Aschenbach, Buford Round Out The Podium with GT4 Machines
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Andrew Aquilante of Chester Springs, Penn., returned in fine form to the Pirelli World Challenge Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Case●It by taking home the top spot in the first round of GTS competition in the tried-and-true No. 32 Phoenix Performance Ford Mustang Boss 302, beating out a range of newer and new-to-the-series vehicles on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit.
Aquilante parlayed his third-place grid position into a win in the 50-minute sprint event, while also securing the fastest lap of the race at one minute, 21.445-seconds and a trap speed of 75.63 m.p.h. This fast lap also puts Aquilante in the pole position for the start of the second GTS race on Saturday.
Round 1 top qualifier Lawson Aschenbach of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., driving the No. 10 Blackdog Racing Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R, lost the position on lap nine in the race at the recently-modified turn 3 and could not recapture the top spot from Aquilante, while he made a couple of late race charges before settling for second place at the checkered flag. Aschenbach set a new track record in qualifying with the debut of the Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R on Thursday.
Brentwood, Tenn., resident Jade Buford, substitute-driving for the weekend, took the third spot on the podium in the No. 45 Racer’s Edge Motorsports SIN R1 GT4 with his best lap time of 1:21.488 (75.54 m.p.h.), also good enough for the grid front row in Saturday’s second GTS race. Newcomer Rodrigo Baptista of Barcelona, Spain drove the No. 3 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche Cayman Clubsport GT4 to fourth in his first Pirelli World Challenge race.
“It all comes back to turn three for me at this track,” said Aquilante. “With the change, it was fun to see the unknown right there. PWC did a great job with the pace laps and then a couple of faster so the driver could experiment with the new setup at turn three. Initially, I went into the corner at sixty per cent and a couple of corners I went over the edge so I knew where I could go with the car. That’s the reason we came to this event because we knew the Mustang was strong here. Jack (Roush Jr.) won both GTS races last year here. It’s an awesome event here at St. Pete and track is so much fun to drive. There is very little room for error in some places but there are other locations that you can slide the car around. As soon as I could feel that I could get over the curbs, I knew the others would struggle there. I said ‘That’s where I will get the guys.’ I was able to set up Lawson for the lead and I was waiting for him to make a charge at the end. But my Pirelli tires really held up well throughout the race. To me it felt like we were getting faster and faster in some corners as the race went on. Now we will see what happens in Saturday’s race. It should be another shootout.”
In GTSA (Amateur), Huntsville, Ontario, Canada’s Martin Barkey, piloting the No. 80 Mantella Autosports KTM Xbow GT4, took top honors with a 1:22.720-second lap at 74.44 m.p.h.
Fastest lap from a driver in the GTSA classification came from Parker Chase in the No. 19 Performance Motorsports Group Ginetta G55 with a 1:22.273-second run at 78.76 m.p.h. Chase only completed 4 laps of the circuit before being forced to retire.
Aschenbach was seeking a spectacular debut with the new Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R, a new sports car recently developed by Chevrolet, Pratt & Miller and the Blackdog Speed Shop. But the Blackdog team didn’t receive their two new machines until last week and actually had a shakedown run in Savannah this week.
“There was a lot of work and dedication, a lot of focus and many people behind this new Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R machine,” said Aschenbach, the four-time PWC series champion. “When you have people like Chevrolet, Pratt & Miller and Blackdog Speed Shop behind the project, you know you are going to have a great car. I was very surprised that we rolled off the trailer and ran strong. I knew we were in the ballpark after the first couple of laps in Thursday practice. You go to a track with a new car and you don’t really know what to expect. And, for us, it like plug and play. It has been a little nerve-racking. We put a lot of miles on the test car but the new cars (No. 10 and 11) have been at the shop less than a week. We shook them down at Savannah on the way to St. Pete. I think it is amazing that we just got the cars, shook them down, won the pole (with a new track record) and finished second and is a testament to everyone behind this car. Hopefully, Saturday we can do one position better.”
Meanwhile, Buford had even a shorter time to prepare for his first St. Petersburg event, as the veteran racer received the phone call to join the Racer’s Edge squad with local driver Jason Bell in the middle of race week. Buford won three GTS races in 2016 with the No. 45 Sin R1 GT4 sports car.
“It was a wild week for me as the Racer’s Edge team called me to drive the No. 45 car on Tuesday this week. Then I got a call to compete in the American Ninja Warrior TV show in April at Daytona. I am a rock climber as well as a car racer. I’m very excited. I didn’t expect to be here or for any of that to happen. I have never been to the St. Pete race before but I was told the track was really fun. And they are right. It is awesome to drive. I had some great racing with Andrew and Lawson today, nose-to-tail racing, and I was close to the walls several times today. I can’t wait to get in the car tomorrow for the second GTS race of the weekend. We are starting on the front row on Saturday, but the top three times are incredibly close. It could be anyone’s race.”
The GTS Round 2 50-minute sprint event is set for Saturday at 12:55 p.m. ET. MotorTrendOnDemand will live-stream the event; this and live TSL Timing and Scoring links can be found on the PWC St. Petersburg event page.
Of note, the following awards were also issued for the race:
● The Optima Best Start Award was given to Rodrigo Baptista (No. 3 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR) for his 3-position jump at the start from his eighth-place qualifying position up to fifth place.
● The Cadillac Best Move of the Race went to race-winner Andrew Aquilante for his pass of pole-qualifier Aschenbach for the lead and ultimate win.
● The VP Racing Fuels Hard Charger Award was issued to Libertyville, Illinois’ Tony Gaples for his 8-position gain over the course of the sprint in the No. 11 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R.
Pirelli World Challenge Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Case-it, GTS Rd.1 Results. Results are Provisional until posted Final.
Position, Car No., Class, Place in Class, Driver Name, Make Model – Team Name, Fastest Lap, Trap Speed.
1,32,GTS,1,Andrew AQUILANTE,Ford Mustang Boss 302 – Phoenix Performance,01:21.4,75.63
2,10,GTS,2,Lawson ASCHENBACH,Chevrolet Camaro GT-4 – Blackdog Speed Shop,01:21.6,75.57
3,45,GTS,3,Jade BUFORD,SIN R1 GT4 – Racers Edge Motorsports,01:21.5,75.54
4,3,GTS,4,Rodrigo BAPTISTA,Porsche Cayman GT4 Club Sport MR – Flying Lizard,01:22.7,74.65
5,80,GTSA,1,Martin BARKEY,KTM XBow GT4 – Mantella Autosports,01:22.7,74.44
6,14,GTS,5,Nate STACY,Porsche Cayman GT4 Club Sport MR – Flying Lizard,01:23.1,74.38
7,11,GTSA,2,Tony GAPLES,Chevrolet Camaro GT-4 – Blackdog Speed Shop,01:23.0,74.33
8,2,GTSA,3,Jason BELL,SIN R1 GT4 – Racers Edge Motorsports,01:22.6,74.32
9,13,GTS,6,Frankie MONTECALVO,KTM X-Bow – ANSA Motorsports,01:22.8,74.3
10,8,GTS,7,Anthony MANTELLA,KTM XBow GT4 – Mantella Autosports,01:23.1,73.86
11,62,GTSA,4,Mark KLENIN,McLaren 570S GT4 – KPR,01:23.4,73.76
12,4,GTSA,5,George KURTZ,McLaren 570S GT4 – GMG Racing,01:23.9,73.26
13,17,GTS,8,Adam MERZON,Porsche Cayman GT4 – Case-it Racing,01:25.0,72.51
14,7,GTSA,6,Cameron MAUGERI,Porsche Cayman GT4 Club Sport MR – KRUGSPEED,01:24.8,72.5
15,9,GTSA,7,Bill ZIEGLER,KTM X-Bow – ANSA Motorsports,01:27.1,70.33
16,18,GTS,9,Cameron CASSELS,Porsche GT4 Clubsport – Case-it Racing,01:25.2,66.99
17,19,GTSA,8,Parker CHASE,GINETTA G55 – Performance Motorsports Group,01:22.3,66.65
18,69,GTSA,9,Harry GOTTSACKER,GINETTA G55 – Performance Motorsports Group,01:22.6,65.97