PWC: Aschenbach’s win validates Blackdog move to GTS

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“This level of car could possibly be the best type of sports car racing in the world.”

It’s a bold statement from Lawson Aschenbach, driver of the No. 10 Blackdog Racing Chevy Camaro in the GTS class of the Pirelli World Challenge. But considering Aschenbach’s resume – driving everything from Porsches, to Civics, to Cadillacs – it carries some weight.

Team and driver switched from the GT class to the GTS class in World Challenge this year; Tony Gaples is a longtime Corvette racer in GT, and Aschenbach drove for the TruSpeed Porsche team in 2012.

Now, they’ve entered a hornet’s nest of competition that includes the RealTime Acuras, GTSport with Goldcrest Porsche Caymans, Best IT Camaros, Kinetic Kia Optimas and other cars such as the Ford Mustang Boss 302Rs, Aston Martin Vantage, Nissan 370Z, Lotus Exige and Scion FR-S. It’s as diverse a class as you’ll see racing in North America today.

“From street car to race car, most are street-related parts,” says Aschenbach. “It’s the best way for a manufacturer to validate their street car. The class showcases that. I don’t see why any manufacturer wouldn’t want to be involved. Top programs like Kinetic, RealTime, Goldcrest/GTSport, etc., probably should be in GT. But this is a great place to prove the team and the car capabilities.”

That makes it all the more impressive that in just their second weekend as a combined unit, Aschenbach took down established class king Peter Cunningham of RealTime at Long Beach to score Blackdog’s first GTS victory (see it Sunday, May 5, 2 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Network). Aschenbach attests the effort Gaples and chief mechanic Ray Sorenson have put in has made all the difference.

“I’m so pleased with the results so far, but in all honesty, I expected it,” Aschenbach says. “When this program started to come together, and I worked with Ray and Tony a couple years ago in a test day, I realized the professionalism and what they were capable of.”

Aschenbach, who notes the Camaro is a true testament to the effort of GM engineers, handles street courses very well. It has great brakes and takes bumps and corners very well, key elements to success on the concrete canyons that populate the World Challenge schedule.

Knowing where GT cars have their strong suits is also important, as in the GTS class, you always have to be aware of faster GT traffic. Having been in both classes is an asset for both Aschenbach and Gaples.

The drive for another win occurs in a little more than two weeks at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas. GT and GTS will race combined as they have to open the year, with TC and TCB joining for the first time this season.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.