SEBRING, Florida (March 18, 2019) - The racing world has rocketed through Florida with two back to back blockbuster events to kick off the racing season in earnest as the streets of St. Petersburg and Sebring International Raceway played host to the traditional Spring Break sweep of events.
Even though both venues use stretches of airport runway for its tracks, they are worlds apart with St. Pete’s IndyCar and Blancpain GT4 Challenge sprints featured on a 2-mile temporary street circuit while the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, WeatherTech SportsCar championship, and Prototype Challenge categories all staged races on Sebring’s brutal 3.74-mile circuit.
But even with different tracks, different race distances, and different kinds of cars, there was a common theme to both events as the cars making the trip to the podium often carried a similar trait—AERO™ Sustainable Paint Technology.
After the racing world was shaken by the loss of ALMS founder and inveterate innovator Don Panoz, some of the grief was assuaged by the news that the team would continue racing in his name.
A long-time AERO team, it was no surprise when the two-car Panoz Racing squad arrived in 2019 with an incredible new livery for the Panoz Avezzano GT4 in the Blancpain GT Challenge. Harking the legacy and iconic racing programs that have long been associated with Panoz, the incredible Stars and Stripes livery returned to the track in 2019.
And not only did it just return to the track, it went directly to victory circle as Ian James out dueled a nimble Porsche to claim a narrow 0.696-seconds advantage to score the St. Pete GT4 Americas victory. He backed that up with a run to fifth that landed him in the Pirelli GT4 America championship lead.
“I just want to say thank you to the Panoz family,” said James. “We’re out here in the stars and stripes car that Don Panoz made so famous at Le Mans back in the GTR days. It’s a tribute to him and we win the first time out, so I’m very proud of the whole team. It is an honor to carry those colors. I was a little bit worried there wasn’t going to be enough time but he had a bad drive off the last corner, we had a good drive and he gave me racing room and we got it done.”
The St. Pete weekend also marked the NTT IndyCar season-opener, with Meyer Shank Racing revealing its new “AutoNation Drive Pink” livery designed in collaboration with AERO Sustainable Paint Technology. The MSR squad was joined by fellow AERO Sustainable Paint Technology IndyCar teams AJ Foyt Racing and Rahal Letterman Lanigan (RLL) Racing that were looking to kick the year off on the right foot, but it was the MSR squad that posted career-best results in both qualifying and the race.
From there the eyes of the racing world moved directly to Sebring, which in addition to the IMSA races, also hosted the FIA World Endurance Championship as part of the event that was dubbed “Super Sebring.”
The weekend kicked off with the second race of the 2019 IMSA Prototype Challenge season.
For the second time in as many visits, it was the AERO-liveried K2R Motorsports entry of Jim McGuire and Matt Bell who were celebrating on the Sebring podium after the one hour, 45-minute race. The duo, who scored second place in the IMSA Michelin Encore event to close out the 2018 IMSA season, took third place to maintain their remarkable record at the tough track, and carded the fastest lap of the race along the way.
When they threw the checkered flag for the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, the AERO accolades continued to accumulate as Jeff Westphal and Tyler McQuarrie lead 42 of the race’s 49 laps en route to victory in the No. 39 Carbahn Motorsports Audi R8 GT4 machine. The duo managed the hot track as well as the competition to break through for their first win together for Carbahn.
“From the start of it, we knew we were going to have a hot race and to manage the tires and tire degradation was going to be key to make the car consistent,” said Westphal. “We worked really hard with the boys and it all came together, it was a team effort. Tyler drove an amazing opening stint and I can’t thank him enough.”
It wasn’t enough celebration for Westphal, though, as he returned to the same podium just over 30 hours later to claim his third place trophy after driving another AERO-liveried machine to the in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring podium as he partnered with Cooper MacNeil and Toni Vilander to claim third place for Scuderia Corsa in the No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3.
“The 12 Hours of Sebring is one of the more grueling events so you start with the mindset of trying to conserve the car,” Westphal said after 12 Hours. “The aggression you use and the risks you take in the first six hours are very different than what you will do in the second six hours. You start pushing harder and taking more chances. You try not to be too risky, but make moves that you know will land you on the podium like today. I can’t say enough about all the drivers and crew. Cooper and Toni did a great job. It means so much to be on the podium here, I can’t say enough about how great this is and how great Scuderia Corsa is.”
Westphal had to wait his turn for the IMSA GTD class podium for another AERO team as the Corvette Racing team battled back from early adversity to claim third in the GTLM class at the finish. The thundering American squad was followed closely to the line by another AERO-equipped team as the No. 24 Team RLL BMW M8 GTE of Jesse Krohn, John Edwards, and Philip Eng Finished in fourth.
AERO had another entry on the final top ten list as the No. 12 Lexus RC F GT3 of Frankie Montecalvo, Townsend Bell, and Aaron Telitz battled to score ninth at the finish.
Next up for the racing world will be the debut for the NTT IndyCar Series at the Circuit of the Americas where AJ Foyt Racing, Meyer Shank Racing, and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will all look to convert their AERO advantage into new hardware.