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ASCHENBACH: Two-for-Two to Start the Season

Lawson Aschenbach files his first Sportscar365 column of the year following his St. Pete sweep…

Photo: Brian Cleary/PWC

Victory! That’s not an easy task for the season’s first race weekend when there is no ability to “ease” into the championship.

You need to be focused, dedicated, and mentally and physically fit to start fast. Driver, car and team need to be in sync and in mid-season form. It’s easier said than done!

​St. Petersburg, Fla. set the scene for the first race weekend of the Pirelli World Challenge. It’s a short, technical street course that provides exciting passing opportunities and high speeds – the perfect event to get the season underway.

​Street courses are difficult. They are narrow, lined with walls and very unforgiving. One mistake and BOOM… you’ve hit the barrier or plunged yourself into the tires.

Perfection is the name of the game. Using every inch of road to get the maximum out of your car is what separates the fast from the slow.

​We rolled into the weekend determined to defend our 2017 GTS championships. As a team, Blackdog Speed Shop never settles. Win or lose, everyone continues to push themselves to get better. There is no need for a championship hangover. We are ready to repeat and will do anything it takes to make that a reality!

​Our preparation allowed us to start the first session strong. Our Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R felt fast and consistent. Promising to say the least, but we knew the game has changed with manufacturers such as Audi, Mercedes, and BMW entering into the series.

​My engineer, Neil, made some significant adjustments and found a bit more speed in the car for Practice Two. This gave us a good feeling heading into qualifying, which is vital for street circuits. Qualifying can make or break your race due to limited passing opportunities.

​After squeezing every bit of out of the GT4.R, we found ourselves fourth. That wasn’t ideal, but it put us right in the hunt. We knew our car had good race pace, so I was looking forward to challenging the rest of the field.

My experience was going to give me an edge at this track, having won there a few times.

​As the green flag flew, I pushed hard to find passing windows. Fortunately, I was up to second after Turn 1 and that allowed me to zero in on the race leader immediately. Cold tires and a slightly damp track gave me the opportunity I needed. This is precisely where experience comes into play!

​On Lap 2 I got a great run through the fast, blind Turn 3 and was able to make a late braking move on the leader into Turn 4. It’s fantastic to grab the lead that early, but keeping it is a different story. Remember, perfection is the key here.

​After a hard-fought battle with the second-place driver, we were able to pull out the win. That’s how you start the season! We carried over the momentum from the season finale in 2017. Not to mention the fact that our lap time gave us the pole for Race 2!

​We got a good jump Sunday and maintained position on the first lap. We were in the driver’s seat, but there was still a long way to go. Second place, Gabriele Piana in a Porsche, kept me honest and pushed me the entire race.

​I’m fortunate to drive a Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R that is based on the Camaro ZL1 1LE street car. The hot rod has excellent torque out of slow-speed corners and excellent grip in high-speed sections. This gave me exactly what I needed to stay in front and take the win!

​Two-for-two to start the season! Not bad at all…

​Our results are a testament to everyone at Chevrolet, Pratt & Miller and Blackdog Speed Shop. The success showcases the tireless work and dedication to this program. It’s comforting when you have a top-notch group of professionals in your corner! They are the best of the best.

​It feels good to notch two wins before we head to Circuit of The Americas, but we aren’t done by a long shot.

We will continue to push hard and give it everything we have; the championship isn’t decided till the last race of the season so we can never let up!

I do have to say that I’m looking forward to being back with my old teammate Andy Pilgrim. Andy’s great. We had a lot of success with Cadillac Racing early in my World Challenge career. Hopefully we can do it again with the Camaro.

​Switching gears…I do want to mention the successful Kart 4 Kids event that was held on Wednesday night at St. Petersburg.

Sebastien Bourdais and Patrick Long put on an incredible event that raised over $110,000 for the John’s Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

​It was an honor to be a part of the charity race alongside drivers like Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kannan, and many more!

​On to COTA!

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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