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ASCHENBACH: The SprintX Variable at COTA

Lawson Aschenbach files his latest Sportscar365 column following COTA…

Photo: Richard Prince/Blackdog Speed Shop

Sports car racing is a unique form of motorsports. It’s not just a driver and his or her car anymore. There are so many more variables than in other types of racing, and they can go against you at any point. Most of the time, these variables are outside of your control.

After a hugely successful weekend to start the Pirelli World Challenge season in St. Petersburg, Blackdog Speed Shop was primed to continue its string of strong results at Circuit of The Americas.

Excellent off-season preparation allowed us to start the season as if were in mid-season form with the Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R.

Going into the weekend at COTA, we received both ride height and weight increases – the latter doubly tough due to the fact that my new SprintX teammate, Andy Pilgrim, and I were going to be carrying an additional 80 pounds due to a last minute rule change.

It’s exciting to be driving with Andy eleven years after our time together at Team Cadillac. I learned things that still carry to this day from him and Ron Fellows during that season, and I can only hope to have the success they’ve showed throughout their careers.

As you can imagine, though, the cards were stacked against us at COTA, but we never back down from a challenge. We’ve been here before, and that is the great thing about Blackdog Speed Shop. We never give up, never lose focus and always bring our ‘A’ game.

After our four practice sessions for the weekend, Andy and I were feeling positive about the Chevrolet Camaro’s balance.

Our engineer, Neil, made positive changes to balance speed versus tire life, a polarizing issue for the Camaros due to the mandated weight and ride height.

A very competitive qualifying session had Tony starting race one in 10th and Andy in 20th. The GTS field has a significant mix of manufacturers and a large field this season so qualifying becomes very important as select races could potentially go caution free!

Once the green flag flew, it turned into a bit of a crash fest. Most of the first 25 minutes were under caution, and Andy did a great job picking off a few people in limited time to move us up the grid.

We ended up with a bit of front end damage due to a stack up in turn one. Fortunately, Pratt & Miller and Chevrolet build a tough car and we were able to continue.

We had a perfectly timed pit stop at the 25-minute mark and that allowed us to gain positions on track. Once things cycled through, we found ourselves around fifth with a good chance to make up more ground.

The mandated weight penalty started to catch up to me as we lost tire grip. I pushed as hard as I could to keep position, but the lack of apex speed coupled with a significant top speed deficiency to other cars had us settling for a seventh-place finish.

Considering how the weekend was playing out I was happy with the result. You can’t win them all and the key is to finish!

The team did an incredible job fixing the damage, and our Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R looked brand new on Sunday morning!

Our qualifying lap from Race 1 put us 11th on the grid for a tricky, damp start to Race 2. When it was go time we lost a few positions on the opening corner but quickly regained traction and started to move back through the field.

I look forward to these types of conditions because it tests man and machine. You never truly know the grip level until you’ve already committed to the corner.

Car control and quick reflexes are the name of the game. Passing opportunities will present themselves and you need to take advantage.

A few laps in, I was pushing hard to pass for fifth or sixth place. We were moving forward and things were looking great.

Sadly, we ended up getting hit in Turn 2 when another competitor didn’t leave the proper racing room. That was it for us! I limped the hot rod back to the pits for repairs. The guys thrashed to get us back out on track but the damage was done.

We finished a lowly 33rd. Sometimes things happen on track and they are out of your control. All you can do is focus forward and get them the next time!

We did have one bright spot over the weekend. I need to say congrats to my teammates Tony and Michael Cooper in the No. 11 sister car. They had a fantastic Race 1 that saw them finish on the podium in third. Great things ahead for that pairing!

The GTS field is stacked this season with incredible cars and drivers. I’m expecting great racing as the season continues, but I know we will be prepared and come back stronger than ever at VIR.

On to the next one!

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.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. daedalus

    March 28, 2018 at 4:10 pm

    You win some you loose some, I think you did well in race 1 considering the added weight (which is only fair as you are a defacto pro-pro line up in a pro-am class).

    You deserve a PWC GT3 ride as you have outgrown GTS (in a good way!). Maybe if callaway could get a sponsor onboard for the missing 2nd car you could team up with cooper for GT sprintX.

  2. Sir Skidsalot

    March 29, 2018 at 1:19 am

    BOO-HOO, you were way out of BOP balance in the first race and they added a little weight. The extra PRO weight was equaled by all those with ringer drivers, and it didn’t stop the Mustang with the same handicap from winning COTA #1.

  3. Randal Dean

    March 29, 2018 at 8:06 am

    Really enjoy your columns here on Sportscar 365, Lawson. Go Black Dog!

  4. Sol Shine

    March 30, 2018 at 10:38 am

    Mustang is carrying more weight and has a 3mm smaller restrictor than the Camaro, yet they managed to squeak out a win in Race 1. Race 2 showed clearly how badly the BOP gods are abusing the Fords. This series and their euro skewed BOP is a joke.

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