Saxton: Phoenixville’s Aquilante sweeps GTS opener in St. Petersburg

Flying the Phoenixville colors, Andrew Aquilante took home two wins in the No. 32 Phoenix Performance Ford Mustang Boss 302 on the challenging streets of St. Petersburg recently to sweep the GTS opener for the Pirelli World Challenge.

Aquilante, the multiple-time SCCA National Champion, took his Ford Mustang built by a small team in a Phoenixville shop to two highly-popular wins in two days on the twisting Florida street circuit.

The team was able to win despite strong competition from a Chevrolet factory team.

The Phoenix Performance team and Aquilante leave St. Pete leading the Pirelli World Challenge GTS point standings, but with an uncertain future as the squad is searching for race or season-long sponsors to sustain the program.

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In the first race on Friday afternoon, Aquilante turned a third-place starting position into a first place result in his Mustang.

At the start of the first race, Aquilante quickly moved into second and then took the lead on lap nine and ultimately the victory for Phoenix.

“Rolling out of the truck with a known quantity and prepared as best we could be was key. We had decent speed in practice and qualified third,” Aquilante said. “On Friday, we were in the middle of a setup change when news came about the track changes at turn three and we put everything back.”

Aquilante is referring to the track changes made to adjust the entry and apex of the third corner of the circuit due to an off-season repave.

A day later, Aquilante was on the pole for the second race of the weekend per his fastest lap in race one. After a slow start, Aquilante would pass for the lead on lap six to take another Pirelli World Challenge victory. Previously Aquilante has notched wins in both GTS and SprintX competition in the pro series.

“The biggest challenge of the weekend was the standing start for race two,” Aquilante continued. “I didn’t practice them to save the wear on the car and suffered for it: losing the lead into turn one. The Pirelli World Challenge series did a great job with the first race and giving us time to see and feel out the new turn three. I tried using the curb during those laps and felt confident I could use it without ending up in the fence. I could see Lawson and Parker not using it and knew that would make for a very good opportunity to pass. Once in the lead it was about managing tires and brakes and using the third place car to keep Lawson occupied in both races.”

Making it better was the local angle. Phoenix only made the decision to race at St. Petersburg just three weeks away from the event, with Aquilante recruiting three local long-time Phoenix crew members to help the team for the weekend. Aquilante, who oversaw the build of the car himself, tested at Sebring in January taking two wins in the SCCA Majors, and carefully conserved the car during practice and qualifying at St. Petersburg.

Team partners include Phoenix Performance, Ford Performance, Calvert Dynamics, Ron Davis Racing Radiators, Hawk Performance Brakes, Penske Racing Shocks, Varsity Landscaping, Brembo Brakes and Go Puck.

Phoenix Performance is a Pennsylvania tuner and race team management organization, owned and managed by Joe Aquilante, specializing in Corvettes, Mustangs, Camaros and high-end imports, providing maintenance, tuning and preparation services for domestic and import cars and trucks, along with performance upgrades and tuning for street and track cars. The team’s 32,000 square-foot race shop is located 30 miles west of downtown Philadelphia and has built over 35 SCCA Runoff-winning cars.

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Despite all the efforts being made to be able to get the 2017 season started with a free-to-the-public practice session at Grandview Speedway last Saturday, Ma Nature has helped create different plans.

“Practice is postponed due to wet grounds, and the forecast of more rain this afternoon,” said track spokesperson Tina Rogers. “We did not want to take the chance of having drivers ruin their equipment, for a track that could not be prepared properly.

“We had been monitoring the grounds, and track conditions all week. We were hoping we could get on the track and prepare a good racing surface, however with not much sun, and the melting snow, it has left us with unraceable conditions and grounds.”

The practice session has been postponed until Saturday, April 1st following the same schedule for the day. Pit gates opening at 9 a.m. and practice, featuring a variety of different race cars, starting at noon. Pit admission is $30.

Pastor Don Kerns will be available to bless race cars, racers and teams along with team dogs starting at 9 a.m. Contact the Pastor at pastordon7@yahoo.com to make arrangements.

And the battle for the lucrative NASCAR and track titles at the one-third-mile, banked clay track will get the green on Saturday, April 8th when a tripleheader show featuring the T.P.Trailers 358 Modifieds, BRC Late Models and Sportsman stock cars will be presented. Spectator gates will open at 5 p.m. with racing starting at 7 p.m. At least 12 events of stock car racing will be presented.

Admission for the season opener will be $15 for adults with youngsters 11 and under admitted free.

On Sunday, April 9th 1 p.m. the Enduro racers and Blast from the Past Vintage racers will perform in a doubleheader show. Just a $10 adult admission price for a fun show that features the opportunity to see some of the Grandview old-timers in action.

The first extra distance event of the season is set for Saturday, April 15th with a 35-lap main event for the T.P.Trailers NASCAR Modifieds being presented. That race will pay $3500 to win. In addition, as is the norm, the BRC Late Models and Sportsman will race.

Admission for the April 15th show will be $20 for adults, $5 for youngsters 11 to 6 with kids under 6 admitted free.