SONOMA, Calif. (Sept. 12, 2017) – Lawson Aschenbach entered the 2017 Pirelli World Challenge road racing series with an unproven machine for the tough GTS division. He really didn’t know what he had with his race car.
In fact, just a brief test session with the all-new No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R was all the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., veteran had in the new race vehicle before hitting the streets of St. Petersburg for the PWC GTS season openers.
But Aschenbach, the 33-year-old racer with a Vanderbilt University double major degree in engineering science and mathematics, left little doubt he was a serious contender for the GTS championship when he left the opening weekend with a pole position and two second place finishes.“We really didn’t test much before the St. Pete opening weekend,” said Aschenbach, the PWC GTS career win leader with 15. “But the knowledge of the Chevrolet guys and the Pratt & Miller folks and, of course, the experience of the Blackdog Speed Shop team helped develop this car throughout the season. It was amazing how quickly this car was put together and made a contender for the championship.”
After the St. Pete weekend, Lawson held the point lead and never relinquished it the remainder of the 18-race GTS season. He clinched the title after Round 16 at Circuit Of The Americas (COTA) over the Labor Day weekend.
His consistency throughout the season proved to be the advantage to his fifth PWC series crown and third in the GTS division. Only one win (Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course) matched up with seven runner-up finishes, three third-places (11 podiums) as well as two fifth-places gave Aschenbach a huge margin entering the COTA Labor Day weekend doubleheader.
“In all honesty, it was a little frustrating at some of the races,” Lawson admits. “We always had a shot to win the races. I thought we had a car capable of winning at any track on the schedule. But there was always one ‘outlier’ car that we couldn’t match. It was one car that was set up well for that specific track. And they won the race most of the time. It was different every weekend.”
Double wins by Andrew Aguilante in a Ford Mustang GTS (St. Pete), Nico Jamin in a KTM X-Bow GT4 (VIRginia International Raceway), Jade Buford in a SIN R1 GT4 (Canadian Tire Motorsport Park), Rodrigo Baptista in a Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR (Lime Rock Park), and Ian James in a Panoz Avezanno GT (Road America) made up the first 10 GTS rounds before Aschenbach could step on top of the winner’s podium at Mid-Ohio.
“It’s great to get on the podium and take second and third, but it doesn’t get you what you want – the win,” said Lawson. “That sense of accomplishment. You have to keep plugging away and sooner or later a win will come. We were never the quickest car on any given weekend. We only had two pole positions, too, this year. But the car was good at all of the tracks.”
While the season championship was good for Aschenbach, he admits he races for wins first, then points and titles later.
“Every year my goal is to win races and, if I can do that, then the points and the championship will come together,” he said. “I wanted to be in the hunt from the start. Overall, this year was a bit different with only one win so far. We hope for more this weekend at Sonoma (Raceway in the final two GTS rounds). I’m pleased with the season with the new car and all of the podiums. Only one win so far this year, but it is very gratifying to get the championship in the first year of the car.”
His 23rd overall Pirelli World Challenge win at Mid-Ohio moved Aschenbach into fifth in the all-time PWC victory chart and tied him with veteran racer Lou Gigliotti. Peter Cunningham holds the all-time PWC win mark with 43.
“To have a consistent season like this with the all-new Camaro GT4.R was special,” he said. The car was a jack of all trades. It could handle all of the various tracks on the schedule better than some of the newer GT4 cars which worked on selected circuits. The car is good on both low speed and high-speed tracks. We developed this car to be good for a professional driver as well as an amateur driver. You had look at this car as a little different and try to make it a ‘driver-friendly’ car for the GT4 division.”
And Aschenbach sees the GT4 class growing in the future and becoming a popular category for teams and manufacturers.
“GT4 cars are the next big wave of sports car racing and you are going to see many new cars in the coming years from different manufacturers,” Lawson said. “I see a great future for the GT4/GTS category. Sports car racing is the purest form of motorsports because they are racing the cars that you drive on the street and race against the other makes. The GT4 platform is a great place for manufacturers to play and learn about cars for the street as well as on the track.”
This weekend at the PWC Grand Prix of Sonoma, GTS competition begins Friday (Sept. 15) at 9:15 a.m. PDT with. The GTS races are schedule at 5 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday. All GTS races over the weekend will be live-streamed for free on World-Challenge.com and MotorTrendOnDemand.com.