Trans Am heads to VIR as season enters final stretch
September 21, 2017
Paul Fix, Cameron Lawrence mix up TA class; Robinson and Buffomante championship battle continues
ALTON, Va. [September 19, 2017] – With only four races remaining, the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli heads to Virginia International Raceway (VIR) for Round 10 of the 2017 championship, ready to take on the scenic 18-turn, 3.27-mile course alongside the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association’s Heacock Classic Gold Cup. With championship battles beginning to take their final form, VIR stands as one of the last opportunities for competitors across all four classes to make a final push for the year-end podium.
In the TA class, points leader Ernie Francis, Jr., in the No. 98 Buoniconti Fund Ford Mustang, will look to rebound after his streak of seven consecutive podium finishes was snapped at Watkins Glen International due to a broken rear end. Despite never campaigning in the TA class at VIR before, Francis has three victories on the course in the TA4 class and will be eager to re-establish himself on the TA class podium – something he has failed to do in only two appearances this season.
Current points runner-up Vinnie Allegretta, in the No. 41 TA Sights & Sounds Chevrolet Corvette, will also be in action, also looking to rebound after a Watkins Glen weekend where the VA Racing team scrambled, after an incident during practice, to repair the No. 41 in time for the weekend’s race, resulting in a seventh place finish. Like Francis, Allegretta has frequented the podium this season with sixth appearances, keeping him within 45 points of Francis in the championship chase.
After making his 2017 season debut at WGI, Paul Fix, in the No. 4 Stopflex/ ClassicTube/ CarCoach Chevrolet Corvette, will also be in attendance at VIR where he stands as the three-time TA class victor and current qualifying and race record holder, with times of 1:46.915 and 1:48.159, respectively. Fix secured third at Watkins Glen, quickly returning to his 2015, 2016 form that saw him finish second in the Trans Am championship.
Adding another layer of intrigue to the TA class will be the Derhaag Motorsports entry of Cameron Lawrence, in the No. 6 Derhaag Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette. Lawrence, a two-time TA2 champion, only has two starts in the TA class— one a mechanical failure at the green flag, the other a drive from the back that culminated in victory at Brainerd International Raceway earlier this year.
Two-time defending TA class champion Amy Ruman, in the No. 23 McNichols Company Chevrolet Corvette, will also be in attendance, buoyed by her return to form at Watkins Glen where she finished second, finally putting to end a streak of mechanical issues, electrical gremlins and poor luck.
In TA2 the championship battle between Gar Robinson and Tony Buffomante looks set to go down to the wire, with a mere 17 points separating the two competitors with four rounds remaining.
Gar Robinson started the year strong in the No. 74 Pura Vida Tequila 74 Ranch Chevrolet, rattling off three wins over the course of the first five races, including banner victories at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Since Round 5 at Indianapolis, Buffomante, in the No. 34 Bestline Superior Lubricants Ford Mustang, has gone on a run of his own with three wins over the following four races, his only miss a second place finish at Road America. And while Buffomante’s success has certainly whittled away at Robinson’s points lead, Buffomante remains the chaser largely in part to the consistency of the 74 machine— simply, every victory for Buffomante over the last four races has been accompanied by a second place finish by Robinson.
With only four rounds remaining, every point—be it from finishing order, qualifying, laps led, and more—stands as crucial with VIR set to be another stage in the year-long battle for the TA2 championship.
The scenic VIR track has been the sight of plenty of successes for Buffomante; he set the pole here in 2014, won the race in 2016 and has turned the fast lap of the race for three consecutive seasons.
Also looking to secure crucial points are Shane Lewis, Robinson’s teammate in the No. 72 Pura Vida Tequila 74 Ranch Resort Chevrolet Camaro, and the aforementioned Cameron Lawrence, in the No. 19 Class Auto Centers Chevrolet Camaro, currently running third and fourth, respectively, in the TA2 championship.
Lewis ran upfront at Watkins Glen before having his day cut short coming off the rumble strips, while Lawrence secured a third place finish—Lawrence continuing a streak of strong performances as the Class Auto Centers team looks to finish its inaugural campaign strong. Lawrence also brings with him a history of TA2 success at VIR with wins in 2013 and 2015.
While not in the championship chase, the 3-Dimensional Services entries of Doug Peterson and, in particular, Rafa Matos, have showcased vastly improved speed over the past few weekends with Matos securing pole at Road America and Peterson a constant presence towards the top of the charts. Still their efforts are yet to produce the desired result; now VIR presents the perfect opportunity to put together the full package.
Kyle Marcelli, campaigning part time in the No. 96 AARD/ MBRP Inc Chevrolet Camaro, will also be in attendance making his third TA2 appearance of the year; while Maurice Hull, of High Point, N.C. will make his TA2 debut in the No. 57 Silver Hare Racing Ford Mustang.
In TA3, the Fall-Line Motorsport trio of points leader Mark Boden, Tim Kezman and Tom Herb return to action in their respective Fall-Line Porsche 911 GT3 Cup machines, with all three currently holding some stake on the championship podium. Kezman remains second to Boden in the points, while Herb stands tied in third position with Conor Flynn, pilot of the No. 95 Irish Mikes Automotive Porsche 997.
While Milton Grant, in the No. 5 Sentry Self Storage/ Courtyard Porsche 997, will also be in attendance representing European makes and models so will the American-made V10s of Cindi Lux, in the No. 45 Lux Performance Group Dodge Viper ACRX, and Dirk Leuenberger, in the No. 35 Lux Performance Group Dodge Viper ACRX, setting up an intriguing mix between the finesse of the Porsches and the sheer power of the Vipers on the VIR circuit.
For much of the season Brian Kleeman, in the No. 07 DWW Motorsports Ford Mustang, has been dominant. His seven poles and six wins speak for themselves; his only real season long opposition has come in the form of Todd Napieralski, in the No. 39 Chevrolet Performance/ TREMEC Chevrolet Camaro, who debuted a new Z1 Camaro build at Road America two rounds ago.
While the mid-season development of Napieralski’s machine has somewhat closed the gap, that effort remains ongoing. However, any further strides forward could potentially shake up the top step that Kleeman has called home for all but two races of the season.
Steven Davison, in the No. 2 DaVinci Plastic Surgery Aston Martin Vantage GT4, and JR Pesek, in the No. 10 Rennsport KC Ford Mustang, will also be on hand as they too attempt to snap Kleeman’s streak.
Trans Am Virginia International Raceway Schedule:
Thursday September 21, 2017
4:30 PM – 5:00 PM TA2 Practice
Friday September 22, 2017
12:10 PM – 12:40 PM TA2 Practice Session 2
5:10 PM – 5:40 PM TA/TA3/TA4 Practice 1
5:40 PM – 6:00 PM TA2 Qualifying
Saturday September 23, 2017
11:30 AM – 12:00 PM TA/TA3/TA4 Practice 2
1:00 PM – 1:20 PM TA Qualifying
1:20 PM – 1:40 PM TA3/TA4 Qualifying
5:10 PM – 6:20 PM VIR Muscle Car Challenge – TA2
Sunday September 24, 2017
3:25 PM – 4:00 PM VIR Trans Am 100 – TA, TA3 and TA4
*all times eastern
Live Timing: All on-track sessions can be followed at www.gotransam.com and on the Race Monitor app available on Windows, Android, iOS and OSX.
Text Commentary: Updates provided throughout sessions on Twitter at @gotransam.