In the midst of a summer break, Trans Am’s championship chases begins to take form
July 20, 2017
It’s now officially the summer lull for the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli, the break between the Ryan Companies Independence Day Classic at Brainerd International Raceway and the First Energy 100 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
For some teams it’s a much-needed break following a rampant June and early July that saw the Detroit Grand Prix, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Brainerd all fall within the span of five weeks. For others, it’s a threat to the momentum and rhythm of their early season success in pursuit of Trans Am championships.
For teams and drivers who endured a slower start to the season there’s plenty of opportunity left to rectify their position; while six of the season’s 13 races stand complete, the worst finish of the TA and TA2 class’s first five competitions has been dropped. Likewise, the worst of the first six for the TA3 and TA4 classes was wiped clean. For those chasing championship leaders there’s a touch of reassurance—the knowledge that nearly 60 percent of the season’s points are still on the table and in racing anything can happen.
In the TA class, competitors will have the suddenly unenviable task of chasing down Ernie Francis, Jr., who has kicked off his TA career in stride after three consecutive TA4 championships. The 19-year-old wheelman has opened the year with four wins in six races while tallying three poles and leading every race. Francis’ only podium miss came at the season opener at Sebring, with the No. 98 Buoniconti Fund Ford Mustang suffering an unpredictable o-ring failure on its debut— since then the No. 98 and Francis have seemed untouchable at times. When the Trans Am season resumes, only time will tell if Francis’ near domination continues.
Vinnie Allegretta, driver of the No. 41 TA Sights & Sounds Chevrolet Corvette, has had by all definitions a career year, building upon his 2016 Rookie of The Year honors with four podium finishes in six competitions— double his total from the entirety of the 2016 season. Allegretta’s first career pole came last round at Brainerd International Raceway, a race where he led much of the first half before feeling the No. 41 fall away. Allegretta has shown speed throughout the year and continues to knock on the door of the top step— a much anticipated win may be just around the corner.
For two-time defending TA champ Amy Ruman, in the No. 23 McNichols Company Chevrolet Corvette, the start of her 2017 campaign has been challenging. The Ruman Racing team has battled mechanical issues, gremlins and plain old bad luck throughout the early stages of the season— with only a single podium falling her way despite a career that’s seen Ruman capture 32.
The good news for Ruman is the start of the season is now behind her and hard work has paid off in the past, as recently as last year. In 2016 Ruman trailed Paul Fix entering championship weekend at Daytona International Speedway, not having reached the top step of the podium since Round 3. Fix would suffer a mechanical three fourths of the way through the race, and Ruman would persevere and secure her second consecutive championship. History may yet again repeat itself, as Ruman continues her pursuit of a three-peat.
Likewise, Simon Gregg, another previous champ and driver of the No. 59 Derhaag Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette, remains in the championship top five—consistently running towards the top of the TA class charts. And while not directly within championship contention, other drivers remain capable of mixing it up atop the podium—just as TA2 competitor Cameron Lawrence, in the No. 6 Derhaag Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette, did at Brainerd where he secured a career first TA class win. David Pintaric, in the No. 59 Kryderacing Cadillac CTS-V, has landed on the podium twice in three appearances this year— the only time Pintaric missed out was due to a technical disqualification after a provisional third place finish at Sebring.
In TA2, Gar Robinson, in the No. 74 Pura Vida Tequila/ 74 Ranch Resort Chevrolet Camaro, has capitalized early on in the season— finishing first in three competitions thus far, second in two others and missing the podium only once with a fourth place finish at Road Atlanta. Now Robinson, the 2015 TA2 champ, enters the break with a 27-point lead over the competition; and while he seems somewhat comfortable, an early race exit at any of the remaining seven competitions could open the door for the rest of the ever-competitive TA2 field.
Holding second in the points, despite some bad luck of his own, is Dillon Machavern, in the No. 24 Heritage Motorsports Ford Mustang, the victor of the Sebring opener and four-time podium finisher this year. Machavern has had the speed to compete all year but has battled contact and mechanicals throughout the season. Machavern’s flag-to-flag battle with Robinson at Indianapolis Motor Speedway stands as a potential preview of the remainder of the championship with the No. 24 and No. 74 likely to battle it out several more times before the season’s end.
Just one point behind Machavern sits Shane Lewis, in the No. 72 Pura Vida Tequila/ Robinson Racing Chevrolet Camaro, who has only missed the podium once this year and put on a showcase of skill at Indianapolis, driving from 25th on the grid to third over the run of the race. A veteran of endurance racing, Lewis has taken to the sprint format of Trans Am instantly—wheeling the tube-bodied TA2 cars to results that have powered him to a fourth place championship finish in 2015 and runner-up in 2016.
Defending TA2 champion Tony Buffomante, in the No. 34 Bestline Superior Lubricants Ford Mustang, sits two points behind Lewis and is set to enter the run of schedule that was critical to his championship win in 2017. Of the final seven races in 2016, which nearly mirror this year’s, Buffomante secured three victories, coming at Road America, Virginia International Raceway and NOLA. NOLA has now been replaced by New Jersey Motorsports Park, a venue where Buffomante also secured a victory in 2016. Buffomante’s two lackluster finishes from 2016 came at Watkins Glen, where he qualified on pole before suffering a first lap mechanical failure, and Mid-Ohio, where contact knocked the No. 34 back to a 22nd position finish— results he overcame to claim the championship and can really only improve on.
Holding fifth and sixth position in the TA2 championship and separated by a single point are Lawrence Loshak, in the No. 5 Pennzoil/ ETE REMAN Chevrolet Camaro, and Cameron Lawrence, in the No. 19 Class Auto Centers Chevrolet Camaro. For Loshak, Mid-Ohio looms—the sight of his dominant flag-to-flag win in 2016 and his first career TA2 pole in his Trans Am debut in 2014. The track stands as a historical point of success, one Loshak has seemed dialed into on every single appearance and could stand as a springboard for the final stretch of the season.
For Cameron Lawrence, a two-time TA2 champ, and the rookie Class Auto Motorsports team, the break lets the crew focus on continuing their development of the ever-improving No. 19; as they continue their work towards grinding out a top-three finish and class win against the established competition. Still, progress continues to be made under the Class Auto canopy; and the crew can take comfort in knowing their driver holds more TA2 victories than any other competitor in Trans Am history.
So far this year in TA3, Mark Boden, in the No. 46 Fall-Line/ Calypso Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, and Randy Kinsland, in the No. 11 Kinsland Racing Chevrolet Corvette, have put on a back-and-forth show between European engineering and American muscle—showcasing the potential of the TA3 class.
Boden enters the break with an eight-point lead over Kinsland after capturing wins at Indianapolis and Sebring and is yet to miss the podium. Kinsland remains hot on Boden’s heels with wins at Homestead-Miami and Road Atlanta, as well as a second place finish at Sebring. Entering the remainder of the season, their battle stands as the most contested in Trans Am and one well worth watching unfold.
Conor Flynn, in the No. 95 Irish Mikes Automotive Porsche 997, stands third in the points with podium finishes at Homestead-Miami, Road Atlanta and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While Flynn chases down the top two, he will also have to be mindful of the Fall-Line duo of Tim Kezman, in the No. 4 Fall-Line/ Calypso Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, and rookie Tom Herb, in the No 16 Fall-Line/ Calypso Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, who stand only two and 11 points behind him, respectively.
In TA4, Brian Kleeman, in the No. 07 DWW Motorsport Ford Mustang, holds a 22-point lead over Todd Napieralski, in the No. 39 Tremec/SKF/ Chevrolet Performance Chevrolet Camaro, after rattling off three consecutive victories to start off the year. Still, Napieralski has been with Kleeman every step of the way, finishing on the podium three times as well, with two second place finishes and a third to his name.
Chris Outzen, in the No. 97 DWW Motorsports Ford Mustang, finally cracked the podium at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and was well rewarded, moving up to third in the TA4 points. Now, Outzen will need to contend with rookie JR Pesek, in the No. 10 Rennsport KC Ford Mustang, who, after a Brainerd victory, suddenly stands only three points behind the No. 97 in the standings.
The Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli will return to the track at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 12th for the First Energy 100, as championship contenders and the entirety of the Trans Am field begin the second half of the Trans Am championship.