2017 GTS drivers champion Lawson Aschenbach, driving the #10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4, closed out the season by winning Round 18 in a race that was curtailed after a huge accident involving Tony Gaples in the sister #11 Camaro. Aschenbach’s win meant that Chevrolet captured its fifth Pirelli World Challenge Manufacturer’s championship.
The race was declared a result when the red flag was shown with less than fifteen minutes to go after Derek DeBoer in the #007 TRG-AMR Aston Martin Vantage GT4 made contact with Gaples shortly after the restart following on earlier Safety Car Period. The touch to the right rear corner of Gaples’ car saw him turned in to the barrier on the right-hand side of the circuit at Turn 18 and sustain significant damage to the #11 Chevrolet Camaro GT4. Gaples emerged from the car shaken but walking.
Lying in second place when the red flag was shown was Ian James, piloting the #50 Team Panoz Racing Panoz Avezzano GT, 1.537 seconds behind Aschenbach. Rodrigo Baptista in the #3 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR took the final podium position.
In the GTSA class Tony Gaples in the #11 Blackdog Speedshop Chevrolet Camaro GT4 took the victory as he was leading the category at the time of the incident. Derek DeBoer, driving the TRG-AMR Aston Martin Vantage GT4 finished second with 2017 GTA drivers champion George Kurtz in the #04 GMG Racing McLaren 570S GT4 finishing in third.
Pole-sitter Ian James led the field away from the start but performance adjustments overnight meant that Lawson Aschenbach in the #10 Camaro had the edge on pace and the Floridian driver quickly passed Martin Barkey in the #80 Matella Motorsport KTM XBow GT4 for second. Aschenbach was immediately on the tail of James and applying pressure.
The race was neutralised for the first time after Frank Gannett in the #24 Ian Lacey Racing Ginetta G55 made contact with Bob Michaelian, driving the #45 Racers Edge Motorsports SIN R1 GT4, pushing Michaelian into the track-side barrier at Turn 12. Michaelian was recovered and subsequently retired. The resulting repairs to the barrier meant that the field ran behind the safety car for 15 minutes.
Aschenbach was quickly past Ian James at the restart and was pulled out a 1.5 second lead over the Englishman before the red flag was brought out for Tony Gaples’ accident.
“Any time you get into a season, the first thing you think about is race wins and that’s what we’re here for,” said Aschenbach. “As a driver we want to win races and forget about the championship until the end of the year. It was really frustrating when we were always running second or third. You can look at it as a bad thing or you can also look at it as the Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R is really strong at a variety of tracks.”
“I’m just really pleased with the season and to be able to wrap up the Manufacturer’s championship is a huge feat,” continued Aschenbach. “I would give up a Drivers or Team championship to win the Manufacturer’s championship for Chevrolet because that’s what’s more important to us.”
After six wins in the 2017 Pirelli World Challenge GTS class, Ian James was not too disappointed with second place in the final round.
“The run we’ve had is great,” said James. “I’ve enjoyed racing in this class with these guys and everybody else out there. The cars are fun to drive, wheel-to-wheel. As a racing driver, you want to win races. We’re all fortunate to do it and race at these great tracks. It’s been ten years since I raced here and it’s a hell of a track!”
Pirelli World Challenge returns for the opening round of the 2018 season at St. Petersburg on March 9/11 next year.
Photo courtesy of PWC