Andrew Aquilante, eight-time SCCA Runoffs champ and pro racer

Images by Chris Clark

Andrew Aquilante, eight-time SCCA Runoffs champ and pro racer

SCCA / SportsCar Magazine

Andrew Aquilante, eight-time SCCA Runoffs champ and pro racer

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Many lessons later, everything finally came together. “[The Runoffs] was getting old,” he admits, referencing the Runoffs podium near miss in 2005 and the 2006 Runoffs that ended with a flat tire in SSB and a blown motor in T1. “We built a Corvette, went to Heartland Park Topeka a couple of times, and [winning the Runoffs] was the goal. I built my own car, a new Corvette, went for it, was dialed in, and everything clicked.”

Part of what makes Phoenix Performance work as a business is manufacturer deals and customer support that keeps the company at the track. Being a racer, Andrew jumped in whenever he could to go pro racing.

“In 2008, I started running in Koni Challenge with Subaru,” he says. “At the time, I wasn’t involved too much with the build of those cars, but looking back I should have involved myself more. Also, at the beginning of 2008, we started building a Corvette for the Rolex GT class, and that kept me pretty occupied.

“We debuted the [GT car] at Lime Rock with John Hienricy, and I think we ended up something like 12th out of 20 cars, with a car that took four months to build, and it was the first time we’d built anything that advanced. Back then, most of the Rolex GT cars were tube-frames, like the Pratt & Miller cars, the Mazda RX-8s from Speedsource, the Porsche Cup cars that were kind of on steroids, so that was cool to finish 12 out of 20 with a brand-new car.”

On the Subaru side, however, “It was kind of hit or miss,” he says, noting the bottom falling out of the economy resulting in a scaling back to one Subaru, then none. But that adventure led to more lessons learned.

Andrew’s professional racing tales are fascinating. They’re not ones of glamour and glitz; rather, it’s of Andrew wrenching, booking hotels and flights, then working countless hours to make it come together. New clients come on board and the process begins again. Case in point, the weekend we caught up with Andrew he was at the 2018 season opener of the SCCA Pro Racing Trans Am Series running TA4 in a brand-new Camaro.

“This year with Trans Am, they’ve changed around the rules with TA4 trying to bring back the original Trans Am feel of cars to the likes of the Penske Mustang, [but] it takes time,” he says. “The TA4 Camaro we’re running still has the factory radio in it, although the speakers are out, but it’s still connected. There’s way too much wiring in there and that makes me nervous because there’s more that can go wrong, but that’s what you have to do with modern cars.”

In the time between his first Runoffs win in 2007 and now, Andrew has claimed four more T1 Runoffs wins and three in GT-2, along with logging countless hours behind the wheel in professional racing series such as Trans Am, IMSA, and World Challenge. So, what’s the secret to building, racing, and winning? It’s knowledge, he says, coupled with the willingness to experiment.

For instance, he says, “The Mustang S197, the 2011-’14 GTs and Boss 302s, we learned so much in the competitive environment of pro racing with them and what it took, then transferred that to Club Racing, whether it was T1, T2, or even T3 with the V6 cars. Do a good setup, throw in a good driver, and coach them along.”

It all needs to be second nature, too.

“You can’t be thinking about when you turn in for an apex,” he says. “Your eyes just need to be there, and then they move on. You’re four moves down the road instead of right then and there. The same can be said about the cars. For example, with the Mustangs, by the end of the 2015 season in World Challenge we were changing spring rates by 15 pounds a corner to optimize the setup. We were making little changes. This is how well we knew the car.” Success, he says, builds upon itself.

It’s also about knowing who you are – are you willing to put in the work necessary to make this all happen. Is Andrew?

“It comes to the question of what you would do if you hit the lottery,” he tells me when I pose the question. “Yes, I’d love to get paid to drive and go to Le Mans, however, the chances of that happening are very slim. What’s my ultimate goal? I don’t really know. I like building cars. I like racing cars. As long as I can keep on doing that, there isn’t much else that’s going to be exciting enough to pull me away.

“There are times when it’s 2 a.m. and the truck leaves for the Runoffs in three days and I question why I’m doing this yet again,” he admits. “But then I wake up the next morning and think, what else am I going to do? Which comes back to winning the lottery – I’d still be tinkering with cars and loading trailers.”

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