Ave Sweeps Brainerd Doubleheader to Clinch 2011 SCCA Pro Racing Trans Am Title
September 3, 2011
BRAINERD, Minn. (September 3, 2011) – Tony Ave may currently hail from Maiden, N.C., but he's a native of the Upper Midwest, so it's appropriate that he would wrap up his second consecutive SCCA Pro Racing Trans Am Series championship by sweeping a doubleheader of racing at Brainerd International Raceway.
That is exactly what Ave did, but for as many times as he has made it look easy over the past two seasons, Sunday was not one of those days. Ave started the No. 4 Lamers Racing/Beebe Racing/Optech/PME Chevrolet Corvette from the pole position and officially secured the championship as soon as he took the green flag.
Before he completed the first lap, however, Ave spun the yellow and red Corvette in Turn 12 and watched most of the field stream past before he finally got back underway. He rejoined the battle in eighth place overall and quickly began making up positions and chipping away at a nearly 30-second lead built by Amy Ruman, who was the big beneficiary of Ave's spin.
He steadily gained ground but his big break came when one of the afternoon's many intermittent rain showers enveloped the 2.5-mile circuit. As the leaders slowed in front of him, Ave kept the pressure on and took the lead on Lap 12 of the 40-lap race. He was not challenged after that and went on to win by 9.513 seconds ahead of Cliff Ebben, of Appleton, Wis.
"We had a little bit of a clutch slipping when it was cold in qualifying, then it ran good for the qualifying lap and we didn't really have time to change it so I just was going to try to run it knowing we just had to start," Ave said. "It caught me out down there and it just started to slip and I had my foot on the throttle quite a ways when it started. I just spun the rear tires and just lost it. Then I tried to do a donut to get going and it was slipping. I thought I smoked it there, so we had to go pretty easy. The rain really saved us because we couldn't run very hard anyway, but the last few laps I ran around half-throttle. If you put your foot all the way down it would shake real bad. We just barely made it but our car was so good."
It was Ave's series leading sixth victory out of eight races this season, the 12th of his Trans Am Series career and he has won all three Trans Am races held at Brainerd since the series returned to the circuit in 2010 after a 21-year absence. He now has 1,052 championship points, giving him a lead of 252 points over Simon Gregg, of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. in second and a maximum of just 139 points still available.
"I grew up here and started out up here," Ave said. "I won a lot of races at the Brainerd Fairgrounds on snowmobiles, and some big races there. I won my first SCCA National here. I have a lot of family and friends up here, and really to have the year we've had really just puts a stamp on the effort of the guys, especially the guys at Pro Motor for as strong as our engines run. There's just no better stuff in the business than what we're using right now and we're trying to be prepared for us and our customers for the more competition that's coming next year and after that and I think hopefully we're doing OK with that."
Ebben also had an eventful weekend in Brainerd. After qualifying on the outside of the front row for Saturday's race, he was involved in an opening-lap incident with Ruman that left his No. 36 Ford Mustang too damaged to race again on Sunday. Car owner Denny Lamers withdrew himself as driver of the No. 66 McMahon Group/Stumpf Ford/Lamers Racing Ford Mustang and entered Ebben in his place.
Ebben put the No. 66 machine third on the starting grid for the second half of the doubleheader, moved into second when Ave had his opening-lap mishap and engaged virtually a race-long battle with Ruman. He ultimately came one position short of scoring his third career Trans Am victory, but picked up his third podium result in five starts this season with a runner-up result.
"Well, we made a lot of mistakes, ran off the track two or three times," Ebben said. "The weather was tough because you couldn't see when it would start raining. You never knew how slick it was going to be when you got to the next corner. Especially being the first car out was the worst part. You know when somebody's ahead of you, you kind of follow them and you know what going to happen, so it was tough."
Ruman, of Kent, Ohio, wound up third in the No. 23 McNichols/Goodyear/Cenweld Chevrolet Corvette to once again match her Trans Am career-best result. It appeared for a time that she might do that with a victory or at least a second-place finish, but a handful of spins at various times during the race relegated her to the final spot on the podium.
"When Tony spun right off the bat I thought, 'OK, we got a good opportunity here' and the track was pretty dry by then," Ruman said. "We just set sail and just focused on trying to get as big a lead as possible because I knew he'd be coming back with a vengeance and I knew Cliff was behind me. So once it started raining I just tried to stay out as far as I could but it just started pouring and the track was real wet.
"I just don't have a lot of experience in the rain, unfortunately. I think I've only had maybe two national races in the rain. It's all finesse and it's all about experience and kind of luck sometimes. All three of us spun today. Unfortunately, I just had one too many. That win slipped away from us again. I'm a little disappointed. I'm happy about third but I'm a little disappointed for McNichols and my guys. They work their tails off all weekend and I'm happy with third at this point."
After finishing on the podium Saturday, Gregg took fourth place on Sunday in the No. 59 Chevrolet Corvette for Derhaag Motorsports - which is based in Shakopee, Minn. - at its home track. Gregg also sewed up second place in the 2011 Trans Am driver standings. Doug Harrington, of Kemah, Texas, made it two Derhaag Corvettes in the top five with a fifth-place run in the No. 00 New Orleans Voodoo Chevrolet.
In the Trans Am 2 (TA2) class, Bob Stretch, of Arlington, Texas, also clinched the class championship and swept the Brainerd doubleheader with his second victory in as many days aboard the No. 98 Wheels America Racing Chevrolet Camaro. It was Stretch's fifth victory of the season in just six starts and gave him an insurmountable, 171-point lead, 794-623, over Bill Prietzel, of Hubertus, Wis.
"With the wet-dry, wet-dry conditions I knew it was going to be a bit of a challenge when we were on the grid so I just had to manage the car and go as fast as I could," Stretch said. "I've got some experience in the rain, which I think helped me out quite a bit.
"You always have to be pushing to see where that limit is always, constantly, whereas when the track is dry you've kind of got a pretty good idea lap after lap. When the track is wet, every corner is a little different than it might have been last time so you've really just got to test the limit all the way."
Next up for the SCCA Pro Racing Trans Am Series in the 2011 season finale at Road Atlanta as part of the prestigious Petit Le Mans week. The race is scheduled for Friday, September 30.
BRAINERD, Minn. - Results from Saturday's 40-lap, 100-mile SCCA Pro Racing Trans Am Series Round 7 race, part of a doubleheader weekend at Brainerd International Raceway, with finishing position, starting position in parentheses, driver, hometown, car, laps and reason out (if any).
1. TA, (1) Tony Ave, Maiden, N.C., Chevrolet Corvette, 40.
2. TA, (3) Cliff Ebben, Appleton, Wis., Ford Mustang, 40, -9.513.
3. TA, (2) Amy Ruman, Kent, Ohio, Chevrolet Corvette, 40, -52.601.
4. TA, (4) Simon Gregg, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., Chevrolet Corvette, 39, -1 lap.
5. TA, (5) Doug Harrington(R), Kemah, Texas, Chevrolet Corvette, 38, -2 laps.
6. TA2, (8) Bob Stretch(R), Arlington, Texas, Chevrolet Camaro, 38, -2 laps.
7. TA, (6) Daniel Ramoutarsingh, La Romain, Trinidad, Jaguar XKR, 37, -3 laps.
8. TA2, (10) Ricky Sanders(R), Fayetteville, Ga., Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 35, -5 laps.
9. TA2, (11) Tim Gray(R), Minneapolis, Minn., Porsche 996, 35, -5 laps.
10. TA2, (9) Bill Prietzel(R), Richfield, Wis., Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 34, -6 laps.
11. TA, (7) David Jans(R), Mundelein, Ill., Ford Mustang, 17, Crash.
12. TA2, (12) Tom Sheehan(R), Auburn, N.H., Chevrolet Camaro, 0, DNS.
Time of race: 1 hour, 11 minutes, 24.559 seconds.
Average speed: 84.022 mph
Margin of victory: 9.513 Seconds
Lap leaders: Laps 1-11, #23 Amy Ruman; laps 12-40, #4 Tony Ave
Fastest race lap: #4 Tony Ave, 1:31.116 (98.775 mph)
Fastest qualifier: #4 Tony Ave, 1:27.116 (103.310 mph)