Thomas Merrill Perfects the Art of Racing in the Rain at Lime Rock Park
May 28, 2022
Weather played a heavy role in the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli’s TA2 event at Lime Rock Park, resulting in varying tire strategies, advantages and disadvantages for competitors in the Memorial Day Classic. Ultimately, it was Thomas Merrill who came out ahead, running the entire 68 laps on the same set of rain tires and leaving the field in his mist.
2021 Lime Rock Park winner Mike Skeen in the No. 89 3Dimensional Services Group Mustang led the field to green after earning his second Motul Pole Award of the season, but it was Misha Goikhberg in the No. 20 BC Race Cars Mustang who jumped to the lead at the wave of the green flag. Skeen remained close behind Goikhberg, and on lap four, he was able to capitalize on a mistake by Goikhberg, taking the point position. His lead was short lived, however, as Thomas Merrill came from third to overtake both Goikhberg and Skeen in his No. 26 BridgeHaul/HP Tuners/Cope Race Cars Mustang.
It was at this point that the track, which was quite damp at the beginning of the race, began to dry, and competitors who had started on rain tires had make the decision to either dodge the dry spots or come to pit road for racing slicks. As many competitors with rain tires opted to come to pit road, Merrill held his position upon the advice of his Mike Cope Race Cars team. The decision to remain on rain tires paid off, as it began to sprinkle once again on lap 21, and the skies opened up just past the halfway point. Merrill carefully navigated the now soaking wet track on his rain tires, putting a safe distance between himself and the competitors behind him.
Merrill was trailed by Tyler Kicera in the No. 77 Liqui Moly/Turn 14 Distribution Camaro and Evan Slater in the No. 35 Cube 3 Architecture Mustang. On lap 36, the field saw its first full-course yellow, setting up a wet and wild restart on lap 42. A crash on lap 46 caused the second and final caution of the race, and led to another competitive restart in the rain. At that point, Slater began an awesome side-by-side battle with Cameron Lawrence in the No. 6 Franklin Road Apparel Camaro, with Slater ultimately making the pass. With seven laps remaining, both Slater and Lawrence got past Kicera, earning the second and third positions, respectively. In the final laps, Merrill was checked out with an impressive lead, and he easily took the checkered flag, followed by Slater and Lawrence.
“This win is a long time coming, and full credit goes to my team,” said Merrill in a wet Victory Lane. “I knew we had a good racecar, we were flying all weekend, and my team guided me through the whole race. They were looking at the forecast, they understood what was coming and made the call to stay on our rain tires and conserve them. It looked like the other guys were a little bit more conservative on their rain tires than we were early on, so I knew that if I could get in front and control the pace, I could save our tires as well. I said to my team, ‘Hey guys, just tell me what to do, tell me what lap times to run, and I’ll do it.’ I can’t say enough about this Mike Cope, BridgeHaul, HP Tuners team. It’s a pleasure to race for them, and we’re hoping for many more wins this season. We’re going to need to keep winning if we’re going to get back in this championship.”
Following the event, Slater was awarded the ChillOut Keep Cool Move of the Race for his pass on Tyler Kicera, and Connor Zilisch in the No. 5 Silver Hare Racing Camaro was awarded the Omologato custom-branded Trans Am watch, earning the Young Gun Fast Lap Award for being the Young Gun with the fastest lap of the race.
Doug Peterson in the No. 87 3Dimensional Services Group Mustang won the TA2 Masters award for the National Championship, while also receiving a special brick trophy from the series and his team commemorating his 100th start in Trans Am.
The broadcast of today’s race, presented by Big Machine Vodka SPIKED Coolers, will air on CBS Sports Network on Thursday, June 2 at 7:30 p.m. ET, with an encore presentation on Saturday, June 4 at 12:00 a.m. ET.
TA2 returns to the track June 23-26 with the Mid-Ohio SpeedTour at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Full race results can be found here.