2017 GTS Champion Lawson Aschenbach Set to Defend His Pirelli World Challenge title against a strong GTS Field
A stellar contingent of new GT4 cars will make for a tough campaign
AUSTIN, Texas – Veteran racer Lawson Aschenbach knew the 2017 Pirelli World Challenge GTS road racing series would be a very-competitive tour.
The 34-year-old Vanderbilt University graduate now residing in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., entered last year’s campaign with a variety of question marks including an all-new Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R sports car from the Blackdog Speed Shop in the paddock area and a host of GT4 machines set to do battle in the GTS class.
But Lawson didn’t count out his chances for a third GTS series title and a fifth overall PWC crown in 2017. In fact, he was excited to take on the challengers last year after losing out to Brett Sandberg in 2016.
“We had an all-new race car and we didn’t really do a lot of testing before the first race at St. Petersburg,” said Aschenbach, who’ll return to the streets of St. Pete on March 9-11 for the 2018 Pirelli World Challenge season opener. “We felt our new Camaro would be a good performer on the variety of tracks whether it was a street circuit, road course, tight or long track. The Pratt & Miller guys, Chevrolet Performance crew as well as the Blackdog team did a great job in developing the race car for the 2017 season.”
Despite the limited testing time, Aschenbach left little doubt that his Camaro GT4.R was going to be a contender in 2017 after setting a new track record in St. Pete qualifying and placing second in the season-opening doubleheader races.
“The start of the year was actually kind of funny as we were in the hunt but he couldn’t win a race,” explained Lawson. “The first five weekends saw five different makes and drivers win and we made the podium nine of the ten races and took the point lead. There were a lot of outliers in first few races too. Good cars with good drivers which fit those tracks. And we drove hard but just couldn’t find victory lane. It was a little frustrating as a driver but we had a good car.”
Drivers with Ford Mustang, KTM XBow GT4, SIN CAR R1 GT4, Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR and Panoz Avezzano cars captured the first five doubleheader events in GTS and Aschenbach was right there, just no top-of-the-podium victories for the former open-wheel star.
Then came an impressive weekend at the popular Mid-Ohio circuit for Aschenbach, winning race one on Saturday and setting fast lap in a duel with Ian James in the Panoz Avezzano GT. James returned the favor on Sunday with his win over Lawson.
“The GTS division is so competitive with such a wide range of cars,” said Aschenbach, whose Blackdog Speed Shop Camaro completed every lap of every race in 2017. “Now finishing every race with 12 podiums is a tremendous record. We won the title by over 60 points and that’s a credit to everyone involved. Blackdog is a great team. So, winning the championship in a car that was still in the development stages is a strong statement. We felt this car was developed for a wide range of drivers too – from amateur to pro.”
Aschenbach closed out his title run with another victory at Sonoma Raceway and secured the title even before the season finale. He now looks to repeat his 2017 performance with a fifth PWC crown in the No. 10 Blackdog machine in the 18-race series that includes several SprintX events in the GTS category.
“The GT4 class is really expanding worldwide right now as I think the category is appealing to the car manufacturers,” said Lawson. “The cars look similar to what are sold in the showroom. And the costs are more affordable than some of the other classes. I think you’ll see more GT4 cars coming into PWC this year too.”
Taking on the Camaro of Aschenbach in 2018 will be the Ford Mustang GT4, Panoz Avezzano GT, Ginetta G55, SIN CAR R1 GT4, Mercedes AMG GT4, Audi R8 LMS, Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR, Maserati GT4, BMW M4 GTS, Aston Martin Vantage GT4 and the KTM XBow GT4.
“Our Blackdog Speed Shop will be ready for another hard fight in 2018,” said Aschenbach. “We have more data entering this year than last year. But the competition level has increased too. It should be a great shootout throughout the 2018 season. I can’t wait to get started.”
The Pirelli World Challenge GT and GTS divisions season openers will begin practice runs on Friday, March 9, with 50-minute Sprint races set for Saturday, March 10, and Sunday, March 11, at the 1.8-mile, 14-turn St. Petersburg street circuit around the Alfred Whitted Airport, Al Lang Stadium and Mahaffey Theatre.