SEBRING, Florida (September 24, 2023) – Tony Gaples saved his best for (almost) last to take a long-awaited victory with the No. 5 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R in GT America powered by AWS competition.
In his first full season of racing since 2020, Gaples passed Jason Bell on the next-to-last lap of Sunday’s 40-minute sprint race at Sebring International Raceway after reeling in the GT4 race- and championship leader in the final 10 minutes of a thrilling contest.
It is the first win for Gaples since 2017 and the 42nd for Blackdog Speed Shop – the most of any team in the SRO America and World Challenge GT4/GTS era. The Camaro GT4.R also won in the series for the first time since 2018.
Unofficially, Gaples moved to fourth in the GT4 championship standings heading to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in two weeks for the season-ending weekend. He added his name to the list of winners at historic Sebring with a hard-charging final 20 minutes that culminated in a dramatic final two laps.
The Camaro began third but moved to the second spot at the halfway mark. Gaples got within a second of Bell inside the final 15 minutes before the faster GT3 entries in the race made their way through the GT4 fight. Once the GT3 lead pack cleared, Gaples had the advantage and went from 2.5 seconds behind when the faster cars came through to less than 0.7 seconds adrift with eight minutes and four laps to go.
The Blackdog driver kept digging in the Camaro and finally made the pounce when Bell slid at Turn 13 to give Gaples a lane to the outside on corner exit. Bell tried to come back across but Gaples held the line, made an escape off-track and pulled away for the long-awaited victory.
Gaples nearly made the GT4 podium in Saturday’s opening race of the weekend with a drive from seventh early in the race back to his original starting position of fourth.
It continues a strong late-season push for Blackdog Speed Shop, which has seven top-five finishes in Gaples’ last 10 races. He began on pole position for the second race at Road America in the team’s last event and led before a mechanical problem sidelined the Camaro before the finish.
Blackdog Speed Shop and the No. 5 Camaro will close the GT America season with two races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on October 6-8.
TONY GAPLES, NO. 5 BLACKDOG SPEED SHOP CHEVROLET CAMARO GT4.R: “Thank you Blackdog Speed Shop! This will take a little while to sink in. The team gave me a great car today to keep digging and pushing Jason late in the race. He’s a really tough competitor, and I enjoy racing against him. We’ve been really close the last handful of races to getting a win. I don’t want to say that it was a matter of time because there are a lot of really good drivers and cars in this series. It’s as tough a field as I can remember. That’s what makes this win so special. To do it with this team and knowing how hard we’ve all worked to make this happen is unbelievable. I’m so happy for them all.”
Pass for the win: “We’ve worked a lot this year on tire management and keeping life in the car for late in the race. The Camaro is by far the oldest car in this class, and we knew early on that this would be our best chance to compete. The guys did a great job on the car setup and reminding me to save the tires for late. When the time came, I had confidence in myself and in the car to push Jason hard enough and force a mistake. Once the lane opened, I was going for it. He tried to come back and pushed me off track a little bit, but I wasn’t going to back out of it. Fortunately I came out the other end in front and kept it together for that final lap.”
RAY SORENSON, TEAM MANAGER, BLACKDOG SPEED SHOP: “This is what every person on this team has been working toward this year. Great job by Tony, by our engineers and the guys getting the car set up to let him go after the win today. I don’t know what was better – seeing him cross the finish line first or celebrating with our guys at the pit wall. All I know is that they were both special and something I won’t forget for a long time. Just a fantastic day and race for all of us.”