Friday afternoon saw the race debut of Chevrolet’s new Camaro GT4.R, a new car built for worldwide competition, but with an American flair. Lawson Aschenbach qualified the Camaro on pole, but it was older American iron that took the spoils.
The big story prior to the race was the reconfiguration of turn 3. Thursday night, a new curb was installed after a series of crashes that dramatically slowed what was a flat out turn. It was through the much-tighter turn 3 that Phoenix Performance’s Andrew Aquilante was best during the 50-minute race. Aquilante, driving the only Ford Mustang BOSS 302R in the field, got a good run exiting the new turn 3 and outdragged Aschenbach to 2nd Avenue SE (turn 4) to take the lead. From there, Aquilante held on Aschenbach to take a well-deserved victory.
Afterwards, Aquilante spoke about the new setup.
“It all comes back to turn three for me at this track,” Aquilante said after the race. “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,” Aquilante continued. “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 addition to winning the race, Aquilante also set the fastest lap of the race with three laps to go. As a result, he will start on the pole for Round No. 2 on Saturday.
In regards to the extra pace laps, rather than have a standing start or a side-by-side rolling start, Pirelli World Challenge officials elected to have four laps at increasing speed behind the pace car at the start with the clock running so that drivers could get used to the new setup in turn 3 without practice time. Think of it as being similar to a yellow-green setup in NASCAR. The result was a clean race. The new setup did not cause any notable problems. The race went green from the end of the extra pace laps to the checkered flag.
Behind Aquilante and Aschenbach was Jade Buford in third, driving in a sub role for Racers Edge Motorsports in the No. 45 SIN R1 GT4. Flying Lizard Motorsports’ Rodrigo Baptista was fourth in the best Porsche in the field, while Mantella Autosport’s Martin Barkey was fifth, tops in the GTSA subclass.
GTS Round No. 2 is scheduled for 12:55 p.m. on Saturday. Like Round No. 1, it will be live-streamed at World-Challenge.com, Motor Trend’s YouTube channel and Motor Trend OnDemand.
About the author
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.
Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.
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