The Heart of Racing (HOR) kicked off the GT America powered by AWS season at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Friday and Saturday. Racing at the track for the second time, Gray Newell scored his highest finish at the street course, placing second in the No. 25 Aston Martin Vantage GT4 following a Friday night shootout in the dark, and then following that up with another run to second place in the second 40-minute race of the weekend.
The double-podium outing followed a windy start to the weekend, with Newell clocking the third fastest lap in first practice on Friday morning with a 1:20.943-second lap time. In qualifying, Newell went even quicker, setting a fast lap time of 1:19.054 seconds to earn a spot on the second row of the GT4 class for Race 1.
After Friday’s schedule was delayed, the first race of the weekend took the green flag just ahead of a beautiful Florida sunset. An opening lap caution set the stage for a lengthy safety car period before returning to green flag conditions with 24 minutes left in the race.
On the restart, Newell grew his advantage as he chased the leaders under a darkening sky. The GT4 leader found the tire barrier with six minutes remaining as Newell took over second place.
After closing the gap to the lead, Newell had put himself in a position to pass for the lead when the leader made contact with the wall. Newell was sitting in a winning position but was immediately baulked behind a slower GT3 car as he had to cede the lead just ahead of the checkered flag. Newell brought home a hard-fought second-place finish earning his highest finish on the streets of St. Petersburg.
On a bright and blustery but warm Saturday afternoon, Newell rolled off from fifth on the grid for race two. The race again saw an opening lap yellow flag, with Newell restarting from fifth with 20 minutes left in the race. Within one minute of going back to green, a second incident saw Newell take evasive action to avoid contact.
Restarting from second place with 8 minutes remaining, Newell fought for second place all the way to the checkered flag to score his second podium result of the opening weekend.
“My performance at St. Petersburg is meant to set the tone for the year, that being consistency, precision, risk management, and racecraft,” said Newell. “My goal was to bring an effective points haul and an undamaged car home with me and we succeeded on both fronts. From here the goal is to continue to push refinement in outright lap time for qualifying and to develop my ability to race closely with the other front running. I believe we will be right there in the championship all year and with a little luck and a lot of hard work, we can win it.”
Heart of Racing’s SRO program will be on track March 31 - April 2nd at Sonoma Raceway. The team will have two cars competing in Pirelli GT4 America and Newell will return to the No. 25 in GT4 America powered by AWS.