Lamborghini ST: Ashton Harrison completes North American season with class podiums
Four years of successes in Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America: Ashton Harrison completed her final round in the one-make series with two ProAm podiums at Portimao - as she gets ready for the Grand Finals.
She made headlines - for two years in a row - at the 8 Hours of Indianapolis, when she took the GT World Challenge America by storm by winning at debut in 2021 and then clinched the ProAm title in her first full season in 2022, competing alongside Mario Farnbacher in the Racers Edge Motorsport Acura NSX GT3 Evo. But Ashton Harrison's season was far from over, as the American racer had one more goal: ending her Lamborghini Super Trofeo career on a high. Having made her way up the sports car ladder from Miatas to GT3 cars, Harrison became the first ever female winner of the Lamborghini World Finals in 2019, claiming the LB Cup title in Jerez. She would finish third in ProAm in 2020 and vice-champion in a solo campaign in the Am class in 2021. In 2022, Harrison teamed up with Tom Long for another ProAm season - which started off with a class win at Laguna Seca and a streak of 8 consecutive podiums in the first half of the year. Coming into the season finale at Portimao, Portugal, Harrison and Long sat in third place in the ProAm standings - with an opportunity to secure second place. "The World Final is always my favorite part of being a participant in the LST programs", she said before the final two races of the North American season at Circuito do Algarve. "All of the drivers coming together and getting to compete at a circuit most of us haven’t been at before is always very exciting. I’m looking forward to fighting for the maximum result in PRO-AM for Tom and I.” “At this point, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain so we will be in full attack mode" - she continued. "The Team Championship is top priority for all the drivers and crew at Prestige Performance with Wayne Taylor Racing. We’re ready to race!"
Thursday's qualifying saw Patrick Kujala claiming overall pole position, ahead of Nelson Piquet Jr, Loris Spinelli and Danny Formal. With the 12th fastest lap overall, Ashton Harrison slotted into third in ProAm.
Patrick Kujala had the perfect getaway at the start, but the Finn then collided with Luke Berkeley - handing the lead of the race at Turn 1 to Nelson Piquet Jr, who had a slow start but took advantage from the drama at the first corner. A few other cars spun in the opening lap, leaving Piquet, Kujala, Spinelli, Johnson and O'Brian in the top five. Ashton Harrison had a strong start and avoided the mayhem, slotting into ninth overall, second in ProAm, despite being hit by a competitor.
Loris Spinelli - already champion in the European series - clinched back the lead of the race on lap 4 after forcing his way past Piquet Jr, who could not keep up the pace with the Italian and soon Spinelli pulled away.
After the hectic opening laps, positions settled ahead of the driver change when the clock approached the 20 minute mark.
After a pitlane start, Charlie Martin recovered to P17 overall - which would have been her starting position - and third in LC Cup, in a really impressive charge before the pit window opened.
Spinelli and Piquet were again battling side-by-side after the Brazilian completed his pit stop and rejoined just ahead of the race leader; Spinelli, though, would receive a 5 second penalty for abusing track limits. The driver of the #188 Taurino Racing Huracan pitted with 20 minutes to go and Giano Taurino took over the wheel.
From ninth, Ashton Harrison pitted after a very solid stint and handed over the Harrison Contracting WTR Huracan to Tom Long, who retained second in ProAm.
After the round of pit stops, Taurino managed to keep the top spot despite a small mistake on cold tyres, while Piquet lost second to Edoardo Piscopo. Tom Long chased Bryan Ortiz for the ProAm lead, but had 11 seconds to make up for.
Second-placed Edoardo Piscopo then tumbled down the order with 10 minutes to go - allowing past Piquet Jr and Kyle Marcelli for the overall podium.
Amidst an avalanche of time penalties, Taurino had to keep his gap to Piquet over the 5 second margin: the Brazilian former F1 racer managed to gain a few crucial tenths of a second that resulted in his second win of the season, ahead of Giano Taurino and Kyle Marcelli.
In Pro-Am, Sebastian Carazo/Bryan Ortiz took class honors, preceding Ashton Harrison/Tom Long, with Patrick Liddy/Damon Ockey in third.
"Race 1 in Portimao went really well - P2 in class and sixth overall in the Harrison Contracting Lamborghini", commented Harrison. "We're super excited for race 2 in a few hours and Tom will be starting".
Race 1 winner Nelson Piquet Jr shared the front row of the grid with Kyle Marcelli, as Tom Long took the start in the #125 Harrison Contracting by WTR Lamborghini in P8 overall, third in ProAm - behind Bryan Ortiz and Patrick Liddy.
After a damp race 1, the afternoon race that rounded out the North American championship was a fully dry one; Nelson Piquet was quicker on the throttle compared to Race 1 and led the pack at Turn 1. Another contact at the hairpin saw Taurino making trading paint with another car, but everyone completed the first lap mostly unscathed.
The leading duo seemed able to pull away; Ortiz and Liddy battled for the top spot in ProAm, while a slower start for Tom Long dropped the Harrison Contracting Huracan to tenth overall, third in class.
Jordan Missig hit trouble with 41 minutes to go, as his #153 WTR came to a halt in the first sector. The race, though, remained green.
Jason Keats had meanwhile slipped to fourth in LC Cup when the #154 Dream Racing Motorsport limped back to the pits with a tyre puncture that dropped him one lap down.
With 36 minutes to go and with the pit window approaching, Levy Ofir (#113 WTR) spun out and into the tyre barriers. The incident triggered the safety car, but Levy could rejoin the race after a pit stop under caution.
The action was back underway with 22 minutes to go - just before the pit window. Giano Taurino gave way to the fast Loris Spinelli; most of the field also took the way of the pit lane, including race leader Nelson Piquet Jr. The top 3 in Pro-Am stayed out, just like Kyle Marcelli in the #101 WTR.
After Richard Antinucci - the last of the leading group to pit - had stopped, Loris Spinelli led Danny Formal and Nelson Piquet in the overall classification. Ashton Harrison started her final stint in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo having taken over from Tom Long from fourth in class, tenth overall.
Piquet and Kujala battled for the last step of the podium in the closing five minutes of the race: the Finn having the upper hand on lap 23. On the same lap, Ashton Harrison closed a 2 second gap to Damon Ockey and overtook the #108 US Racetronics Lamborghini, gaining third in ProAm. Further two seconds up the road, Harrison hunted down Sebastian Carazo as well, but was a few laps short of a potential second place.
John Dubets crossed the line to take class victory and championship title in ProAm, followed by Carazo and Harrison.
Loris Spinelli was unchallenged for the overall victory - as the top three order changed after Patrick Kujala received a track limits penalty that promoted Nelson Piquet Jr back on the podium, behind Danny Formal.
With two class podiums in the final double-header of the North American season, Ashton Harrison and Tom Long completed the ProAm championship with P3 in the standings. Harrison - one of the most exciting up-and-coming GT racers in America - scored 10 podiums out of 12 races this year in the Lamborghini single-make series.
After the victory at the Laguna Seca season opener, Harrison collected 6 second place finishes and 3 third places.
"That’s it for the North American championship", Harrison summed up on Friday evening. "Cried a little bit on pit-lane as my career in LST has come to a close."
"P3 in the championship for our Harrison Contracting Wayne Taylor Racing machine. So proud to be a part of this team for four seasons."
With new challenges awaiting Ashton Harrison in 2023, she will aim to wrap up her four seasons in the Lamborghini series with her second win in the World Finals, following her 2019 success in LB Cup in Jerez.