New Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R turning heads in both PWC, IMSA

Photo: Blackdog Speed Shop
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The second race debut of one of sports car racing’s newest – and perhaps coolest – models comes to life this weekend at Circuit of The Americas.

The Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R of course has already been seen in action at the first two Pirelli World Challenge weekends with longtime GM competitor Blackdog Speed Shop, at entirely separate circuits from the streets of St. Petersburg to the fast, flowing VIRginia International Raceway.

The car’s full technical specs from its reveal are linked here, but of note, it is rear-wheel drive, unitized body with 2-way adjustable struts & dampers and front & rear anti-roll bars, featuring a 6.2L V8 naturally aspirated direct injection engine and a six-speed sequential transmission with paddle shifters.

Now, the car swaps its boots – Continentals replace the Pirellis – as a third different Camaro GT4.R chassis makes its race debut in IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge competition with Stevenson Motorsports.

The difference in series and tires also comes with a change in the driver lineup. Lawson Aschenbach is committed to Tony Gaples’ Blackdog’s Camaro program in PWC’s GTS class, but although he competes with Stevenson in IMSA, it’s actually in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s GT Daytona class sharing an Audi R8 LMS with Andrew Davis.

That leaves Davis’ longtime co-driver and past Continental Tire Challenge co-champion, Robin Liddell, to share the No. 57 Camaro GT4.R with Aschenbach’s past co-driver, one of the series’ most successful qualifiers in Matt Bell. As you can see below, Bell and Liddell are already up to antics…

ASCHENBACH, GAPLES, BLACKDOG LAY THE GROUNDWORK

Photo: Blackdog Speed Shop

It’s a switched-up lineup but with Aschenbach as the guide to the car’s performance from his first two PWC weekends, hopes are high for the latest first race for the new car this weekend.

He’s driven the new GT4.R in addition to the previous generation Z/28.R, which he raced the last time Stevenson ran a Camaro in Continental Tire Challenge competition in 2015 and also with Blackdog in PWC last year, and the previous generation Camaro SS in PWC in 2013 and 2014, both years where he won class championships.

“The GT4.R is a step forward compared to the previous generation race car,” Aschenbach told NBC Sports. “We were able to compile all of the information, and knowledge learned over the past few years with the Z/28, and carefully put that into the development of the new car.

“The handling characteristics aren’t extremely different, but they are much more refined. We were able to keep the braking performance and stability, along with the high speed corner grip. However, we now have better aero balance, and a lighter, more nimble car.

“I feel the GT4.R will be competitive on any track, and on any tire, which is important when it comes to a customer based program.”

CUSTOMER-BASED FOCUS

The key phrasing outlined there is customer-based. GM’s road racing portfolio in recent years has centered on its factory or factory-supported efforts but in 2017, times may be changing on that front.

The flagship Corvette Racing team in WeatherTech has only run with one longtime Corvette chassis customer in Larbre Competition, Jack Leconte’s French team. Cadillac’s PWC GT effort has never seen customers for its CTS-V.R and now ATS-V.R models.

However Cadillac supports multiple teams in WeatherTech now, with the Konica Minolta (Wayne Taylor Racing) and Mustang Sampling and Whelen Engineering teams (Action Express Racing) the first two teams to acquire the new Cadillac DPi-V.R models; the potential is well there for that car to be available to others down the road.

Blackdog Racing; Pirelli World Challenge; St. Petersburg, Florida; March 9-12, 2017; #10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R driven by Lawson Aschenbach and #11 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R driven by Tony Gaples (Richard Prince Photo)

And beyond Blackdog and Stevenson, the goal for the Camaro GT4.R long-term is for it to be sold to customers. The previous generation Z/28.R had only one additional customer in Mantella Autosport, with the Canadian team running those for only one season in Continental Tire Challenge before going to PWC and running KTM X-BOW GT4s from 2016.

“We anticipate this being a customer car program,” Mark Kent, Director, Motorsports Competition – Chevrolet, told reporters at the car’s St. Petersburg debut. “We’re still working out the process and pricing, but that is our long-term intention. This year we’re focusing with Blackdog here, and a team (Stevenson) in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge series. After that would be when we turn it into a customer program.

“It’s based off the Camaro ZL1, but you’ll also see a lot of resemblance to one we introduced at Daytona. It was developed with Pratt & Miller. The engine is built and supplied by our own manufacturers.”

Shawn Meagher is a name you may well get to know more as the year progresses, as the program advances. He is the Camaro GT4.R Program Manager – Chevrolet, and praised the development the teams have done to get the car to this point this early in its development life cycle.

“We have such a high performance car. It makes a lot easier when you work very closely with the production team,” Meagher told reporters at St. Petersburg. “In turn we have a lot of data or background with the production colleagues. We move very quickly and aggressively with such a good background.

“There’s some similarities to the Camaro. This new car is an evolution. That’s one of the reasons why Blackdog Speed Shop which ran the old cars in the past, can execute very well.”

QUICK START

Blackdog Racing; Pirelli World Challenge; St. Petersburg, Florida; March 9-12, 2017; #10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R driven by Lawson Aschenbach and #11 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R driven by Tony Gaples (Richard Prince Photo)

Aschenbach proved the new car’s potential right out of the box – literally – as he took a debut pole at St. Petersburg in the same week the team took delivery of one of its chassis. Aschenbach, who is teammates to Blackdog team principal Tony Gaples, finished second in both races.

“To be able to roll out of the trailer, and qualify on the pole was a massive feat for the new GT4.R. Not to mention two podiums!” Aschenbach said. “I was impressed by how well the car handled the tight, twisty parts of the circuit, something we struggled with in the past. It seems that we have a more complete car this year.”

As in St. Petersburg, Aschenbach completed a double podium at VIR, coming third in both races. The second third proved the car’s durability under duress as Aschenbach fought hard with Ian James’ Panoz Esperante Avezzano, the likable James later issued a post-race penalty for driving conduct and docked one position from third to fourth.

So that’s four podiums and a class points lead for Aschenbach in the one series where the car will complete a full season this year. Aschenbach also thanked Gaples for a selfless act done in the betterment of the team after a parts issue arose.

“I believe we achieved the maximum result possible. The balance was spot on all weekend, and we worked hard to make sure the car wasn’t going to abuse the tires too quickly,” Aschenbach explained.

“We had a differential issue in qualifying, but Tony was very kind to allow us to swap parts so I could compete in race one. It was hard for all of us to see him sit it out, but fortunately we were able to fly some parts in so he could partake in race two.

“All-in-all it’s been an incredible start to the season with the new Camaro GT4.R. I feel we have the car, team, and pace to battle for a championship. Although we are pushing hard to win races, execution has become the name of the game early in the season.”

STEVENSON’S LATEST CAMARO EVOLUTION

And so that leaves the focus on Stevenson – which won the Continental Tire Challenge GS championship the last time it competed in the series with Davis and Liddell – to look to secure the car’s first win at Circuit of The Americas this weekend, a track where the old Z/28.R scored its fourth and final win of that 2015 title season.

This also continues the tradition of Stevenson premiering new Camaro race cars. The team has debuted the GT.R (2009) and the Z/28.R (2014) racing in both the GRAND-AM Rolex Series and the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. The GT4.R will mark the third consecutive Camaro generation that the team will debut.

It’s up to Liddell and Bell to tell the tail of how the new car gets on this weekend, while leaving Aschenbach in the unusual position of rooting for a car he drives in another series, watching from the pit box!

Stevenson’s last COTA race with a Camaro saw Liddell and Davis win CTSC GS in 2015. Photo courtesy of IMSA

“I’m certainly going to miss the H-pattern shifters and more production-based cars, but the GT4 class is where the motorsport world is heading, and I’m happy to see IMSA has followed suit. At its roots, the CTSC GS class still seems to be the same rough and tumble brawl of a race series that I’ve enjoyed so much in the first seven years of my career, and I’m extremely happy to be contending in it once again,” Bell said.

“The new Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R is a serious race car. It is lighter, more nimble, and even more engineered for the race track than the Z/28.R that Stevenson Motorsport won the GS Championship with in 2015. We know the team is up to the task, we know the new car is as solid as any we’ve raced, and I’m quite certain Robin (Liddell) and I will pair well together. While we have been teammates for seven years, we’ve never been season-long co-drivers. He and I both seem to like the car the same way and have similar feedback, so that will certainly streamline the tuning process.”

The Stevenson crew’s efforts are aided in large part by team manager Mike Johnson, who will pull his own unique double duty at COTA as he’ll call race strategies for both Liddell and Davis’ No. 57 Camaro GT4.R in the two-hour Continental Tire Challenge race, and the Aschenbach/Davis No. 57 Audi R8 LMS in the two-hour, 40-minute WeatherTech Championship race, which run Friday and Saturday, respectively. A further story on him is linked here via IMSA.com.

But there’s something right about Stevenson being back in a Camaro, as they look to add to an already solid start established by Blackdog for the new Camaro GT4.R.

IndyCar Preseason, Day 1: Simon Pagenaud on why he likes teasing Josef Newgarden

Newgarden Pagenaud feud
Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — A roundup of nuggets from the opening day of preseason IndyCar Content Days for media that lead into two days of preseason testing Thursday and Friday at The Thermal Club, starting with a playful “feud” between former teammates Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud:

After making a point to needle Newgarden during the Rolex 24 at Daytona (when he was warned for being deemed to have caused a spin by the car driven by Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), Pagenaud laughed about why he likes poking at his ex-teammate at Team Penske.

“I just love to press the button with Josef,” Pagenaud said. “I just love it. I’m being very open about it. I think he knows it, too. It’s funny to see him unsettled a little bit. I like when he gets aggressive. I don’t know why. It’s funny.”

They scrapped a few times as Penske teammates. Pagenaud notably was hot after a 2017 incident at Gateway during Newgarden’s first season with the team, but he later backtracked and blamed it on his French blood.

Pagenaud says all is good between now – though he also admits with a devilish grin that he’s taking advantage of the freedom from leaving Penske last year.

“Absolutely, yeah. I couldn’t do that before,” he said with a laugh about teasing Newgarden. “I would get in trouble.

“Yeah, I can be myself. I can say what I want to say. Nobody is upset about it. I love Josef. Don’t get me wrong. I love the guy.

“Do I love the driver? Not always, but I enjoy pressing the button with him because he seems like such a confident person. Yeah, I like to just go press it a little bit.”

When he was informed of the sardonic comments (Pagenaud asked reporters to make sure they relayed that he enjoyed passing Newgarden in the race) after his first stint at Daytona last weekend, Newgarden took a shot back.

“He doesn’t get many opportunities these days, so I’m sure he enjoyed that,” Newgarden said. “Take them when you can get them. There’s so much happening I don’t even remember half the stuff that happened when I was out there. Hey, he’s a big note-keeper, that guy.”

Pagenaud, who is winless since 2020, conceded that point Tuesday at IndyCar’s media session.

“I will do better this year,” he said. “But I got to build my team up, put myself in that situation. We were not there yet. I hope we can be there this year.

“But certainly not being teammates, you race differently. Now, the driver that he is, I have a huge amount of respect for him. He’s tremendous. I mean, he’s one of the best at what he does. So beating him is even a better reward. But I like my résumé better than his.”

For the record, Newgarden has one more IndyCar championship than Pagenaud but is empty in the Indy 500 win column compared to the 2019 winner at the Brickyard.

During his Rolex 24 availability, Pagenaud also took playful aim at the “Bus Bros,” the branded social and digital content that Newgarden and teammate and buddy Scott McLaughlin have been producing for nearly a year.

“Apparently they hang out together all the time,” Pagenaud cracked. “They’re ‘Bus Bros.’ Do you guys know what this is, the ‘Bus Bros’ thing? Have you watched it? I should start watching it.”

Newgarden and McLaughlin are scheduled to appear together on the second day of the preseason media event at the Palm Springs Convention Center, so stay tuned for the next round of snark.


Pagenaud is among many drivers enthused to get acclimated to The Thermal Club, which is a $275 million motorsports country club of sorts.

But for the Frenchman, Thermal represents more than just a chance to tune up for the 2023 season. Pagenaud, who made his first visit to the desert track three years ago after winning the Indy 500, is thinking about his long-term future.

“It’s actually something I’m really interested in for my future but in another life,” he said. “I love the concept. Actually before my IndyCar career, I was on a project like that myself in France. I was going to build something similar. I had the backing, I had everything going on, but my career took off. I had to give up on the project.

“But it is something I’ve always been interested in. My dad used to run my home racetrack. I had access to it, so I could see how that was going.

“I always had a passion for it because it’s a way to allow the fans to get closer to the car, allow the sport to be more known to the general public. There’s so many things that you can do with a racetrack, not only for races, but so many people that can come to bicycle races, you can have runners do a marathon. It doesn’t have to be just racing. It can be events. I’m into that. I’ve always been. Certainly when it’s time to stop driving, it will be something that I’m interested in, yes. That’s maybe 20 years from now.”


Felix Rosenqvist returns for his third consecutive season at McLaren, the longest stint with one team for the Swede since 2014 in F3.

But he finds himself somewhat in a similar position to last season when his return was uncertain for months during the Alex Palou-Chip Ganassi Racing saga. Palou is back with Ganassi but still expected to join the team in 2024, and with Rossi and O’Ward on long-term deals, Rosenqvist would be unable to stay unless the team added a fourth car.

He is taking it all in stride with the same grace in which he managed last season’s uncertainty.

“I think I handled it probably as good as I could,” Rosenqvist said of last year. “That’s probably a reason why I’m here this year. I think it’s a massive opportunity for me to be back for a third year. I feel like I have all the tools I need to perform, feeling very good with everyone at the car. As I said, there’s so many things happening last year on and off the track. I think as a team, we just really learned a lot from that that we can bring into this season.

“I think we’ll be tough this year. We have a lot of things in the bag to try early this season. A couple of things here at Thermal we want to try. Going into the season, we have pinpointed some areas where we feel we were lacking a little bit, like the short ovals, for example. I feel like we’ve done the best we can to attack all those areas and bring the best possible package we can.”

Rosenqvist is winless since his breakthrough victory over O’Ward at Road America in 2020. Ending that skid certainly would improve his prospects, but he isn’t worried.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” he said. “That’s a long time until next year. I think it’s a great opportunity for me. I’m in a good spot. I’m in a well-performing team. I feel well with everyone around me. I feel like I have a good support from the team. I don’t really think too much about that stuff. I just try to do what I can do, which is go fast forward and try to win races.”


After being frozen out of remote access to team data last year, Palou said his working relationship at Ganassi is “back to 100% like it was before from both sides.” The 2021 series champion said he had full privileges restored after he closed the season by winning the finale at Laguna Seca Raceway and then settled on staying with Ganassi a day later.

He is allowed to continue his F1 testing with McLaren, too, though IndyCar will be the priority in-season.

“It was a tough year,” said Palou, whose contract dispute lasted for two months. “Could have been a lot worse, for sure, than what we had but also could have been a little bit better if we didn’t have anything around in our minds. It’s a part of racing.

“I’m just happy that now we know that even with things in our minds, we were able to be successful. Hopefully, we can be back to 2021 things during this season. Yeah, obviously there’s always some moments (in 2022) where you’re like, ‘Oh, no, my God, this is not going the direction I wanted.’ But there was things that were out of my control, obviously. Some things that I could control, as well. But at the end of the day I had all the information from my side, from other sides. I knew that everything could be settled, and it did.”


Pato O’Ward unplugged from the racing world for six weeks during the offseason, ensuring he was fully recharged when the new year arrived.

“I haven’t had the opportunity to do it in the past few years,” said O’Ward, who tested an F1 car in 2021 and then went right into preparing and racing (then winning) the 2022 Rolex 24 at Daytona. “I said, ‘I want at least six weeks. Don’t talk to me, don’t text me, I don’t want to hear anything.’ It’s healing. It’s very healing.

“As much as you love what you do, you need to find a balance of just doing something else. I always tell people, there’s a huge difference between relaxing and recharging. How I recharge is doing things I don’t normally do during the year. Just being at the beach to me is my favorite thing to do after driving race cars. I made sure that I had that kind of time to just enjoy my loved ones. After I was finished with that, I was like, ‘OK, race cars now.’ ”


Marcus Ericsson is planning on a long future with Chip Ganassi Racing, and the 2022 Indy 500 winner seems well-positioned to become the team’s anchor driver if he can maintain last season’s consistency.

Jimmie Johnson has been replaced by the Marcus Armstrong-Takuma Sato combination, and Alex Palou is leaving after this year.

Six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon, 42, is Ganassi’s unquestioned dean until his retirement, but Ericsson clearly is interested in the mantle after that.

“I’m feeling very much at home in the team,” said Ericsson, the Formula One who is entering his fourth season with CGR. “I’m super happy about that. I wish to stay for a very long time, as well. There is some uncertainty with other places maybe in the future, but Dixon seems to be just getting better and better. He might be here for another 10 years or so, who knows.

“But that’s great. Me and Scott, we work really well together. I can still learn a lot from him. I want to be here for a long time and win races and championships together.”

The Swede had a droll response when asked if no longer being the only Marcus will get confusing in Ganassi debriefs. “Yeah, it is; I’m angry,” Ericsson deadpanned. “I think we’re OK. He seems like a good kid. He has a good name.”


Following in the footsteps of Callum Ilott and Christian Lundgaard from F2 to IndyCar, Armstrong is OK with deferring his F1 dreams to run road and street courses as a rookie in 2023. The New Zealander grew up as an IndyCar fan rooting for Dixon, his boyhood idol and fellow countryman.

“I’ve been watching him on TV since I was a kid,” Armstrong, 22, said. “It’s cool because IndyCar is massive where I’m from because of him. I’ve always been so attracted to this championship. Of course, I spent my entire life chasing F1. You can never say ‘never.’ If I’m honest with you, I’m happy where I am now. It’s a dream come true.”

Armstrong hopes to move to full time in 2024 and believes being aligned with a powerhouse such as Ganassi will give him an opportunity to post strong results immediately (just as Ilott and Lundgaard had flashes as rookies last year).

“I’ve been genuinely impressed by the organization, just the strategic point of view that Chip Ganassi Racing has, it’s really quite remarkable,” he said. “I can understand why they’ve had so much success. I think fundamentally I need to get on it straightaway. I have all the information in the world, really. I just need to hit the ground running, do well immediately.”


In among the wildest stories of the offseason, rookie Sting Ray Robb revealed he landed his ride at Dale Coyne Racing because he ran into Indy Lights champion Linus Lundqvist at PitFit Training, a physical fitness and performance center used by many drivers in Indianapolis.

Lundqvist was the presumptive favorite for the DCR No. 51 Dallara-Honda, which was the last open seat heading into the 2022 season. Because of his Indy Lights title (since rebranded as “IndyNXT”) with HMD Motorsports, Lundqvist had a six-figure sponsorship to bring to an IndyCar team, and DCR is partnered with HMD.

“There was a few teams that we were talking to, and Dale’s team was not the one that was at the top of the list because we thought they already had a driver,” Robb said. “Obviously with Linus winning the championship, we assumed with the HMD association there that there would be a straight shoe-in for him.

“But I actually was at PitFit Training one day with Linus and discovered that was not the case. That created an opportunity for us that allowed me to call up my manager, Pieter Rossi, and get him on the phone, and he immediately called Dale and said, ‘Hey, we’re available.’ I think there was a mutual understanding of what availability was for either one of us. That’s when conversations began. Then we had a really good test in 2023 right at the beginning of January, and I think that was kind of the one that set the tone that allowed me to get in the seat.

“I think there’s been some opportunities that were miraculously created that we couldn’t have done on our own.”

Robb, who finished second in last year’s Indy Lights standings, hasn’t talked to Lundqvist since their PitFit meeting.

“Linus does deserve a seat” in IndyCar, Robb said. “His on-track performance was incredible. But it takes more than just a driver to get into IndyCar. You’ve got to have a village around you that supports you, and so I think that that is where my group made a difference. It wasn’t just in my performance, but it was the people around me.

“I feel bad for Linus because as a driver I can feel that way towards him because I could be in that seat if I didn’t have those same people around me. So there you go.”