Sportscar365 kicks off its end-of-year awards by recognizing its rookie of the year, for drivers who raced full-time for the first time in a series or category. Check back over the next few weeks for more awards and highlights from the 2020 sports car racing season.
Rookie of The Year – Aaron Telitz
Indy Lights race winner Telitz dipped his toe into sports car waters last year as AIM Vasser Sullivan’s additional driver for the four IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup races.
Those outings gave the 28-year-old Wisconsin native a taste of the WeatherTech Championship, but his move to a comprehensive 11-round season with the benchmark Lexus team in 2020 presented a significant step up from his previous part-time role.
A full-time position with AVS wasn’t initially planned, but when the team and Parker Chase parted ways after the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona it was Telitz who found himself drafted in as Jack Hawksworth’s co-driver in the No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3.
It was an opportunity that Telitz said “came out of nowhere” but he appeared to take the demands of the augmented program in his stride, claiming victories with Lexus ever-present Hawksworth in their first two GT Daytona class races together.
Telitz then achieved his maiden IMSA pole at Road America, leading a Lexus front-row sweep at his home track.
This marked the first of four pole positions, while the one at Mid-Ohio was converted into a third win of the season that helped to define Telitz as a championship contender.
While his title bid ultimately faltered over the final two rounds, signed off by the AVS cars crashing at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring after fluids laid down on track, Telitz’s third place in the final standings was impressive for a driver who wasn’t initially marked down for the season.
Winning the GTD Sprint Cup with Hawksworth was a suitable consolation, while the pair will have a chance to continue their burgeoning partnership next season.
***Despite having a rapport in Asia, Belgian driver Alessio Picariello had little experience in European sports car racing until this year. After coming in under the radar as an unknown quantity in GTE, the 27-year-old turned out to be a star for Proton Competition and was instrumental in the team’s championship win. Picariello also set Proton’s Porsche on pole for the second Paul Ricard round and set two fastest race laps.
***Buoyed by a strong year with Kondo Racing in GT300, Sacha Fenestraz moved up to the GT500 class of Japan’s Super GT Series this year. Driving the new Toyota GR Supra, Fenestraz and his experienced co-driver Yuhi Sekiguchi were instantly competitive, taking podiums in the first three races. A few tough mid-season rounds were rubbed out by third place at the season finale which put them fourth in the final standings.
***Last year’s Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA runner-up Max Root enjoyed a promising first year of multi-manufacturer racing. Root won the GT World Challenge America powered by AWS Am Cup title sharing a Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R with Fred Poordad, but was often found rivaling the pace of drivers in the Silver and Pro-Am classes. Root capitalized on a bonus 24 Hours of Le Mans drive in GTE-Am to impress race winner TF Sport, which has recruited him for next month’s Rolex 24.
***Last year’s Porsche USA champion Roman de Angelis also successfully transferred his single-make skills into the diverse GT3 arena. De Angelis tackled the WeatherTech Championship with The Heart of Racing and quickly learned how to maximize the Aston Martin Vantage GT3 package. A highlight was the Sebring 12H where he was one of the top GTD performers and helped the Ian James-led team to achieve a season-best second place.