Trans Am's weeked at Brainerd International Raceway
January 4, 2013
When the Trans Am Series headed northward to Brainered International Raceway for Round 7 of the 2013 Season, many members of the Trans Am paddock were skeptical of what lay ahead of them.
They faced a newly resurfaced track with modifications to the surface width and minor elevation tweaks. In the past, teams were forced to painstakingly adjust their car setups little by little to save tires on what was the most abrasive surface on the Trans Am schedule. It was a survivor’s track. A track that always seemed to throw something unexpected the driver’s way and resulted in some of the most exciting and unpredictable racing each year.
And as it turns out, new surface and all, some things never change.
The Trans Am Series rolled into the paddock at BIR for the 26th Annual Muscle Car Shootout with the largest car count to grace the historic track since 1989—and while the 23 cars in participation do account for the smallest field of the year for Trans Am, it outsizes the prior entries from 2012 and 2011 by a long shot—a show of progress on the Northern track for the Trans Am Series.
After a Friday full of much needed testing as teams attempted to feel out the new surface, learning the new lines and braking points, Trans Am took to the track for the first official session of the weekend, a 10:00 a.m. practice.
Joining them was a surprise entry of Jed Copham, the owner of the Brainerd International Raceway, who was quick to take advantage of Derhaag Motorsports’ spare car. His entry in the #40 Derhaag Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette marked his first ever Trans Am race and in a TA racecar.
“These TA cars are a lot more car than I’m used to,” Copham said. “Compared to the very light open wheel cars I usually drive, this is a completely different style. The lines you need to take are different, the braking zones are different, the turning points—it’s all different one way or another. But these cars are great to drive… they’re 850-plus horsepower Corvettes. They’re ready to rock.”
The session went off with little incident and impressive times were logged in the moderate morning weather. Doug Peterson, in the #87 3Dimensional.com Chevrolet Corvette, led the TA pack, as many would expect a points leader to, with a time of 1:28.636, impressive and a testament to the ability behind the wheel he has shown all year and the power of the car underneath him, courtesy of Tony Ave Motorsports.
Tony Ave himself set the second fastest time of the session, a 1:29.632, in his first outing in the #4 Lamers Motorsports/PME Engines/RPX Chevrolet Corvette since Canadian Tire Motorsport Park during Round 2 of this season.
Following Ave was the trio of Cliff Ebben, in the #36 Stumpf Ford/McMahon Group Ford Mustang—hot off his win at Mid-Ohio, Amy Ruman, piloting the #23 McNichols Chevrolet Corvette, and defending TA Champion Simon Gregg, in the #1 Gregg Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette, all roughly within a second of Ave.
In TA2, Robert Huffmaster showed off the talent that has earned him the highest point position of any rookie this year. He powered the #27 Kryderacing/VirSec Chevrolet Camaro to a time of 1:33.960; beating out the likes of two-time defending TA2 Champion Bob Stretch, in the #98 Wheels America/Fix Rim Mobile Chevrolet Corvette, and current points leader Cameron Lawrence, in the #11 Ctek/Motorstate/North Star Battery Chevrolet Camaro.
TA3 had its own excitement as well, with Tim Gray’s #60 Ryan Companies US Inc/Porsche GT-3 Cup 997 leading the way as the production-based class felt out the track.
However, conditions changed sharply come time for the second practice. Temperatures had skyrocketed, and the ground pounding engines throughout the Trans Am classes struggled as a result.
The always technical and precise Ebben took advantage of the situations, weaving through the track for the best time of the session—but Gregg, Ruman and Peterson were all within a half-a-second of him and the #36 Mustang in the sweltering heat. Ebben’s best time, a 1:30.400 was well off of Peterson’s time from the morning session but so was that of Peterson himself—a 1:30.839.
It was a similar story in TA2 as rows of LS3s choked on the thick hot air. Stretch led the session with a time of 1:34.592, just edging Huffmaster by a mere half second as Cameron Lawrence held the third position. Still, despite slowed conditions, the top three remained the same in the class.
Come Sunday morning for qualifying, the weather had changed once again. Instead of dealing with harsh heat and an oily track, Trans Am competitors had a freashly washed surface and cool weather, courtesy of a series of thunderstorms through the night.
With the engines reinvigorated the Trans Am paddock headed out for the morning qualifying session, spilt into two fifteen minute segments, one for the TA class and one for the TA2 and TA3 classes.
The TA session came down to the finest of margins with Doug Peterson and the #87 Corvette beating out Simon Gregg and the #1 Corvette, 1:26.851 opposed to 1:26.986. The two times were a snapshot of the year, Gregg always performing and doing well in the defense of his championship, but Peterson always that vital step ahead.
Cliff Ebben, now in the #66 Stumpf Ford/McMahon Group Ford Mustang, was third in the session with a time of 1:27.966, still a vast improvement over his time the prior day.
The TA class ran at least two seconds faster on average in the qualifying session than the prior day’s practices, a testament to the changed weather and track conditions. Both Gregg and Peterson were below the prior qualifying record, but Peterson’s mark of 1:26.851 became the new record.
In TA2, Robert Huffmaster and the #27 Kryderacing/VirSec Chevrolet Camaro put on a show, setting a new qualifying record of 1:31.980 for the class and beating out then, and current, points leader Lawrence. Huffmaster’s time was a full second ahead of Lawrence’s and a good three seconds faster than most of the TA2 pack.
Following Lawrence was Stretch and the #98 Camaro, and Lawrence’s teammate, Pete Halsmer in the #12 Ctek/Motorstate/Chevrolet Camaro.
In TA3, David Seuss and the #9 Northern Light/Porsche 996 GT3 would claim first position for the impending afternoon race with a time of 1:41.317, followed by Gray, defending TA3 Champion Chuck Cassaro, in the #76 StackData/Aeromotive/ Metallica Ford Mustang and Rob Bodle in the #16 Caribbean Food Delights Ford Mustang.
Conditions remained relatively stable over the course of the day for the 4:00 p.m., 40 lap race on the 2.5 mile competition course. As the cars lined up in pre-grid a very evident reality set in. For those who frequent Brainerd International Raceway they know that the historic track has an intimate setting for grid and pre-grid. It allows the fans to line up along the cars, nearly an arm’s reach away, as they go down the lane and wrap along the curve at the edge of the paddock. It provides one of the most intimate and interactive environments in motorsports. However, in past years at BIR the cars took just the first few sections of the grid.
Now that line of cars extends, filling the grid in its entirety. Numbers on a page are one thing for car count, but to see the physical Trans Am field filling a track’s grid is another. It’s a physical representation of how far Trans Am has come—for all to see.
The race began with Doug Peterson, Robert Huffmaster and David Seuss in first position in their respective classes. But the TA class underwent a quick reshuffling of cars during the first lap. Tony Ave shot from fourth to second immediately, rushing past both Gregg and Ebben. Amy Ruman mounted a similar effort, overcoming both Gregg and Ebben as well.
Unfortunately for Ruman, her push towards the front was cut short one lap later when she hit a soft spot on the track and spun; and, while she quickly recovered, she also lost the position she had worked so hard to obtain.
Undeterred, Ruman made up the ground she’d lost at a furious rate, turning a record lap time of 1:28.974 in her wake. She made her way through the TA2 crowd and most of the TA field until lap eight when she once again passed Simon Gregg and his teammate Jed Copham, moving her back into third place, darting past them with quick committed passes.
A rather lengthy full course yellow allowed Ruman a far easier path to catching up with Peterson and Ave. However, the three TA drivers crossed the finish line in that order, Peterson, Ave and Ruman—but not for want of trying, the three drivers, and Simon Gregg, raced bumper to bumper for the final five laps of the race, each trying to one up the other with little avail.
“I knew that I wanted to set a quick pace for the first few laps to create a bit of a gap between myself and the competition,” Peterson said, remaking on his victory. “Amy had a few issues early on so we were able to build that lead, and I went into cruise control for a while. But then we did go under a double yellow and it brought everyone back together. Amy was very fast at the end of the race, she really gave us a run for the money—I congratulated her on that, but fortunately we were able to hold position for the victory.”
The win was Peterson’s fifth of the year, and he now holds a commanding points lead; however, he insists he will not be taking any of the upcoming races for granted or taking them easy, despite his ability to potentially clinch a Championship at VIR.
“I don’t know exactly where I am in the points, but we go race by race and hope for the best,” Peterson said. “The team really does a phenomenal job setting up these cars and that makes it easy for me.”
In TA2, Huffmaster started in first position and quickly asserted himself on the track. Stretch shot up from third to second, overtaking Cameron Lawrence in what has become his signature fast start—however, he was unable to close the gap with Huffmaster, who was continuing to create space between himself and the rest of the TA2 pack.
Then just as quickly as Stretch had moved his way forward, he dropped off—entering the pits during the fourth lap of the race, where he remained for the duration, retiring due to a mechanical failure.
Pete Halsmer, in the #12 Ctek/Motorstate/North Star Battery Chevrolet Camaro, moved up into third position as Lawrence pushed into second. They remained in that order from lap four to lap 31, through two full course cautions. Then upon the restart, Huffmaster was faced with a mechanical breakdown and was forced to limp his way back to the pits, a disappointing end to an otherwise commanding performance by the rookie, as he led the most laps of the race for the TA2 class.
Lawrence moved up into first place, Huffmaster’s misfortune now his fortune, and was now the class leader. Halsmer followed him in second, and Gregg Rodgers, driver of the #33 Pinnacle Autosport Chevrolet Camaro, took advantage of the situation and began to bear down on Halsmer. Despite Rodgers’ efforts, Halsmer was able to fend off the #33 car and all three crossed the finish line in that order.
“We knew that Robbie and Bob had run fast all weekend,” Lawrence said. “But I was focused on driving smart, and it eventually paid off. It’s great to take home another victory for Miller Racing, and going forward we’re just going to play it smart. We have a solid point lead, and we’re going to keep the car in good shape. We don’t need to push for first place every time or that extra point for pole, so we’ll save the car and race smart like we always do.”
Lawrence walked away with his fifth victory of the season and the TA2 track record time of 1:33.779 in hand as well.
In TA3, David Seuss and the #9 Nothern Light Porsche 996 GT3 emerged victorious and with the track record in hand, beating out Minnesota native Tim Gray and Rob Bodle who finished second and third.
Defending TA3 Champion Chuck Cassaro was the victim of an unfortunate crash and did not finish the race. He was taken to a nearby hospital for precautionary reasons; Cassaro was released later that evening.
Next up on the Trans Am circuit will be Round 8 at Virginia International Raceway on Sunday September 29, 2013.