Preston Calvert took a pair of class wins in the last Pirelli GT4 America round at Portland International Raceway along with his co-driver Matt Keegan as the Team Panoz Racing operation continues its strong run of form.
This week in the Pirelli Paddock Pass, Calvert discusses returning to the site of his long-awaited first win, what makes his pairing with Matt Keegan so strong, and more.
What were your emotions returning to Portland where you earned your first SRO America class win?
“I think there’s always a basic preparation that you do before any race event, which for me involves going back over my prior video or other people’s video if I have that.
“Also, I create an annotated track map so I have all of my brake markers, which curbs to use, that sort of stuff, recorded so that I can review that and from the first session go out and perform.
“On top of that, when you’re going back to a place that has that kind of emotional significance, it jazzes you up a little bit more.
“You feel more excited and anticipate performing, hopefully, at a level which is similar to what I did before.
“The other side of that is, racing is such a cruel sport that there’s tracks that you have negative associations with that you have to get rid of.
“For example: [Canadian Tire Motorsport Park]. I crashed twice there in the first couple of times I went there over the last few years in different cars and I had to eventually get that taste out of my mouth and now I actually love the place.
“There is an emotional aspect to each one of these tracks that you have to deal with.”
Broadly, how would you assess your season to this point?
“I’d say that we are fortunate to be leading in our little national SprintX Am class which is a little less attended than we thought it was going to be.
“But we do have very stiff competition, especially from the Pro drivers that are now able to drive as Ams like Kris Wilson and James Sofronas, for example. We think we’re a bit fortunate to be sitting where we are.
“I think Matt and I have learned to do a good driver exchange each way and we have similar styles in that we both are fairly aggressive on track but try to avoid contact at all costs so that we bring the car back good for the other guy.
“We’ve been thwarted a couple of times from finishing and that’s hurt us, but I think we feel fortunate.
“I think we need to improve our game in order to be succesful and maintain or increase our points lead at Watkins Glen, Road America, and Las Vegas.
“We take nothing for granted and those are going to be our most challenging events of the year.”
What have you identified as areas that can be improved?
“I think from my own standpoint, I need to qualify better. I’m often more concerned with making sure the car makes it through qualifying than I am with putting the absolute number down.
“That risk/reward ratio, I probably need to err a little more on the risk side. The good news for me is that I’m very familiar and comfortable with Watkins Glen and Road America, and everyone’s on the same page for Las Vegas.
“Hopefully I can qualify a bit better. Starting position has so much to do with the outcome.
“I’m fairly good at improving position on track but it’s unrealistic to think that in a 30 minute stint you’re going to pass more than three or four cars, so there’s a real premium on qualifying.
“Matt [Keegan], on the other hand, has a pretty complete game and just needs to keep doing what he does which is a full package of really excellent amateur driving.”
How did your pairing with Matt come about? Did you know each other before joining the Panoz program last year?
“I had never met Matt or even known his name before Ian James invited him to join Ian for the SprintX races that were mixed into the series along with the Sprint races last season.
“Matt came in and is a very engaging and funny guy that is very serious about racing. That combination meshed really well with Ian and me and also with the team. Like I am as well, he’s very bonded with our mechanics and other team members.
“I got to be very friendly with him, we joshed with one another a lot last year, and then over the offseason we were trying to sort out what the best arrangement was for the coming year and Matt texted me.
“In his usual way, it was about five words, something like: How about you and me SprintX Am next season? I thought about that for a few minutes and thought it was the best combination I could imagine.
“He’s a bit faster than I am on average but our combined average pace is pretty good. We both have the same passion for racing and for having fun, trying to keep it at a manageable level of stress for the team and relating to the team well.
“It’s a natural thing and I can’t express how enjoyable it is to come to a race weekend with Matt and Ian and our team.
“We just have a little magical group right now that gets along well and is able to perform at a pretty high level.”