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Lawson Aschenbach reflects on podium return in latest Sportscar365 debrief…

Photo: IMSA

Photo: IMSA

After a bad race, your response can show the true character of a team. Everyone at Stevenson Motorsports was confident and ready to get back on track after our DNF at Road America. There was no reason to dwell on the past.

Our Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R rolled off the trailer spot on, however, it was pretty apparent that we were going to have an uphill battle due to the current series rules package. We had one of the best cars we’ve had all year, but we just didn’t have the speed of our competitors.

Virginia International Raceway is a difficult track. It has lots of elevation changes and technical corners that seem to highlight quick, nimble cars. It’s got heavy brake zones into turn 1 and 15, while providing some excitement with the fast Esses section.

The goal is to make sure your car has a great balance between power down traction and high-speed stability/platform. You need rear grip for the exits of corners 1, 11 and 16, but you need the platform stiffness in places like the Esses.

This balance is much easier said than done, one usually affects the other. That give-and-take scenario can create a tough situation. Fortunately for us, our engineers from Pratt & Miller have great experience in tuning these cars to achieve the best of both worlds.

As for the race, Matt Bell started our No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in the fifth position. We knew we were going to need great strategy and pit stops to have a chance for the win. Luckily, Mike Johnson, our team’s strategist, is one of the best at this game!

Matt ran a great first stint and was able to keep up with the leaders. We decided to gamble and stay out under caution when most teams pitted to put us on a different strategy.

We ended up getting a caution sometime around the hour mark and decided to pit for four tires, fuel and our driver change. At this point, our gamble wasn’t paying off as everyone else had already pitted. We were going to need some timely cautions to help get us back to the front.

Fortunately, that caution came soon after. Since we pitted later than most, this allowed us to “short fill” the car during this stop. That means we only had to take a few gallons of fuel compared to the other cars. Sure enough, we jumped everyone on pit lane and came out with the lead.

Once the green flag flew, it became very clear that we were in the middle of a fuel strategy race. No one could make it to the end from the latest pit stop, so this opened up the floodgates of various strategy calls.

We decided it was best to stay out as long as possible hoping that there would be no cautions. This would lead us to take a splash of fuel right at the end of the race. Our decision paid off!

We pitted with a few laps left in fifth position. After jumping one car in the pits, we found ourselves sitting pretty in fourth. The cars ahead of us were going to try to make it on fuel and we were in prime position if they ran out.

One car ran out, but ended up stopping on track. This caused a caution that we didn’t want to see! In the end, we were able to jump one more spot due to another car running out. The victory was in our grasp, but it was not our day!

We were disappointed to say the least, but ending up with a second place finish was a great way to rebound from Road America! Also, we shared the podium with our teammates in third.

Considering our uphill battle, we were pleased to come out of VIR with a double podium for Stevenson Motorsports and our Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.Rs!

I’d say things are back on track! Thanks to the team for all their hard work.

On to Circuit of the Americas!

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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