Tony Buffomante ready for TA2 challenge
February 26, 2017
The reigning TA2 champ on fresh wheels, the competition and what it will take to go back-to-back in 2017
2016 was good to Tony Buffomante. As in five wins, five poles, seven podiums and a championship good.
Now enter 2017. With Sebring International Raceway just around the corner, comes a new set of challenges for the defending TA2 champ, along with a new set of opportunities.
Buffomante is ready to once more settle in behind the wheel of the No. 34 Bestline Superior Lubricants Ford Mustang, ready to do his best to defend his title belt in the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli’s ultracompetitive TA2 class. But he will not be doing so alone; as the partners from his 2015 championship run are still in place and the Mike Cope Racing Enterprises team is ready and raring to go.
“I’m really proud of the fact we have some great partners returning with us for 2017,” said Buffomante. “We’ll have Ilmor returning again this year. It’s been fantastic working with them developing the TA2 engine package we use and I’m looking forward to continuing that process. Wilwood Disc Brakes will be returning as well, and they’ve done a great job too—not just making sure the brakes are at the best on our fast lap but on our last lap. Also, Best Line Superior Lubricants will be back with us as well.”
While the partners under the Mike Cope tent will be similar, the car underneath Buffomante will be completely new.
“For the first time in TA2, we’ll have a completely new ride to work with,” said Buffomante. “I spoke about this at the banquet last year, but ever since my first race with Cope at VIR in 2014, I’ve been running the same piece. This offseason the guys at the shop have been putting in an incredible amount of work building a new chassis for us. I haven’t had the opportunity to put in a ton of offseason testing, but I know some of my teammates at Cope have been doing plenty of work with the new Pirelli tires. They know what they’re doing, and I’m confident we’ll have a great starting point come Sebring.”
Sebring will feature a total of 33 TA2 cars, including Buffomante— who expects the competition to be fierce, not just at Sebring but throughout the year. Included in that competition will be returning 2014 and 2015 TA2 Champion Cameron Lawrence, joining Buffomante and Gar Robinson as past champions participating in 2016.
“The thing about Cameron is he’s in a Cope car now,” said Buffomante. “While it’s a new team and a new car, you just know he’ll be tough. I know the team struggled a little bit at Daytona to close out the year, but they’ve had some time now and I think will show some speed. Honestly, I think one to watch out for will be LP Montour. He put in some serious performances when he was in the Dodge, and now he’s under our tent at Mike Cope. He’ll have access to the same data and communication all of our team does, and I think with that in hand he’ll only be quicker.”
“Then there’s Robinson Racing,” continued Buffomante. “You know Gar and Shane will be quick. Shane, in particular, really shone towards the end of last year; and I think he’ll only get better. And, honestly, I think some of the rule changes from over the offseason assist in that effort. We’ve seen the Ford engines restricted once more, and we’ve seen bump stops eliminated from the TA2 packages— something we’ve worked on at Mike Cope for years and had really perfected the science of. So I think there are plenty of things that will see them start off the season with some serious speed, just like Gar did at Sebring in 2016.”
2017 will also feature two distinctly new challenges for Buffomante, coming in the form of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix presented by Lear, both now full components in the 2017 Trans Am Championship.
“I’m really excited about what the Series is doing,” said Buffomante, “getting us into these new markets with new promotions. Having Trans Am back at Detroit and having it be a part of the points championship is huge, and visiting Indianapolis with SVRA will be an incredible experience as well. I’m pleased Trans Am has made this commitment to push and drive into new markets. And while I disagree on the number of races, ideally I’d like to see around 10 events, I have to commend Trans Am for its efforts— these new races and recent promotions are great.”
At the end of the day it all comes down to one thing for Buffomante, defending his championship. Still, in that regard his mindset remains founded in hard work and bringing back the same elements that helped propel him to the 2016 title.
“Well, my eight-year-old tells me the only thing harder than winning a championship is defending a championship,” said Buffomante. “We know we have to keep up the hard work; it’s just too competitive to think you can just do the same thing you did the year before without changing anything. I think the title defense will come down to three things. One, we have to stay hungry. Our desire to win has to be on the same level as it was before the championship. Two, we have to minimize our errors. On top of that we already know we’re going to miss Homestead-Miami, so there goes our potential for a mulligan— my schedule just couldn’t allow for me to make the race— we’re just going to have to execute flawlessly and hope we don’t need it. Three, I have to keep driving the same way. I like to call it driving ‘with controlled aggression.’ I’m proud of the fact that up until Daytona last year we didn’t have a single scratch on that car but were able to be so competitive over the course of the season.”
With all of the challenges ahead for Buffomante, he’s more than ready to get back behind the wheel after what has amounted to a lengthy absence, even though his return to the No. 34 might take a few more days than anticipated.
“I haven’t been in a racecar since I stepped out of the car at Daytona,” said Buffomante, “and it won’t be until Friday at Sebring that I’ll get behind the wheel again. Fortunately, my crew chief Travis (Cope) will be shaking it down for me. I’ve got the utmost confidence that we’ll be ready to go; we’ve got a great team at Mike Cope.”
You can see Tony Buffomante, the TA2 class and the entirety of the Trans Am Series, presented by Pirelli, at Sebring International Raceway on March 3-5 for Round 1 of the 2017 Trans Am Championship alongside the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association.