Located on the western coast of Florida and surrounded by pristinewhite-sand beaches and bays, the city of St. Petersburg is a touristMecca. Now, thanks to the SCCA, Corvette fans have another reason tovisit St. Petersburg: SPEED GT racing. Making its debut in 2005, the St.Petersburg World Challenge race takes place on a 1.8-mile course thatsnakes its way through a downtown waterfront filled with palm trees,motor yachts, and sailboats. Some even liken the venue to the famous F1Monaco Grand Prix racetrack.
Twenty-five cars showed up for this, the second event of the '05 SPEEDGT series. Corvettes did not fare well in the season-opening race inSebring, so the SCCA reduced the Chevys' minimum weight by 100 pounds.
Five Corvettes, two LS2 Cadillacs, and one LS2 Pontiac GTO comprised theGM contingent. The Corvette-engined Pratt & Miller Cadillacs qualifiedFourth and Fifth, and Lou Gigliotti was Eighth in his LG Pro Long TubeHeaders C6 Corvette. Leighton Reese was a tick behind Lou in his BannerEngineering C6, while C5 Z06 driver Tom Oates banged the wall duringqualifying and was unable to place. After his repairs were completed,Tom was allowed to start last in the field.
The green flag fell under beautiful, blue skies. Watching 25 cars try toget through Turn One was breathtaking. First-lap bumping-and-shovingincidents included a brief interface between Corvette drivers SonnyWhelen and Tony Gaples, but both were able to continue. Up front, it wasViper, Porsche, and Corvette, with Lou charging hard toward the front.Leighton was sitting on Lou's rear bumper until his engine expired onLap 15. Meanwhile, Tom Oates was knifing through the field and, bymid-race, had broken into in the Top 10. Sonny Whelen recovered from anearlier skirmish with a Porsche and was listed in 15th position. TheLS2-powered GTO, driven by Stu Hayner, was struggling with a handlingproblem and was running near the back of the field.
Before we could blink, the 50-minute race was over. Tommy Archer's Viperwas First, closely followed by a Porsche and Lou's C6 in Third. AndyPilgrim's Cadillac was Fourth, and Tom Oates' mad blast through thefield earned him an Eighth place finish and the Sunoco Hard ChargerAward. Tony's C6 was 12th, Max Papis' Cadillac 13th, Sonny's Vette15th, and Stu's GTO finished 18th. All but one Corvette racer finishedthe race, and it was great to see Lou standing on the Victory Circlepodium. Let's hope the momentum carries him--and the rest of theCorvette contingent--on to even greater things over the rest of theseason.