Twenty-four hours after seeing his car nearly burn to the ground, Preston Calvert celebrated on the top step of the podium, earning his first career professional victory, in a dramatic swing of events, and emotions, for the Calvert Dynamics team owner/driver.
Calvert teamed with Michael Lewis for victory in Saturday’s Pirelli World Challenge SprintX round at Utah Motorsports Campus, in what was a late entry after its No. 77 Porsche 911 GT3 R sustained a massive fire in practice on Friday.
While initially entered for Rounds 3 and 4 of the SprintX season with Calvert and Andrew Davis, the Phoenix Performance-run team swapped cars to Lewis’ No. 98 entry, which was originally tabbed for the Sprint races only.
“First we were in shock,” Calvert said of the fire. “We were worried about Andrew and then realized he was out of the car. Then we had the shock of having a beloved race car go up in smoke. That was a really tough day.
“But I think we all went home and realized that’s racing. We came back and got an offer from Michael to drive SprintX with him. We all decided that we were going to have a better day tomorrow.”
A better day did indeed arrive, in a dramatic last-lap victory that saw Lewis close a nearly 30-second deficit on the No. 46 Mills Racing BMW Z4 GT3 of Kuno Wittmer in the final half hour of the race.
“We were clicking it down,” Calvert said. “We were sitting there doing math in our heads trying to figure out how many laps we had left.
“Michael was closing pretty quickly. We were pretty sure he’d get close but when he was able to be right behind the Mills car coming out of Turn 15, we thought this could be it.
“We were overjoyed. I think everyone was close to tears because of the turnaround for us.”
The victory not only marked Calvert’s first in top-level sports car racing, but also the maiden PWC GT victory for the Phoenix Performance-run team, led by father-and-son Joe and Andrew Aquilante, as well as car chief Kurt Rezzetano.
After multiple seasons in Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and moving to PWC GTS and GT Cup competition last year, the small, tight-knit organization expanded to the GT class this year, where it was faced with challenges of its own.
Davis initially struggled with the new-for-2016 Porsche 911 GT3 R, but a recent turnaround, coupled with the addition of a second car for Lewis, has helped put the team in position to win.
However, as Calvert admits, Friday’s misfortunes threw everyone for a unexpected turn, but nothing they weren’t able to quickly overcome.
“I know from experience with our team that we’re a very resilient group and know how to deal with adversity,” he said. “But this was about as big and adverse as we’ve dealt with.
“But we found a way to move forward overnight. With some decent execution on my part and incredible driving on Michael’s part, I think we have turned it around in a way we’re all stunned by.”
Calvert, meanwhile, has high remarks about the new SprintX format, which has again drawn a reduced field this weekend, but could have a promising long-term potential.
The possibility of integrating SprintX and the existing Sprint series into a combined championship has been proposed, a concept Calvert feels would help grow the grid.
“I think it’s a very appealing format,” he said. “When it’s a core part of the points yielding portion of the series, I think people adopt it willingly. We’ve seen it makes for really great racing.
“We definitely would like to do some SprintX races [next year] and there are some Sprint races we like as well. We haven’t completely formulated our plan.
“Part of it that we need to get another car. We will work with Porsche to try and make that happen.”
For now, though, Calvert is focused on the task at hand in Utah, and that’s going for a weekend sweep, as he and Lewis seek victory in Race 2 this afternoon.
“It’s a wonderful feeling and we’re hoping to see if we can lather, rinse and repeat [today],” he said.