Steven Aghakhani is used to being the kid in the paddock. At 15, he already has some NASA and SCCA regional championships, and last October finished the California 8 Hour with Taylor Proto and Richard Antinucci in a Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo. Next week at Circuit of The Americas, he’ll be the youngest driver in the Blancpain GT World Challenge America field.
Aghakhani and Antinucci will be driving a Mercedes-AMG GT3 with US Racetronics as he steps up from the Super Trofeo car to a full GT3 effort. World Challenge has had young competitors before, but they don’t usually step straight into GT3.
“I’ve always been a car person and into speed since I was young,” said Aghakhani. “My father realized my passion and wanted to actually see me drive and put me into karting when I was 7. A couple of years down the line, I got into a street car and then other Lamborghinis.”
His father, Armik, had done some racing as well, but stepped away. Steven’s passion runs deep, and he says the desire to race at the top level really clicked the moment he strapped into the Huracan. “It felt like you were actually driving a race car rather than a street car,” he noted, compared to the Gallardo Super Trofeo that he had raced before. The intention had been to run the Super Trofeo series, but his age got in the way when the series made a rule change.
“The main reason we chose World Challenge is we are able to. Their age policy has been pretty lenient because of my past experience and race history. We decided to switch to the GT3 car because I’ve already maxed out times running the Super Trofeo. We may run Super Trofeo down the line, but right now we’re just focusing on GT3,” he explained.
The Aghakhanis chose to move to Mercedes from Lamborghini for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the manufacturer’s racing presence worldwide, but more critical is the support available to its customers.
“The AMG guys are our biggest reason for switching. Going into the new series with no knowledge on the car, the AMG guys are always right there. If we need help with something they can send somebody out, send parts. It’s a much better support system.”
Aghakhani and Antinucci have been testing at Buttonwillow Raceway Park, US Racetronics’ home base and not far from Aghakhani’s La Cañada home outside Los Angeles. Going from mid-engine to front-engine, and the more advanced aerodynamics will take some adjustment, and trusting the downforce’s contribution to grip has been one of the main challenges.
“The Super Trofeo does make a decent amount of downforce, it’s just that the horsepower completely overpowers everything. You can mess up in a corner and let the power save your lap time. The GT3 has less horsepower compared to that car, so you really need to focus on hitting your laps and your marks consistently, and keeping your speed up or the guy behind you is going to pass you,” he notes.
Antinucci, a Gold-rated driver, will be partnering with Aghakhani for the season. Along with Proto, they were the lone entrant in GT Cup at last fall’s California 8 Hour at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
“Richard won the Super Trofeo Series and he finished on the podium every single race. Because he was doing well in Super Trofeo, we decided to add him to the team for the 8 Hour,” Aghakhani explained. “The combo is really good. We run the exact same setup, so it was easier to get the car dialed in.”
Aghakhani basically has one goal for 2019: Keep his nose clean. Most every track will be new to him, and his goal is to finish every race. He knows that because he’s young and new to the series, people will be keeping an eye on him. He says he has no intention of letting that bother him and just wants to get down to business. As the season progresses, then he hopes people will be keeping an eye on him for another reason — because he’s fast.