Return to Watkins Glen a treat for Aschenbach

Images by Richard S. James

Return to Watkins Glen a treat for Aschenbach

SRO America

Return to Watkins Glen a treat for Aschenbach


The Pirelli World Challenge runs its finale event of 2018 this weekend at Watkins Glen International, visiting the historic New York track for the first time since 2010. While eyes will certainly be on the championship fights, watching to see if Toni Vilander can keep his substantial lead in the overall GT standings and on the three-way battle between Ryan Eversley, Michael Lewis and Mark Wilkins in the inaugural season of TCR competition, special attention will be paid to the track itself.

The 3.4-mile, 11-turn circuit is a favorite of most who have raced there. We turned to some drivers to see what makes it special and why they’re so happy that World Challenge is returning to the track, which is already on next year’s schedule.

“First and foremost, you have an unbelievable track,” says Lawson Aschenbach, driver of the No. 1 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R (pictured above) in BGTS, whose most recent laps of the track came at the IMSA Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen in July. “You’ve got one that provides a lot of speed and tons of elevation change. Everybody knows about the Carousel, the Bus Stop and the Esses, to name just a few corners. I think it’s going to race really well during World Challenge weekend because you have so many passing opportunities at that track – because of the width in a lot of places and because of the confidence you have going into quite a few of the corners.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of action on track because it’s a place you really have to be perfect when you’re trying to hold someone off — one little slip-up in a corner can definitely lead to you getting passed. Pretty much every corner leads to a straightaway.”

Michael Christensen heads into the weekend with a long shot at the overall GT championship in the Alegra Racing Porsche 911 GT3R (pictured below). He has raced at The Glen before, but really would like to win there, something he hasn’t achieved yet.

“It’s one of my favorite tracks in the U.S.,” he says. “I really enjoy driving there. I hope we will have a good car; looking at the track and where we have been strong this year, it should be fine for us to go there and be competitive.”

Aschenbach says he expects the track to be fun for everyone — but probably more fun for those that find the right balance of being able to bounce off the curbs and the high-speed platform stiffness to carry speed through fast corners like the Carousel. He says a great place to see how the cars and drivers are working is the section from the top of the Esses through the Bus Stop and down to the Carousel

“I like to sit in the grandstands at the top of the Esses. You can see the cars flying up the hill and past you in the right-hander and get a pretty cool sense of speed. On top of that, if you go down a quarter mile or so and you get to the bus Stop, you see the cars barreling over the curbs,”Aschenbach says. “You’ve got a really heavy transition there, and more curbs before you get down to the Carousel. I think that whole sequence of corners is a great place to watch because you can see the attitudes of the cars and how different cars take the curbs. You see a lot of passing and a lot of hard work by the drivers.”

Aschenbach in the MSR Acura during the IMSA race at Watkins Glen in June. (Image by Jake Galstad/LAT)

With so many passing opportunities, is there any place the drivers hesitate to shove their nose under someone they’re pursuing? For Aschenbach, it’s the final corner, one that has seen a lot of spins and crashes.

“You have the high-speed left-hander leading up to it, and it’s a great place to gain time on people. Sometimes you have that thought process of, ‘Why don’t I stuff it in here going into the entry of the last corner?’ But you have to transition left before you go right, and a lot of drivers don’t have the awareness that if you just happen to throw it in on them…plus you have a pretty big increase in elevation — it’s short but it’s steep — that’s drivers are focusing on before they get to the apex. That’s always been kind of a tough place.”

Steeped in history, the town of Watkins Glen held one of the first road races in the U.S. on the roads in and near town before the permanent circuit was built. It’s also the home of the Motor Racing Research Library, host to a vast collection of motorsports records and photos. The track has hosted Formula 1 and Indy cars, along with its current line-up of NASCAR and sports car racing.

All the SprintX and overall championships are on the line this weekend, although some, such as GTA, GTS and TCA are all but decided. There will also be some interesting one-off entries, such as Mario Farnbacher in the HART Acura NSX GT3.

The races will be streamed live at and on the Pirelli World Challenge YouTube channel.