SprintX weekends.

However, this can present an opportunity. Pushing yourself to get up to speed quickly demands intense mental focus. Finding the groove in a handful of laps will speed up the development of the setup, which can put you a step ahead of the competition.

After a brutal weekend at Road America, everyone at Blackdog Speed Shop was primed and excited to get back to the track, and rebound. We’ve always come back stronger than ever after rough weekends, and I had no doubt this was going to be a similar feat.

Portland turned out to be a unique circuit. Long radius corners, a low-grip track surface, and quick transitions were the name of the game. This wasn’t going to be a natural place to find the perfect balance due to the variety of corners and various speeds.

Our Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R felt right at home at this demanding circuit, and we ended up with very minimal changes to tweak the hot rod in between the two short practice sessions.

Photo: Blackdog Speed Shop

My teammate, Andy Pilgrim, did a fantastic job qualifying our car in 6th for Race 1. It looked to be anyone’s game at the time, but we knew the competition was going to be tough.

When it comes to SprintX weekends, IN and OUT laps are the key to making up time and positions on the track. If you can will yourself to a fast lap leading up to your pit stop, you will be rewarded. The same goes for the Out Lap.

We entered pit lane in 10th, and after a great pit stop I launched the Camaro out of the pits and put my head down to try to gain some time. After the pit stop cycles finished, we found ourselves sitting in a lonely, but strong, third place.

Those few laps after the pit stop defined our race as it went green the rest of the way. It was a great podium for the team and felt good to get our mojo back…

The only negative from the race was our lap time for Race 2.

We decided to gamble on our tire strategy as we only get three new and one carry over set of tires each weekend. Since the next event at Utah will be a track that creates a lot of tire wear, we decided to start the first race in Portland on our qualifying set to save a new set for practice in Utah.

Photo: PWC

This affected our ability to go for a fast lap at the end of the race, but fortunately, we still lined up in seventh and had a fighting shot for another podium in Race 2.

When the green flag dropped, my teammate, Michael Cooper, and I forced our way into second and third, and we ran there behind the leader until the first yellow bunched the field up and created some excitement for the fans before the looming pit stops.

The green waved, and after a few laps, we found ourselves running 1-2 and in a great spot to shoot for another podium.

We pitted a few laps before the cutoff, and with a quick in-lap and pit stop, Andy ran in the top five and finished fifth, right behind our teammates, Cooper and Tony Gaples, in fourth.

All-in-all an excellent weekend for Blackdog Speed Shop. We gained a few points in the championship and still have a fighting chance…we will need some things to go our way, but as I’ve found in the past, it isn’t over until you take the checkered flag in Race Two and Watkins Glen.

We will never give up, and I’m looking forward to pushing hard in the last two weekends of the season!

Photo: Blackdog Speed Shop

Other Notes:

***It was exciting to see Pirelli World Challenge listen to their competitors and work hard to implement the desires of the teams and drivers. Greg Gill and Stéphane Ratel made a great call to bring the PWC GTS class back to its roots with a single-driver sprint format in 2019. Plus, allowing for a two-driver regional series for Silver and Bronze drivers creates the perfect entry point for aspiring newcomers or business professionals.

***The GT class will become a 90-minute race with two drivers. Although different from the roots I just talked about, it’s the perfect chemistry to help get more track time for GT competitors and lower the ever-increasing budgets with seven events and two-driver combinations. I’m hoping this helps return the GT class to a field full of talent and car counts.

***I’m interested to see how things shake up in 2019. Changes are a must to keep up with today’s world. You can’t please everyone, but as I’ve mentioned in the past, continuing dialog between series, sponsors, drivers, teams, and manufacturers is a must to help grow this sport. Onward and upward!

Lawson Aschenbach (@lawsonaracing) is a former Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and Pirelli World Challenge champion, driving for Blackdog Speed Shop in Pirelli World Challenge and Michael Shank Racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

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