Paul Menard Wins TA Season-Opener at Sebring After First-Lap Crash Derails Dyson and Francis Jr.

February 25, 2024

Paul Menard Wins TA Season-Opener at Sebring After First-Lap Crash Derails Dyson and Francis Jr.

Lowry Takes XGT, Saunders Continues Sebring Streak in SGT, Chris Coffey Wins Thrilling GT Race

SEBRING, Fla. (February 25, 2024) ? The Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli season-opener at Sebring International Raceway started off with a bang, beginning with a crash in the first turn of the race that took out two former champions and ending with last-lap charge for the win. After defending three-time champion Chris Dyson made contact with polesitter and four-time champion Ernie Francis Jr. just seconds after the green flag, Paul Menard was able to cruise to victory, but not without a late challenge from 1986 champion Wally Dallenbach Jr.

Sebring marked the exciting surprise homecoming of Trans Am’s winningest driver, Francis Jr., returning to the TA class for the first time in two years to fill in for an ill driver. Francis Jr. didn’t waste any time getting up to speed, and he claimed the pole for the first time since the Trans Am season finale at Circuit of The Americas in 2021. Unfortunately, Francis Jr. didn’t hold the point position for long after the start of the race, as third-place starter Dyson hit a bump on the track’s rough surface and momentarily lost traction in his No. 16 GYM WEED Ford Mustang, touching Francis Jr.’s No. 79 ECC/Anchor Bolt & Screw Dodge Challenger and sending it careening into the wall. The incident brought an end to both drivers’ day, resulting in a last-place finish for Dyson, who is in pursuit of his fourth-consecutive TA title, which would tie Francis Jr.’s record.

The rough start for his competitors presented an opportunity for second-place starter Menard in the No. 3 Menards Ford Mustang, who inherited the lead. Once the green flag waved for the restart, Menard was able to pull out in front of his competitors, driving away with a solid lead. Behind Menard was a competitive scramble, as Keith Grant (No. 40 Drissi Motorsports/Showtime Camaro), Tomy Drissi (No. 8 Franklin Road Apparel Camaro), Wally Dallenbach Jr. (No. 4 Ultimate Headers Mustang) and Amy Ruman (No. 23 McNichols Co. Corvette) battled hard for second through fifth, respectively, running in a tight pack and swapping positions.

Following a restart on lap 18, Dallenbach Jr. was able to make an impressive jump from fourth into second, and he began to stalk Menard. Meanwhile, Drissi and Ruman both got past Grant and began to battle for the third position. While Menard opened up nearly a five-second gap over Dallenbach Jr., it was slowly chipped away in the final laps as Dallenbach Jr. consistently posted the fastest lap times. On the final lap, Dallenbach Jr. made a final surge, but ran out of time before the checkered flag waved. Behind them, after battling back and forth for position with Drissi, Ruman made an impressive pass for the lead on the second-to-last lap, securing the third spot on the podium.

“It’s pretty awesome; the deal to race this year came together fairly quickly with Paul Gentilozzi and 3GT Racing,” said Menard on the podium. “We started talking over the winter and decided, ‘Let's go racing.’ He wanted to do it, I wanted to do it, and we had some support from Menards and Masterforce. It’s great to be back in a Ford Mustang. I've had a great relationship with them through the years and the motor is so smooth. It's a smooth engine, built for road racing. The car was just fast all weekend, we hardly put a tire wrong in it. Wally [Dallenbach Jr.]; man, he was coming at the end. I had to push it a lot harder than I wanted to, but he was fast. Congratulations to these two up here. I’m hoping to do the whole season and give [Chris] Dyson a run for his money.”

Notes of Interest:

  • This was Paul Menard’s second Trans Am win in 14-career starts. Menard last visited GYM WEED Winners Circle at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2022.
  • Wally Dallenbach Jr.’s second-place finish was achieved in a brand-new Meissen chassis, which he took delivery of just days before this weekend’s event and had not made a lap in until Friday’s first test session.
  • This was Amy Ruman’s first podium finish since WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in 2022.
  • Saunders earned his second-consecutive win and seventh-career victory at Sebring International Raceway. He is the winningest driver at the track of anyone entered in this weekend’s event.
  • This was Saunders’ seventh-consecutive SGT victory, continuing a winning streak which began at Lime Rock Park last year.
  • This was Chris Coffey’s fifth-straight GT victory. Coffey has won every race he’s started since Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course last season.

TA Top Five:
1. Paul Menard, No. 3 Menards Ford Mustang
2. Wally Dallenbach Jr., No. 4 Ultimate Headers Ford Mustang
3. Amy Ruman, No. 23 McNichols Co. Chevrolet Corvette
4. Tomy Drissi, No. 8 Franklin Road Apparel Chevrolet Camaro
5. Keith Grant, No. 40 Drissi Motorsports/Showtime Chevrolet Camaro

Danny Lowry was the only XGT competitor entered in this weekend’s event and his day ended prematurely when a crash on lap 18 forced the retirement of his No. 42 Bennett/BridgeHaul/ Mercedes AMG GT3.

XGT Results:
1. Danny Lowry, No. 42 Bennett/BridgeHaul/ Mercedes AMG GT3

Lee Saunders in the No. 84 LandSearch LLC Dodge Viper led from start to finish in the SGT class, but faced heavy competition from Richard Forsythe in the No. 58 GSpeed/Sambuca Restaurant Chevrolet Corvette, despite Forsythe fighting transmission issues. The two ran nose to tail for the entire race, holding a large margin over third-place Joshua Carlson in the No. 36 Enseva/TC Fab/Diercks Ltd. Ford Mustang.

“First of all, I'd like to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” said Saunders. “What a wonderful day. I’m grateful for living in this wonderful country that allows us to do this. Thanks to the crowd for coming out; it’s absolutely fantastic seeing this many people here. It was a clean race. Richard [Forsythe] was really keeping me worried. If he hadn't had transmission problems, we might have switched spots here. I want to tell you how big of a family Trans Am is. My normal crew wasn't able to make it this weekend, so I had competitors fill in. Unfortunately, Ricky Sanders had a problem, so he got to be my crew chief. And then we had Ken from Todd Napieralski's team fill in too. So that's just awesome. This is such a great group of people. It can't get any better than this.”

SGT Results:
1. Lee Saunders, No. 84 LandSearch LLC Dodge Viper
2. Richard Forsythe, No. 58 GSpeed/Sambuca Restaurant Chevrolet Corvette
3. Joshua Carlson, No. 36 Enseva/TC Fab/Diercks Ltd. Ford Mustang
4. Kaylee Bryson, No. 01 Logical Systems Inc./Sam Pierce Chevrolet Corvette

The GT class offered some of the closest and most compelling racing of the day, as the top-four competitors swapped positions throughout the entire 27-lap event. Chris Coffey in the No. 97 Norwood Auto Italia/Traffic Grafix Maserati MC GT4 started first and maintained the lead through lap 17, fending off multiple challenges by Joey DaSilva in the No. 67 Ave Motorsports Toyota Supra that kept the two within two-tenths of a second of each other. On lap 18, Jeff Lindstrom got into the mix and took the lead in his No. 41 Griffin Auto Care/Sheehan’s Towing Ford Mustang. All three engaged in an intense battle, with Coffey resuming the lead on lap 20, and DaSilva finally getting out front on lap 23. By the time the checkered flag waved, it was Coffey once again in the front, followed by DaSilva and Coffey’s teammate Colin Cohen in the No. 38 Norwood Auto Italia/Traffic Grafix Maserati MC GT4 rounding out the podium.  

“It feels amazing,” said Coffey. “The first thing I have to do is thank this gentleman here, Colin Cohen. I absolutely couldn't be here without him. He signed me up to run a full season this year, so I'm looking forward to the next race already. I want to thank my wife and my crew, Alex and Xavier. This is the first time I've had an actual crew with me, so this is absolutely amazing. And this guy [DaSilva]: Super clean racing. He pushed me from the green flag. I mean, we changed positions, and the Mustang got out in front of both of us. It was an absolute battle to the end.”

GT Results:
1. Chris Coffey, No. 97 Norwood Auto Italia/Traffic Grafix Maserati MC GT4
2. Joey DaSilva, No. 67 Ave Motorsports Toyota Supra
3. Colin Cohen, No. 38 Norwood Auto Italia/Traffic Grafix Maserati MC GT4
4. Jeff Lindstrom, No. 41 Griffin Auto Care/Sheehan’s Towing Ford Mustang
5. Todd Napieralski, No. 39 SKF/Turn-Key/Bell’s Brewery Chevrolet Camaro

Final Details:
Full official race results can be found here.

The highlight show of today’s race will air on MAVTV on Thursday, February 29 at 9:00 p.m. ET.

The Trans Am Series TA/XGT/SGT/GT classes next hit the track at the Mission Foods Road Atlanta SpeedTour, March 21-24. Tickets can be purchased here on


blog comments powered by Disqus