The Callaway Corvette GT3-R made an auspicious debut in the Pirelli World Challenge GT class, nabbing its first podium with a second-place finish in Race Two of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Driver Daniel Keilwitz qualified and ran at the front of the pack in both races and was challenging for the lead late in Race Two when a red flag ended the race ten minutes early. The Corvette GT3-R showed its competitiveness the whole weekend, qualifying third and finishing a close fourth on Saturday’s Race One, and turning the fastest race lap in race two on Sunday.
A spirited GT class qualifying took place on Saturday morning, March 10, under cool, dry conditions with seven drivers in six different marques – Ferrari, Porsche, Callaway Corvette, Aston-Martin, Mercedes-Benz, and Bentley – vying for the top starting position in Race One. Toni Vilander in the Ferrari, Michael Christensen in a Porsche, and Daniel Keilwitz in the Callaway Corvette qualified 1-2-3, separated by a total of 0.496 seconds. It was the first appearance at the St. Petersburg temporary street circuit for each of the top three qualifiers.
A small amount of rain fell on the circuit between Saturday morning’s qualifying and Race One on Saturday afternoon, which put a crimp in Daniel Keilwitz’s ability to get through turn one following the start. Immediately after a clean start, Keilwitz made an aggressive move to his right to get by polesitter Toni Vilander in the Ferrari, but Vilander squeezed to his right and forced Keilwitz slightly off the edge of the racing surface onto a damp painted area. As he got by Vilander, the slippery surface rendered his brakes ineffective, causing him to straight-line right-hand turn one into a run-off area. Fortunately, he was far enough ahead so there was no contact with the rest of the field as they pushed through the turn. Keilwitz quickly turned around and took off in pursuit of the rest of the field.
The Callaway’s luck changed quickly as an incident between three GTA cars caused a full-course yellow, allowing the GT3-R to join up at the back of the pack in eighth position. When the green flag waved on lap eight, Keilwitz drove like a man possessed, moving up to fifth place by lap 13 and in the process setting his fastest race lap of 1:12.660 on lap 12. The Corvette moved up another notch to challenge the Mercedes of Daniel Morad for third, but time ran out, leaving the GT3-R 1.428 seconds shy of a podium finish. Scott Hargrove in Porsche #96 won, with Toni Vilander in the #61 Ferrari 488 in second.
Sunday was dry and partly cloudy, with the air temperature around 80° F. According to World Challenge rules, the starting grid for Race Two is determined by the fastest lap times in Race One. In this case, Scott Hargrove in the number 96 Porsche had the fastest lap time in Race One and started on the pole, and Daniel Keilwitz started in P2 thanks to his second-fastest lap time in Race One.
Keilwitz had a poor start and dropped back to fourth place behind Hargrove, Morad, and Vilander by lap two. He said later that tire temperature was the issue. “I had wheel spin at the green flag and lost two positions to the other guys. We knew if we played it cool, I’d be faster once we came up to temperature.” Vilander clipped the wall, taking himself out of the race and moving Keilwitz up to P3. When the tires came up to the proper temperature, he passed Morad for second place on lap 11, then set his sights on Hargrove in first.
The Corvette steadily gained on Hargrove’s Porsche and was only 0.414 seconds in arrears when Alvaro Parente in the Bentley had a massive shunt into the tire wall on lap 25, bringing out a red flag to stop the race and clean up the accident. Fortunately, Parente walked away from the crash without injury. The stewards decided that there was not enough time to remove the crashed car before the expiration of the allotted race time, and the checkered flag was waved with about ten minutes left. Keilwitz was a bit disappointed that he didn’t have the opportunity to try and make the pass for first place. “Unfortunately, we had the red flag. I think I could have managed to go a little bit faster, but I waited until the end. Now we’ll never know what could have happened.”
Great result for Callaway Competition USA
All in all, St. Petersburg was a great result for the Callaway Corvette GT3-R. The car ran flawlessly near the front of the field all weekend, and Daniel Keilwitz proved his competitive toughness on a circuit he had never seen before. Team owner Reeves Callaway summed up the effort best when he said, “We had two really good tough races, and Daniel was able to show his skills against a very talented field of drivers. I am thrilled to be able to please the Corvette fan base with some great racing.” Indeed, the entire Corvette community should be happy with the results – the Corvette is back! Daniel Keilwitz and Callaway Competition each have 42 points and are each tied for second place in their respective Driver’s and Manufacturer’s Championships.
The Pirelli World Challenge and Callaway Competition USA next head to Austin, Texas and the Circuit of the Americas for Rounds One and Two of the SprintX Championship on March 23-25. The SprintX races have a slightly different format than St. Petersburg’s Sprint races – SprintX races are 60 minutes long; require two drivers to share the driving duties; and have a mandatory pit stop about mid-distance for a driver change. Callaway Competition USA has confirmed their entry and will shortly announce their selection for the second driver. Please check the Pirelli World Challenge website for live timing and scoring information, and the schedule for race live streaming.
We’d like to thank Pirelli World Challenge for their permission to use their video highlights of Race Two at St. Petersburg. Sit back and enjoy the race!
Pirelli World Challenge http://world-challenge.com/latest/series-news/gp-of-st-petersburg-gt-gta-rd-2-gt-cup-rd-2-race/
PWC Qualifying http://tsl-timing.com/file/?f=PWC/2018/181006qu1pwg.pdf
PWC Race One Results http://tsl-timing.com/file/?f=PWC/2018/181006rc1pwg.pdf
PWC Race Two Results http://tsl-timing.com/file/?f=PWC/2018/181006rc2pwg.pdf
PHOTOS – Credited to Callaway Competition USA
VIDEO: Credited to Pirelli World Challenge