Punching Above Their Weight

Punching Above Their Weight

RACER Magazine, July 2018

Amidst teams with more support and even factory drivers, Scott Hargrove and Pfaff Motorsports are making their mark in Pirelli World Challenge GT.

There’s no disputing the quality of motorsports education that the various Porsche Cup series can provide. It’s been the launching point for many motorsports success stories for both drivers and teams. But the move from Porsche Cup to the rarefies world of Pirelli GT World Challenge racing is supposed to require an adjustment period, where the team and driver get a dizzying crash course on the heightened competition and intensity.

Somebody forgot to tell that to Scott Hargrove and Pfaff Motorsports.

After winning the 2017 Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada championship – Hargrove also won that title in 2014 with Open Road Racing – the team chose to move to Pirelli World Challenge GT with a Porsche 911 GT3R for this season. If anyone was expecting them to take a while to get up to speed, they were sorely mistaken. Hargrove took both wins in the opening rounds at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, including in Round 1 when he had to start last after brushing the wall in qualifying. It was a near-perfect weekend that vaulted him into a championship lead that he still held going into round 10 at Lime Rock Park.

To be fair, Hargrove was familiar with the St. Petersburg street circuit in a way that many of his competitors weren’t. While several had competed in previous St. Pete events in World Challenge, many hadn’t. Hargrove was racing the circuit for the first time in a GT car; however, before he switched to sports cars full time, he was a rising star on the Mazda Road to Indy, working his way up through the USF2000 Championship and the Pro Mazda Series. He was the USF2000 champion in 2014, and the same year he won his first Porsche Cup Canada title, he finished second in the Pro Mazda Championship. But after a few races in the Indy Lights championship, his open-wheel career stalled with a familiar story – lack of funds. But his familiarity with the circuit may have given him an edge.

“All the guys are professionals,” says Hargrove. They are factory guys, they are people that have been around the sport a long time. They know what they are doing, and you learn tracks so fast at this caliber of racing. I don’t think it had a huge effect, but I think, at the start of Race 1 where I had to start at the back, I think that experience of racing at St. Pete really helped me there because I saw everybody charging into Turn 1. I thought if I back it down a little bit and just make sure I stay on the inside, I will be alright. Sure enough, I came out in third. So I think that knowledge of both that particular corner and how it works probably helped me.”

It isn’t just at St. Pete, though, that Hargrove has done well. He may not have yet (as of deadline time) claimed another win, but he has three more podium finishes, has kept his points lead through the Sprint rounds at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park and he’s rather consistently been the top Porsche finisher. Whether by himself in Sprint or paired with Wolf Henzler in SprintX, he’s generally bested the other Porsche drivers such Alec Udell in the GMG 911 GT3R, or Porsche Works driver Michael Christensen in the Alegra Motorsports machine. It wasn’t until the ninth round overall, the second SprintX race at VIR, that Christensen, with Spencer Pumpelly as his partner, outscored Hargrove and Pfaff Motorsports, which he followed by also beating Hargrove twice at CTMP.

Hargrove’s fast start is especially impressive considering this is his first time in a professional, non-spec-car series. His time in the Mazda Road to Indy and Porsche Cup meant he was racing with other people in identical cars separated only by setup choices. Now he’s battling in a world where cars may have markedly different characteristics.

“Every car has it’s strengths and weaknesses; but at the same time but when you are running in a spec series, people set up their cars differently. Some people run more downforce than others, so some cars are faster in the straights, faster in the corners, and it’s not too dissimilar. You know some cars might pull away again on the straight but you can catch them back up in the corners. I think that was true in St Pete and so when I made the pass for the lead there against Daniel Morad, he had a little bit of straight-line speed advantage, but we were really good on brakes and I kind of took advantage of that,” he explains.

While he and the team have had some adjustment to make moving from the Cup car to the GT3, as far as Hargrove is concerned, he’s relishing the challenge and welcoming the move to something less simple. “It’s kinds of a coming home of sorts because I am used to a bit more of the technical side of racing. Running in some of the open-wheel cars, I learned a lot about what different changes do to a car. When you go to Cup you are really limited with what you can change on the car, so it almost felt like a little bit over simplified and now that complexity is back where it’s really challenging me as a driver to really explore or to understand what the engineer wants to change on the car and how that’s going to affect it. I have always been a hands-on driver. I have always wanted to know not only what a change does but why the change does what it does, so understanding that with such a technical car is quite challenging,” Hargrove says.

Naturally Hargrove gives a lot of credit to Pfaff Motorsports. This isn’t the team’s first foray into World Challenge, and they are also running GTS with Orey Fidani – another Porsche cup Canada champion, in the Gold category – in a Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR. Hargrove says that in initial discussions with the team, he made it clear that he wanted a team that wanted to win as much as he does. He was soon convinced that they were going to put in the time and effort to run up front in Porsche Cup. When the team decided to step up to World Challenge, Hargrove knew they would take it seriously, and it’s showing.

“I would say that all systems are firing properly,” he says. “We’ve got everything to the point now where we are not trying to find something new, we are just perfecting what we’ve already started.  Our engineer Joe LaJoie been phenomenal addition to the team. The car’s been quick right out of the box. So I need to continue to uphold that relationship and make sure that when I come off the track, he understands what I am relaying to him and vice versa. Just building on the relationship is just going to be make us that much stronger throughout the year.”

 

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