Defending GTS champion Aschenbach Scores Round 1 Win Saturday in the Pirelli World Challenge at streets of St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Five-time Pirelli World Challenge class champion Lawson Aschenbach of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., left little doubt Saturday that he’ll be the top contender again in the GTS class with an impressive victory in the streets of St. Petersburg in the GTS Round 1 50-minute sprint event.
Aschenbach, driving the No. 1 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R sports car, made a dramatic lap one move over pole winner Gabriele Piana of Italy for the lead and scored a 0.547-second victory in the 33-lap race at the 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary course near the St. Petersburg harbor.

The three-time GTS titleholder scored his 25th PWC career victory to move to fourth all-time on the Pirelli World Challenge win list. Only Peter Cunningham (43), Randy Pobst (30) and Pierre Kleinubing (29) have more PWC victories in the series’ 29-year history.

“This is one of my favorite races of the year – the opening of the Pirelli World Challenge,” said Aschenbach. “Back in 2006, it was my first time here and I scored my first pro win so I have fond memories of this place. It’s a great track, there’s an ability to pass people. We saw a lot of that today. There was good action for the fans. The Camaro is a great car – it’s quite quick on a short run but over time you seem to have a lot of tire fade and then you have a harder time getting around some of the quicker, more nimble cars.

“If I could make that move early and make that lead, I was hoping I could hang on to it at the end but Gabriele (Piana) kept me honest and he did a great job in the Porsche. Sports car racing is the purest form of racing in the world, because we’re racing the cars you can buy on the street. It really brings home the point of winning on Sunday, buying on Monday. This is cost-effective racing and that’s what we need now.”

Piana was sensational in his PWC debut with the No. 21 Muehlner Motorsports America Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR, recording a new qualifying track record Saturday morning and pressuring Aschenbach throughout the 50-minute event. But Piana had to settle for second Saturday.

“I was surprised by Lawson’s pace today,” said Piana. “I was happy with my start, but I was 90% sure that I wasn’t going to be first after the first corner because the car is slower on the long straightaway. The Camaro is very powerful; but the car doesn’t drive itself, and Lawson took the chance when he had it, so I tip my hat to him. Having said that, I really tried everything. I had a lot of fun driving and I was really pushing hard.”

Third overall and first in the GTSA division was Drew Staveley of Salt Lake City, Utah, in the No. 12 Ian Lacy Racing Ginetta G55 followed by local favorite Jason Bell of Tampa, Fla., in the No. 2 M1 GT Audi R8 LMS GT4 and 2017 GTA and SprintX Pro-Am champion James Sofronas of Villa Park, Calif., in the No. 14 GMG Racing Audi R8 LMS GT4.

“This is a big year for us,” said Staveley. “We got three new Ginettas over the winter. Today the car went really well. On the racetrack, it’s all about the starts. On the first start, I wasn’t really sure what happened, I just kind of fell back. This is my first street course. It’s a really fun track. It’s technical. There are bumps and all kinds of consequences that I think a good racetrack needs so I felt right at home there.”

Taking second Saturday in the GTSA class was veteran Mike Hedlund of Redwood City, Calif., in the No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi R8 LMS GT4 followed by Jeff Courtney of Milwaukee, Wis., in the No. 99 JCR Motorsports Maserati Grand Turismo GT4, Tony Gaples of Libertyville, Ill, in the No. 11 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R and GTS newcomer Toby Grahovec of Celina, Tex., in the No. 26 Fast Track Racing/Classic BMW BMW M4 GT4.

Sunday’s Round 2 GTS 50-minute sprint race is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. EDT.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Round 1 results Saturday for the Pirelli World Challenge GTS 50-minute sprint race at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Results are provisional until posted Final.

Pos,PIC,Class,Name,Hometown,Car,Laps,Status,Race Time,Gap
1,1, Pro,Lawson ASCHENBACH,Palm Beach Gardens, FL,Chevrolet Camaro GT4,33,Running,50:23.860,
2,2, Pro,Gabriele PIANA,Lugano,IT, Porsche Cayman GT4 CS-MR,33,Running,50:24.407,0.547
3,1, Am,Drew STAVELEY,Salt Lake City, UT,Ginetta G55,33,Running,50:45.965,22.105
4,3, Pro,Jason BELL,Tampa, FL,Audi R8 LMS GT4,33,Running,50:55.389,31.529
5,4, Pro,James SOFRONAS,Villa Park, CA,Audi R8 LMS GT4,33,Running,50:58.004,34.144
6,5, Pro,Shane LEWIS,Jupiter, FL,Mercedes-AMG GT4,33,Running,50:59.086,35.226
7,6, Pro,Vinnie ALLEGRETTA,Hamptons, NY,Ford Mustang GT4,33,Running,50:59.278,35.418
8,2, Am,Mike HEDLUND,Redwood City, CA,Audi R8 LMS GT4,33,Running,50:59.824,35.964
9,7, Pro,Nate STACY,Owasso, OK,Ford Mustang GT4,33,Running,51:00.220,36.360
10,3, Am,Jeff COURTNEY,Milwaukee, WI,Maserati Grand Turismo MC GT4,33,Running,51:00.591,36.731
11,4, Am,Tony GAPLES,Libertyville, IL,Chevrolet Camaro GT4,33,Running,51:01.521,37.661
12,5, Am,Toby GRAHOVEC,Celina, TX,BMW M4 GT4,33,Running,51:02.861,39.001
13,6, Am,Preston CALVERT,Potomac, MD,Panoz Avezzano GT4,33,Running,51:11.194,47.334
14,7, Am,Justin RAPHAEL,Franklin Lakes, NJ,BMW M4 GT4,33,Running,51:12.055,48.195
15,8, Pro,Orey FIDANI,Etobicoke, ON, CAN, Porsche Cayman GT4 CS-MR,33,Running,51:19.373,55.513
16,8, Am,Marko RADISIC,Belgrade,BMW M4 GT4,33,Running,51:20.014,56.154
17,9, Pro,Harry GOTTSACKER,New Braunfels, TX,SIN R1,33,Running,51:35.822,1:11.962
18,10, Pro,Gar ROBINSON,San Antonio, TX,Mercedes-AMG GT4,33,Running,51:35.839,1:11.979
19,9, Am,Adam MERZON,Greenwich, CT,Audi R8 LMS GT4,33,Running,51:38.931,1:15.071
20,10, Am,Mark KLENIN,Lone Tree, CO,McLaren 570S GT4,33,Running,51:39.355,1:15.495
21,11, Am,Chris OHMACHT,Franklin Lakes, NJ,BMW M4 GT4,32,Running,50:44.799,1 LAP
22,12, Am,Steve BURNS,Park City, UT,Ginetta G55,32,Running,50:54.676,1 LAP
23,13, Am,James PESEK,Harrisonville, MO,Ford Mustang GT4,32,Running,51:50.981,1 LAP
24,14, Am,George KURTZ,Paradise Valley, CA,Audi R8 LMS GT4,31,Not Running,48:05.278,2 LAPS
25,11, Pro,Ian JAMES,Paradise Valley, AZ,Panoz Avezzano GT4,20,Not Running,34:49.455,13 LAPS
26,12, Pro,Jade BUFORD,Nashville, TN,Ford Mustang GT4,8,Not Running,27:46.559,25 LAPS
27,15, Am,Frank GANNETT,Steamboat Springs, CO,Ginetta G55,7,Not Running,10:18.288,26 LAPS