Andrew Aquilante’s double wins at the Pirelli World Challenge Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Case-It enjoyed a local flair after another dominating performance in the GTS division’s 50-minute sprint race with the No. 32 Phoenix Performance Ford Mustang Boss 302 at the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit near the St. Pete harborside.
Aquilante recruited a team of three local St. Pete area residents to assist himself and his father, Joe, in the paddock this weekend for the two GTS events and the combination proved to be a winner after Andrew took the lead on lap three of the 34-lap feature and posted a 1.598-second win over Lawson Aschenbach of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., in the No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R and 16-year-old Parker Chase in the No. 19 Performance Motorsports Group Ginetta G55.
Aquilante, who finished second to Michael Cooper in the 2015 GTS point championship, showed that the reliable Ford Mustang Boss 302 was the “horse for course” machine after a second consecutive double GTS win for the Blue Oval at St. Petersburg. Last year, Jack Roush Jr. captured both GTS main events in the Ford Mustang Boss 302.
On Saturday, Aquilante started from the pole but lost the top spot in Turn 1 to Aschenbach, who was debuting the new Chevy Camaro GT4.R in PWC action. On lap three, Andrew slid his older model Ford past the two-time GTS champion for the lead and Aquilante managed to hold off the pressure from Aschenbach to take another checkered flag in the 80-plus degree weather.
“The track was pretty good today, a little bit faster than yesterday since it was a little bit cooler out,” said Aquilante. “Lawson started pouring it on when we only had five laps to go and I thought ‘oh boy’ and actually a lap or two before that I started missing shifts and rowing through the gear box so I had to slow that down a little bit. That let (Aschenbach) creep up and get a little closer, and I was waiting for him.
“The (local) crew guys have all been crew guys on our team before. It all came together and they all wanted to do it. I have to thank Rob Edwards, who used to be a St. Pete firefighter and worked this race years ago and has been part of our team for over five years, and Jason Vanjune, who lives down here and has been a part of our team for the past few years, and Drew Dale, who’s been part of the team for the past three years. It was a really fun weekend.”
Aschenbach’s new Camaro actually ran with the rear bumper dragging the ground for much of the race after Martin Barkey’s Mantella Autosport KTM XBow made contact with the Camaro in Turn 1 on the lap two restart. Barkey was forced to the pits for repairs but returned to the competition and finished eleventh Saturday.
“My bumper hanging off the car is a testament to Pratt & Miller right there,” said Aschenbach. “On the restart, I had a feeling that someone was going to come up and I got bunched in the rear. More importantly, I’m happy with the weekend with a brand new car that turned its first laps on Tuesday. Then we come here and finish both races, get the pole and the track record.
“Two second (place finishes) is pretty nice. Every car in the class is a GT4 class and (Aquilante) still has his old GTS car and it’s a testament to the series that they’re able to balance it and make it a fun race for all of us. I’m really excited for the Camaro GT4.R and can’t thank Blackdog Speed Shop, Pratt & Miller and Chevrolet enough for making this happen.”
Meanwhile, Chase, who received his Texas state driver’s license just three weeks ago, stayed right with Aschenbach’s dragging rear bumper throughout the event but couldn’t make the pass for second. It was another sensational drive for the high school sophomore who will race in the British GT Series in addition to selected Pirelli World Challenge events in 2017.
“We had a third place car and a third place finish so I’m incredibly relieved,” said Chase. “The Ginetta car is built in the UK with a Ford V6, naturally aspirated so no turbos or anything. It’s a great car, really reliable and really consistent. Harry Gottsacker and I are going over to Europe to race British GT in GT3 so it’s an honor to be working with Ginetta again in British GT and I can’t wait. I’m a sophomore (in high school) now and most of (my teachers) know what I’m doing, So, I just ask them for my work ahead of time and just sit in the trailer and do some work. I just got my (road-going) driver’s license three weeks ago. Finally, I wanted to thank my new sponsor Protein Water. Everybody go try that stuff – it’s awesome.”
Fourth place went to former GTA series champion Frankie Montecalvo, who piloted the No. 13 ANSA Motorsports KTM XBow from his ninth starting position, followed by 17-year-old Harry Gottsacker in the No. 69 Performance Motorsports Group Ginetta G55s, who had a tremendous wheel-to-wheel battle with PWC series newcomer Rodrigo Baptista in the No. 3 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche Cayman Clubsport GT.
GTS classes take to the track next at Virginia International Raceway on April 28-30 for Rounds 3 and 4 of sprint action and Rounds 1 and 2 of SprintX GTS action. Races will be live-streamed at MotorTrendOnDemand.com and World-Challenge.com/StreamVideo.Check your local listings for CBS Sports Network television broadcasts with the St. Petersburg GTS programs premiering on Wednesday, March 22 at 10:30 p.m. ET.
Of note, the VP Racing Fuels Hard Charger award was given to Cassels, in the No. 018 Case-it Racing Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR for his overall gain of 8 positions, finishing the race in 10th from his 18th-place grid position.
1,32,GTS,1,Andrew AQUILANTE,Ford Mustang Boss 302 – Phoenix Performance,34,
2,10,GTS,2,Lawson ASCHENBACH,Chevrolet Camaro GT-4 – Blackdog Speed Shop,34,1.598
3,19,GTSA,1,Parker CHASE,GINETTA G55 – Performance Motorsports Group,34,2.837
4,13,GTS,3,Frankie MONTECALVO,GT4 – ANSA Motorsports,34,3.731
5,69,GTSA,2,Harry GOTTSACKER,GINETTA G55 – Performance Motorsports Group,34,15.836
6,3,GTS,4,Rodrigo BAPTISTA,Porsche Cayman GT4 Club Sport MR – Flying Lizar,34,19.490
7,11,GTSA,3,Tony GAPLES,Chevrolet Camaro GT-4 – Blackdog Speed Shop,34,25.624
8,04,GTSA,4,George KURTZ,”GT4 – GMG Racing – Crowdstrike, GMG”,34,27.209
9,14,GTS,5,Nate STACY,Porsche Cayman GT4 Club Sport MR – Flying Lizar,34,30.835
10,018,GTS,6,Cameron CASSELS,Porsche GT4 Clubsport – Case-it Racing,34,43.719
11,80,GTSA,5,Martin BARKEY,GT4 – Mantella Autosports – MBRP Performance Exhaust,34,57.645
12,017,GTS,7,Adam MERZON,Porsche Cayman GT4 – Case-it Racing,34,1:17.564
13,9,GTSA,6,Bill ZIEGLER,GT4 – ANSA Motorsports,34,1:18.568
14,7,GTSA,7,Cameron MAUGERI,Porsche Cayman GT4 Club Sport MR – KRUGSPEED,32,2 Laps
15,2,GTSA,8,Jason BELL,SIN R1 GT4 – Racers Edge Motorsports,23,11 Laps
NC,8,GTS,,Anthony MANTELLA,”GT4 – Mantella Autosports – Gulf, APR, MBRP, NKP”,15,19 Laps
NC,50,GTS,,Ian JAMES,Panoz Avezzano GT – Team Panoz Racing,15,19 Laps
NC,62,GTSA,,Mark KLENIN,GT4 – KPR – Tender Belly,8,26 Laps
NC,45,GTS,,Jade BUFORD,SIN R1 GT4 – Racers Edge Motorsports,0,