On Friday, April 19, Mike Skeen, of Charlotte, N.C., and Lawson Aschenbach, of Jupiter, Fla., set the early pace in the Pirelli World Challenge GT and GTS classes, respectively, topping the time charts in Practice One of the Pirelli World Challenge Long Beach Grand Prix Presented by KIA.
Skeen, driving the No. 2 Hawk Performance Chevrolet Corvette, was in the mix, near the top of the GT class for the latter half of the 30-minute session. Skeen’s best lap of the 11-turn, 1.968-mile street course was 1:23.667 (84.678 mph).
The session was stopped twice for red flags, the first of which was brought out to remove debris on the circuit, the second, to tow the stranded No. 62 Schomp BMW BMW M3 of Mark Klenin, from the course. Skeen’s first lap following the second red flag was ultimately the fastest of the session.
“The track is awesome,” Skeen said. “We love coming here every time. The fans are great and the track is awesome, as always. The car’s feeling really good, too. Fortunately, we got a little back on the restrictor since St. Pete, so we’re hoping to be a little more competitive this weekend.
“The times in practice weren’t, probably, a great indicator since it was so broken up, and there was a lot of traffic and stuff. We didn’t, really, even get a lap until that last short run. I’m sure a lot of guys are sitting in the same place where they just didn’t get any times in. We’re excited and I think we’re pretty close to the times last year, and I’m sure the track will only get better at the more cars run it and put more rubber down. We’ve got a quick turnaround and get back out early in the morning to qualify. We’re happy, and I think the Hawk Performance Corvette will be really good.”
Pilgrim, of Boca Raton, Fla., started the race weekend off strong as the defending race winner, clocking a best lap of 1:23.779 (84.565 mph). Pilgrim, in his No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R, also put down his fast lap following the second red flag.
James Sofronas, of Villa Park, Calif., slotted into the third position in the session. He piloted his No. 14 GMG/Mobil 1 Audi R8 to a best time of 1:23.903 (84.440 mph).
Pilgrim’s teammate, Johnny O’Connell, of Flowery Branch, Ga., posted the fourth-fastest time of Practice One. O’Connell posted a 1:24.151 (84.191 mph) in his No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS.V-R.
Randy Pobst, of Gainesville, Ga., completed the top-five in GT. Pobst, in his No. 6 K-PAX Volvo S60, set a time of 1:24.698 (83.647 mph), five seconds slower than the track record he set in 2012.
Lawson Aschenbach, of Jupiter, Fla., snuck in the fastest GTS lap in Practice One with a flying lap in the No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro that was completed after the checkered flag flew. Despite the fast time of 1:29.438 (79.214 mph), the Blackdog Speed Shop team is still coming to terms with the new car following extensive time running a Chevrolet Corvette in GT.
“I’m pretty happy with what we got,” Aschenbach said. “We’re still learning a lot with this car as it hadn’t turned its first lap until St. Pete. So, every lap of every session, we’re learning something right now. I’m very happy with the gains we’ve made since last race, but we still got to keep digging, still got to keep working. Everybody’s going to catch up, everybody’s going to go faster, and we got to keep pushing, too.”
The Pirelli World Challenge Long Beach Grand Prix is not the only race on Ashenbach’s dance card this weekend. Aschenbach is splitting his time between the Pirelli World Challenger race in Long Beach and a second race at Road Atlanta.
“I am going to miss practice tomorrow because I have to head back east,” Aschenbach said. “So, I’ve got a long weekend. I just got here this morning, so I’m a little tired. I’ve got a red-eye tonight back to Atlanta and then I’ll fly back after the race tomorrow, so I should be refreshed by the time Sunday comes around.”
Andy Lee, of Colorado Springs, Colo., was second in the session, setting a fast time of 1:29.502 (79.158 mph) in his No. 20 Best IT Chevrolet Camaro.
The No. 42 Acura/HPD/RealTime Racing Acura TSX of Peter Cunningham finished the session third quickest. Cunningham, of Milwaukee, Wis., piloted his machine to a best time of 1:29.602 (79.069 mph). Cunningham spent a bulk of the session on the top in GTS but was bumped to third on the last lap of the session.
Nic Jonsson, of Bankeryd, Sweden, ended Practice One in the fourth spot with a 1:30.717 (78.097 mph), piloting the No. 36 KIA Motors America KIA Optima.
Nick Esayian, of San Diego, put the No. 34 Acura/HPD/RealTime Racing Acura TSX in fifth, with a time of 1:30.874 (77.962 mph).
The competitors of the Pirelli World Challenge get back to the track for an early morning practice session on Saturday. The 30-minute final practice starts at 7:30 a.m. (PDT) followed by the GT Qualifying session starting at 7:55 a.m. (PDT).
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