Connor Zilisch Dominates at VIR, Wins Race in First-Career TA Start and Becomes Youngest Winner in TA Class
October 7, 2023
Dyson Claims Third-Consecutive Title; Lowry, Saunders and Attaway Crowned Champions
ALTON, Va. (October 7, 2023) ? Connor Zilisch dominated the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli TA class event at VIRginia International Raceway, leading from start to finish in the all green-flag race and crossing the line with a 46-second advantage over second place. At 17 years old, Zilisch became the youngest driver to win a TA race in his first-career start in the class. Behind him, with a third-place finish, Chris Dyson clinched his third-consecutive championship in the class, becoming only the third driver in series history to win three or more back-to-back titles.
After winning the Motul Pole Award handily in yesterday’s qualifying session, Zilisch led the field to green in his No. 7 Franklin Road Apparel/Silver Hare Racing Chevrolet Camaro. The young driver was unchallenged on the start, immediately pulling ahead of his competitors to secure his lead. It took only three laps for Zilisch to pull out to an 11-second lead over second place, and that gap only grew as the race remained green for its duration. When he crossed the finish line after 30 laps, Zilisch was 46 seconds ahead of his closest rival.
While Zilisch checked out, the race behind him was heated. Justin Marks, who started second in his No. 99 Trackhouse/Jockey Chevrolet Camaro, had impressive speed, but went off course early in the first lap and dropped down to eighth. Third-place starter Martin Ragginger (No. 17 Top Liner/CP Tech Chevrolet Camaro) and fourth-place starter Dyson (No. 16 GYM WEED Ford Mustang) wrestled for position, with Dyson taking over second by the conclusion of lap one. Ragginger rode Dyson’s bumper until lap 15, when Ragginger used traffic to make a pass on the champion. By this time, Marks had elbowed his way up to fourth and began to stalk Dyson, finally working his way around him on lap 23. Ragginger, Marks and Dyson ran nose to tail in that order for the for the next several laps of the race, But Dyson reclaimed the third position and a podium finish just before the checkered flag waved. Marks was forced to settle for the fourth position, and Tomy Drissi in the No. 8 Lucas Oil Ford Mustang rounded out the top five.
“This is my first weekend driving a TA car with all this power, and it was the most fun I’ve ever had in a racecar,” said Zilisch in GYM WEED Winners Circle. “Coming out here with Franklin Road Apparel, Ken Thwaits, Showtime Motorsports and my TA2 team, Silver Hare Racing, and being given the opportunity to do this is really special to me. To have a really good weekend in my first showing is even better. Getting to drive these fast cars and getting to win is a two-for-one, and I’m happy. Thank you to the entire crew. They worked really hard to get me comfortable quickly and get me up to speed in these cars. It’s a lot different for me coming here and racing both cars and having to switch back and forth, but both of my teams have done a good job making sure I’m where I need to be. I can’t thank them all enough.”
Dyson was lauded on the podium for earning his third-consecutive TA championship, a feat only achieved by two other drivers in series history.
“What a season,” said Dyson. “This year never felt comfortable from the beginning. It’s been a hard slog. We’ve had great results and the team has worked so hard. We’ve been changing cars and running around getting engines sorted out all year. I have to hand it to all the guys. It was just so great, because there were times when we really had to pull together this year. I also have to thank Matt Brabham for coming in and pitching in early on. He did a super job for us. This is just amazing. I’m thankful for my great partnership with GYM WEED and the Picketts. I’m so grateful that I’ve got my family here; it’s wonderful having them here. The GYM WEED car is on the podium and we’re three-time champions. It hasn’t quite set in yet. I’m sure when it does, it’s going to be pretty special.”
Notes of Interest:
- Connor Zilisch was victorious in his first-career start in Trans Am’s TA class. He is the youngest TA class winner in Trans Am history at 17 years, three months and 15 days.
- When he took the green flag, Chris Dyson clinched his third-consecutive championship. He is one of only six drivers who have won three or more championships in the TA class. Three of them (Tommy Kendall, Ernie Francis Jr., Paul Gentilozzi) have won four championships each, while Peter Gregg and Scott Pruett have each won three.
- Before Dyson, only two drivers in Trans Am history had won three or more consecutive titles: Ernie Francis Jr. with four in a row (2017-2020), and Tommy Kendall with three in a row (1995-1997).
- Chris Dyson earned his ninth podium finish in a row. He has scored a podium finish at every race since NOLA Motorsports Park in March.
- Martin Ragginger scored a podium finish in his first Trans Am race of 2023. Ragginger’s last start in the series was at Sebring International Raceway in 2022.
- Lee Saunders earned his seventh victory in just nine starts en route to his third-career championship. Saunders has won every race he has participated in since Lime Rock Park in May.
- Four champions were crowned following today’s race:
- TA – Chris Dyson
- XGT – Danny Lowry
- SGT – Lee Saunders
- GT – Michael Attaway
TA Top Five:
1. Connor Zilisch, No. 7 Franklin Road Apparel/Silver Hare Racing Chevrolet Camaro
2. Martin Ragginger, No. 17 Top Liner/CP Tech Chevrolet Camaro
3. Chris Dyson, No. 16 GYM WEED Ford Mustang
4. Justin Marks, No. 99 Trackhouse/Jockey Chevrolet Camaro
5. Tomy Drissi, No. 8 Lucas Oil Ford Mustang
TA Masters Award:
Kerry Hitt, No. 22 Advanced Composite Products Inc. Chevrolet Camaro
COOLSHIRT Cool Move of the Race:
Martin Ragginger, No. 17 Top Liner/CP Tech Chevrolet Camaro
Serck Precision Award
Chris Dyson, No. 16 GYM WEED Ford Mustang
It was an exciting race for the XGT class, with tight competition between Danny Lowry in the No. 43 Bennett/BridgeHaul/Pitboxes.com Mercedes AMG GT3 and Ricky Sanders in the No. 18 BridgeHaul/Bennett Family of Companies Audi R8 LMS battling from green flag to checkers. For a majority of the event, the two were running within half a second of each other. While Lowry never gave up the lead, Sanders was always close at hand. Shannon Herford in the No. 51 NAPM Inc. Porsche 911 GT3R had a solid showing in his first-career Trans Am event, but was forced to retire early due to bodywork issues. At the wave of the checkered flag, Lowry claimed his first championship in the Trans Am series.
“It feels pretty good today,” said Lowry. “A couple years ago, we were debating about coming out here to Trans Am and we were like, ‘do we really belong out here with these high-quality drivers?’ We came out and we were welcomed in with open arms; it’s been a big family since then. It’s been a lot of fun and racing here has been really good for us. We’re looking forward to next season. I would really like to thank Shannon [Herford] for coming racing with us today. It’s been great to have him. He qualified really fast. I knew he was going to be tough during the race, and, of course, so was my buddy Ricky [Sanders] here. He and I are always going at it, so we had a lot of fun out there today. VIR is wonderful to race and Trans Am is fantastic.
1. Danny Lowry, No. 43 Bennett/BridgeHaul/Pitboxes.com Mercedes AMG GT3
2. Ricky Sanders, No. 18 BridgeHaul/Bennett Family of Companies Audi R8 LMS
3. Shannon Herford, No. 51 NAPM Inc. Porsche 911 GT3R
Lee Saunders in the No. 84 LandSearch LLC Dodge Viper checked out on his SGT competitors early in the race, leading from start to finish. For most of the race, last year’s SGT champion, Milton Grant in the No. 55 Springhill Suites/Sentry Self Storage Porsche 991.1 GT3 Cup, held the second spot, but on lap 26 he was passed by Richard Forsythe in the No. 58 Sambuca Restaurant/GSpeed Chevrolet Corvette. Forsythe earned his second podium finish in only two-career starts, and Saunders clinched his third-career SGT championship.
“It feels good to win this race and win this championship,” said Saunders. “I just want to start off by thanking God for this beautiful day and this beautiful track and for keeping us safe. I want to thank my wife for putting up with this, my kids for coming, KSR, Kevin Smith, my crew chief, Drew and Eddie. Those guys do a fantastic prep job. It’s 95-percent crew chief and 5-percent driver.”
1. Lee Saunders, No. 84 LandSearch LLC Dodge Viper
2. Richard Forsythe, No. 58 Sambuca Restaurant/GSpeed Chevrolet Corvette
3. Milton Grant, No. 55 Springhill Suites/Sentry Self Storage Porsche 991.1 GT3 Cup
Chris Coffey in the No. 97 Norwood Auto Italia/Traffic Grafix Maserati MC GT4 led from flag to flag in the GT class. Coffey started first in class and maintained an impressive lead over Michael Attaway in the No. 91 Bennett/BridgeHaul/Pitboxes.com Audi R8, who clinched the 2023 GT championship after starting today’s race.
“Today was great,” said Coffey. “The track was great and the car didn’t really fall off at any point. I want to thank David Rice and Jack, my truck driver and crew chief, and Colin Cohen, who is the person who makes all this possible for me.”
1. Chris Coffey, No. 97 Norwood Auto Italia/Traffic Grafix Maserati MC GT4
2. Michael Attaway, No. 91 Bennett/BridgeHaul/Pitboxes.com Audi R8
Full official race results can be found here.
The replay of today’s race will air on MAVTV on Thursday, October 12 at 9:00 p.m. ET.
The Trans Am Series TA/XGT/SGT/GT classes return to the track for the season finale at Circuit of The Americas on November 2-5.