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ASCHENBACH: St. Pete Debrief

Lawson Aschenbach on the debut of the Camaro GT4.R in St. Pete…

Photo: Richard Prince/GM

Photo: Richard Prince/GM

Debuting a brand new car is as exhilarating as it gets in racing! The anticipation builds as time gets closer to the first lap on track. You’re excited, but to be honest you never know what to expect.

Once you strap in for the first time, you’re ready. The nerves calm and focus sets in as you push the start button. You take a deep breath, push in the clutch, shift into first and blast off.

The new Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R can’t be explained in one word as there are just too many to describe it. Awesome. Fast. Loud. Precise. The list goes on…

St. Petersburg, Fla. set the scene for the first two Pirelli World Challenge races of the year.

It is a tight, technical street course that makes for great racing. The fans come out in full force and the quaint, clean city is a favorite of mine on the schedule.

The course has a little bit of everything. It’s got medium- and high-speed corners, low-speed corners, curbs and some heavy brake zones. Most of the track is lined with walls, so there is no room for error and can make passing difficult during races.

Blackdog Speed Shop showed up to the weekend with two brand new cars. The No. 10 and No. 11 (Tony Gaples) Camaro GT4.Rs had just completed their shakedown in Savannah, Ga. on Tuesday before we headed straight to the opening round of the PWC season.

Personally, I was ready to race. We had a tough season in 2016 with a great car that just didn’t fit into GTS class anymore. We were fast and won races, but ultimately the newer and lighter GT4 cars took the crown.

We came into this season with vengeance on our minds.

As practice began I knew right away our Blackdog GT4.R was in great shape. We rolled off the trailer with a balanced car and immediately saw competitive lap times.

After some minor adjustments we headed into qualifying confident that we had a shot for the pole. We decided to sit for a few laps to let the track continue to rubber in and it paid off. I could tell the surface had more grip as I started my first flying lap about halfway into the 20-minute session.

The car felt like it was on rails as the tire temp came up. My new engineer, Eric Miller, hit the nail on the head and we snatched the pole on our fourth lap with a track record.

To say we were happy is an understatement. Claiming the pole on the opening weekend with our new car was a true testament to Chevrolet, Shawn Meagher (GT4.R Program Manager) and Pratt & Miller for a job well done building the Camaro GT4.R.

Race 1 was going to be a big test for our team and a great way to collect important information to see how our car reacts in race conditions. Plus, a change was made to Turn 3 that made it slower and more technical.

When the green flag waved I pushed hard to get a gap over the pack. It worked… for a few laps. The top three pulled away from the pack and we ran nose to tail for to the finish. We had a good race, but ultimately finished second.

Race 2 had us starting third for the standing start. When the lights went out we launched directly into the lead! We had a fantastic race, again finishing in second place.

My teammate, Tony Gaples, had a great start to the season with a pair of 7th place finishes while also grabbing the Hard Charger award in Race 1!

All-in-all we were extremely pleased with the first race weekend. Not too often do you see success like this out of a new race car!

I can’t thank Blackdog Speed Shop enough for the hard work and dedication coming into this season. Debuting a new car is not an easy thing to do, but there is no other team in the paddock that is more ready for this challenge.

The team and I are hungrier than ever and will be pushing hard to get on that top step of the podium!

On to VIR…

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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