PWC: All that’s old is new again for Aschenbach’s Blackdog return

Photo: Blackdog Speed Shop

Few things are known “tried-and-true” quantities in the new-look GTS class for Pirelli World Challenge in 2016.

So Blackdog Speed Shop is going back to the future this year to bring back one of the most successful combinations in recent years: Lawson Aschenbach in its No. 10 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R.

In a weird twist, Aschenbach returns to the team where he won his two most recent of four World Challenge titles, back-to-back in 2013 and 2014 after a year out of racing full-time in the series.

He still was on site in a handful of races in a coaching role and also deputized for an unwell teammate Tony Gaples at Barber Motorsports Park in GTS, but Michael Cooper admirably stepped up to fill the seat en route to a GTS class title of his own. Cooper has gotten one of sports car racing’s most plum promotions, into the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R in the GT class previously driven by Andy Pilgrim.

Meanwhile for 2016, Aschenbach is in the Z/28.R that premiered in World Challenge the final weekend of 2014. Despite it being a different model Camaro than the previous generation SS Camaro Aschenbach drove in 2013 and 2014, the reunion with the Gaples and Ray Sorenson-led Blackdog team was like getting back on a bike.

Lawson Aschenbach. Photo: Courtesy of IMSA
Lawson Aschenbach. Photo: Courtesy of IMSA

“It was pretty seamless, as I know Tony and Ray Sorenson well,” Aschenbach told NBC Sports. “They have such a professional organization. It’s realistically plug-and-play.

“But I’ll be talking to someone new on the radio. They also brought in Ryan McCarthy as my engineer. He’s a great asset to the team and in general, so I’m happy to be back and see everyone.

“The car’s come a long way since Barber. We’ll slowly transition the setups. We can gain a little bit each weekend.”

GTS, however, has come an even longer way since Aschenbach last raced full-time in the category.

Gone are usual title rivals Jack Baldwin (Porsche Cayman S) and Mark Wilkins (Kia Optima turbo), among others, gone are a number of the same cars from 2013-2014 and more importantly to the racing, is the GT class within GTS races. Both classes raced combined through 2014, but as each class car count grew, they were split prior to 2015.

Aschenbach took an interesting viewpoint on the GT/GTS split.

“It’s definitely better for GTS to be a single class race, and the racing is better,” he said. “It should eliminate a lot of potential problems with GT overtaking slow GTS cars, which creates issues.

“Back in Houston ’13 – it was raining – I almost lost that race, and the championship, because of a GT car limping around the track. So I’m a big fan of single-class racing, it helps bring a lot of clarity and eliminates confusion.

“We need to get eyes not just on GT, but also GTS; sometimes having a single class is better for drivers and fans.”

GTS’ newness is primarily with the range of GT4-spec cars, or “kit cars” entering for 2016. It’s created a random variable with new cars such as the KTM X-BOW, Ginetta GT4, SIN R1 GT4 and Maserati GranTurismo MC entering the class along with a host of new drivers. Trying to pinpoint potential star cars or drivers, then, is a question mark.

“There’s a lot of new names, faces, and cars that you mention, so realistically I don’t know who’s gonna be the guy this year because of all the question marks!” Aschenbach said. “(Director of Competition) Marcus Haselgrove has a tough job ahead of GT4 cars with current spec. He’s smart and super gets it. Until that balances itself out, there’s a little bit of a question mark.

“Guys like Brett (Sandberg) in the X-BOW and Dean Martin being strong in Mustang should be good.

“For us, I have no concerns regarding Blackdog. We’re a very consistent car from the series standpoint. They have so much data, they know where we can be at each track.”

Aschenbach – who as in past years will pull double duty with his IMSA commitments, this time in the No. 9 Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS (GT Daytona) he shares with Matt Bell – said the Z/28.R and Audi are closer to drive than the Camaro Z/28.R in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and the previous generation Camaro SS when he was last in World Challenge.

“The difference in feeling from a GS car to GTS is quite a bit more than the difference between a GTD car and GTS car,” Aschenbach explained. “In a GS car its extremely heavy, limited grip, not much aero. It’s very different. Definitely changes your driving style quite a bit.

“The Audi and Camaro will be a lot easier this year, with good grip, good area, but similar driving characteristics. It’s my third time of doing the double with Blackdog, and this time I’ll have a better understanding compared to the past.”

The past was successful, but Aschenbach is hoping he starts stronger and doesn’t need to rely on the usual “Mid-Ohio starts Aschenbach’s comeback” story. In his last four Mid-Ohio starts in 2013 and 2014, Aschenbach has three wins and a third place, to score nearly all possible points.

“I’m not gonna lie, I’m sick of coming from behind, trying to win at the last race,” Aschenbach laughed. “But in the end, you take it as you get it. It would be nice to start the season better with a couple good finishes.

“The start is a little bit more of an unknown, as we don’t know what to expect at COTA, but the goal is to win races right away. We have a great package. We’ll be pushing like heck to make sure to get podiums.

“Wins will be important early, as the balance changes throughout the year. You have to try to really pounce, and get a win when you’re capable of doing so.”

For a guy that’s been a big part of the fabric of World Challenge for nearly a decade, seeing Aschenbach back only revitalizes him – and the series – after his one-year absence.

“I’ll tell you what, I wish I was around (last year),” he said. “Not only with the competition in GTS, but seeing the GT3 cars in GT was fantastic.

“It’s an exciting time for the sport and for the series. You could see how many fans are aware of World Challenge. There were some growing pains. But they seemed to right the ship. Even better things this year.

“I think the series in taking that direction with the GT3 platform was obviously the right move. It was a long time coming. Every driver wants to be in GT, but GTS is good too.

“When I first started talking to Ray and Tony end of ’12, we started talking. I knew what they were capable of, as it seemed to be a very fast car with Andy Lee driving at the time.

“I wanted to make this deal happen. We’ve got a really good legacy in place, with a long-term, stable program, for GM and Chevrolet in GTS.

“To come out first year with a championship, then fast forward and have the team win three straight championships, there’s a great legacy being built. We have big expectations now, as we did every year.”

IndyCar champion Will Power completes ‘Victory Lap’ at ceremony in Indianapolis

Will Power Victory Lap
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment

INDIANAPOLIS – Will Power went on his “Victory Lap” last week to celebrate his second career championship as the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series champion.

It began with several media interviews in Monterey, California, the day after he won the championship with a third-place finish in the Sept. 11 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

From there, it was off to Los Angeles for more interviews and personal appearances that included a VIP Tour at the Petersen Automotive Museum, several appearances on SiriusXM and lunch at The Ivy, where the Team Penske IndyCar Series driver was treated to Wagyu Beef.

“It was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had in my life,” Power told

From L.A. back to Power’s North Carolina home, near Team Penske’s home base of Mooresville, there was one stop left on Sept. 17 — the Victory Lap Celebration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, an invitation-only banquet where Power and his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet crew at Team Penske were honored for the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series championship.

They didn’t even have to check into a hotel and spend another night on the road. Power and his team left on a Team Penske plane from the Statesville, N.C., airport at 4 p.m. ET Saturday to fly to Indianapolis. On arrival an hour later, a limo bus took the team to IMS.

Power led the 2022 season with five NTT P1 Awards for pole, earning the NTT P1 Award as the best qualifier of the season for the fifth time in his career. Power also made history with his 68th career pole, breaking the all-time mark held by the legendary Mario Andretti.

Power and Scott Dixon also became just two of only five drivers to complete every lap of every race in IndyCar Series history.

“What a year,” Power said as he was awarded his personal Astor Cup trophy (the second in his collection after the 2014 championship. “What a phenomenal year coming off one of my worst seasons personally. We came back with a vengeance.

“I want to thank Roger and Kathy Penske for everything they have done for me over the years. I wouldn’t be standing here and have the numbers I have without what Roger has done for me. I’m given a car every week that is capable of winning the pole, races, championships, and Indianapolis 500s. I’m so grateful for that.

“Also, to Greg Penske, you are there every week now at every event and I know we will be in good hands moving forward with the Penske Family.”

There are many on Power’s team and at home, that helped support Power throughout his career. None is bigger than Power’s wife, Liz, who told Power before the season that he would win the championship and break Andretti’s record.

“I must thank my wife. I’m so lucky to have a wife with that crystal ball that can tell me what is going to happen,” Power said. “I can’t think you enough, babe. I love you so much and you have been a big support to me my whole career. We’ve been together 17 years, and I’ve been in the series 17 years. She has been such a huge support to me. The mother of our child and she is a fantastic mother.

“She can’t tell the future. She just had faith in me.”

Liz Power’s premonition came true and that allowed Power and his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet team to celebrate Penske’s 17th IndyCar championship and 42nd title in the racing team’s history.

“The 12 crew this year, I’ve never had such a great group of guys,” Power said. “Trevor Lacasse (chief mechanic) is such a calm guy, but he does such a meticulous job on the preparation of the car. He is very, very good at keeping the whole crew happy. It feels as if there is no pressure on us. That’s a huge part in getting the most out of people. It was our first year together with you as a crew chief. What a great year to start our relationship.

“Dave Faustino (Power’s longtime engineer), we’ve worked together for 15 years. He’s almost like a wife to me, a partner … apart from sleeping together. We have a very good working relationship. Sorry Dave, I’m an awkward person and you are not.

“The things we have been through in our years together, it’s crazy that we continually improve and get better. We are standing on the podium after winning the championship and we are talking about the car, the race, and the tires. We weren’t talking about the championship.

“We never stop. The other boys were laughing at us, but I’m already thinking about next year.

“Ron Ruzewski (Team Penske IndyCar Managing Director and strategist) on the radio, always calm. He has actually made me a calm person. I rarely get upset on the radio anymore.”

Power also recognized the fans who helped boost attendance at many venues on the schedule this season as NBC Sports enjoyed its largest IndyCar audience yet.

“This series is growing,” Power said. “With open wheel racing now so popular because of Formula One, it’s really our time to push and put money behind it and go now and take IndyCar to another level because we have the best racing product in the world.

“I have to thank my teammates and (Team Penske president) Tim Cindric. I can’t tell you how hard we push each other. We are ultracompetitive and love each other and push each other hard, so thank you.”

Power won the championship by 16 points over hard-charging teammate Josef Newgarden, who finished second in the standings for the third year in a row.

“Overall, I’m filled with a lot of pride for our team and what we were able to do this year,” Newgarden said in his banquet address. “Any year that you step in the championship, you can easily see the challenges it presents everybody.

“It’s a very difficult challenge for the teams and drivers. To be a part of it, make it through it and for us at Team Penske, to topple it, is a very big deal. We’re all competitive.

“The tough thing about being in a championship fight, especially with teammates is we all want to be the best. That’s how it should be. We are competitive people and want to be the best. But it’s a team sport.

“Will, tremendous season, great, great job. I think the world of everybody on our team. It’s a big group. I’m so happy for all of you on the 12-car crew. There is so much we can take into next year.”

Six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon was unable to attend the banquet because of the Goodwood Festival in England but sent congratulations to Power via a video message.

“I really want to congratulate Will Power,” Dixon said. “You drove a tremendous season this year. Even with some of the lows that you had, some of the mistakes with qualifying, you bounced back tremendously. I know how tough these championships are and to see you do it in the style that you did it in the last race of the season, massive congratulations.”

Power’s championship formula included one victory, nine podiums and 12 top-five finishes. Teammate Josef Newgarden was second in the championship with five wins but only six podiums.

Cindric saluted Power’s season in accepting the championship team owner award.

“Will, you took it to another level this year,” Cindric said. “You are the complete package. You completed every lap, had nine podiums, finished out of the top 10 just four times, broke Mario Andretti’s record, and you did it all without cussing at the officials on national TV.

“One complaint I do has is while most of us think you might be from another planet, you never told us your wife was a fortune teller.”

Cindric also honored the seasons of Penske drivers Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin, who won three times in his second full season (“You are one of only two full-time IndyCar drivers that has driven for us in the past 23 years that hasn’t won an Indy 500 or an IndyCar championship. Your time is coming.”).

Kyle Moyer was named team manager of the year (his fifth time and Penske’s sixth). Pennzoil presented Lacasse with the chief mechanic of the year for the first time, the sixth time for Team Penske. The No. 12 crew also won the Firestone Pit Performance Award for the most pit stop performance award points in 2022.

Power, Newgarden and McLaughlin delivered nine of Chevrolet’s series-leading 11 victories this season, helping Chevy win the Manufacturer Award for the seventh time since it returned to the series in 2012 and the first time since 2017. Jim Danahy, U.S. vice president, Competition Motorsports Engineering for Chevrolet, accepted the award on behalf of his team.

Christian Lundgaard was honored as the 2022 NTT IndyCar rookie of the year. Lundgaard, from Denmark, scored one podium, two top-five finishes and seven top-10s in the No. 30 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He edged David Malukas of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD by 18 points in the standings for first-year series drivers.

Christian Lundgaard (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

“It’s been a tough season and looking at how it panned out, we struggled so much at the beginning of the season and how we were able to turn it around means so much to me and the team,” Lundgaard said. “It’s the one thing that you only get one shot at. I’m happy to have it.

“Being the first Dane at the Indy 500 certainly helps. Competing here for me is quite important and also special. To win this award and to be here in future years means so much to me. I have a chance to compete for wins and championships.

“This team gave me this opportunity at this track one year ago. We came back and got redemption. We got our first podium here. This year was 40 years ago that Bobby Rahal won the same award. It’s pretty special to keep it among the team.”

Sweden’s Linus Lundqvist was honored as Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion after a dominant season for HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing. Lundqvist won a series-high five races in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry and clinched the Lights championship with a race to spare, ending with a 92-point advantage over Sting Ray Robb. HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing owners Henry and Daiva Malukas accepted the team championship.

“I’m very proud of that,” Lundqvist said. “It’s cool to see. We are starting to look to the future, and this might not be doing too bad. It’s been great. As most of you can guess with Henry and Daiva Malukas (team owners), it’s been an incredible journey. So much fun that we’ve had. To be on the grid this year was so much of a struggle for us. I didn’t even know I would be doing this until January.

“To be able to pull out the season that we had, I cannot thank this team enough. We will celebrate this for a long time. I’m so happy and proud about that.”

Outgoing IndyCar Director of Medical Affairs Dr. Geoffrey Billows also was honored as he is leaving that role while battling cancer.

“When I think of Dr. Billows, I think of two words,” IndyCar president Jay Frye said. “One is selfless and the other is tough. He’s gone through a lot these last couple of years, and he didn’t want anybody to know. He’s an amazing man, and we are very grateful for what you have done.”

Dr. Geoffrey Billows with IndyCar president Jay Frye (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

Billows was presented with a framed checkered flag signed by all drivers in the series as well as other IndyCar officials and dignitaries.

“I was not expecting this at all,” Billows said. “This means so much for me to be part of this family for the past 30 years. I’ve been presented with opportunities I never thought I would ever have. I can’t tell you how much I love all of you guys and care for all of you guys.

“Thank you so much. I want to also thank my wife, Tammy, who has been a pillar of strength as I continue on this journey with cancer for the past two years as well. You will still see me as a consultant because I love this too much to quit altogether.”

When the evening concluded, Team Penske boarded a bus to the airport for the short return flight to Statesville. They were home by midnight.

Power’s Victory Lap was complete.

“The best thing about this is I get to sleep in my own bed tonight,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500