Surprise XGT Entry Will Rodgers Comes From Back to Dominate Thunderhill Race 2, Michael LaPaglia Gets TA2 Win and Points Lead

March 3, 2024

Surprise XGT Entry Will Rodgers Comes From Back to Dominate Thunderhill Race 2, Michael LaPaglia Gets TA2 Win and Points Lead

Pickett Tops TA, Hampton First in GT

WILLOWS, Calif. (March 3, 2024) – Will Rodgers was a surprise competitor in Race 2 at Thunderhill Raceway Park, where his No. 2 Chris Evans Race Cars Ford Mustang was entered after Race 1, forcing him to start last in the field. However, Rodgers took little time navigating his XGT car to the front of the field and checked out, winning Race 2 of the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli Western Championship’s season opener.

Michael LaPaglia in the No. 31 Papini’s Garage/F.A.S.T. Auto Ford Mustang had a stellar points weekend, winning the CUBE 3 Architecture TA2 Series race today after finishing second in yesterday’s event, leaving Thunderhill with the points lead. After winning yesterday, both Michelle Nagai in XGT and Tim Barber in TA2 faced issues early on, forcing both to retire and finish in the last two positions, respectively.

Notes of Interest:

  • This is Rodgers’ fifth Western Championship XGT win in six starts, and the fourth overall win in his career.
  • Rodgers is also competing in the National Championship’s CUBE 3 Architecture TA2 Series this season.
  • This weekend marks LaPaglia’s one-year anniversary of racing in the TA2 Series. This is his second-career win in the class, with his first coming in the season finale at Circuit of The Americas last year.
  • TA winner Greg Pickett has won a Trans Am race in each of the last six decades. His last victory came at Sonoma Raceway last year.
  • Weather was a constant factor in this weekend’s events, and teams experienced a sprinkle of rain during the second half of today’s race.

XGT:

After facing mechanical issues in Saturday’s Race 1, team owner Chris Evans withdrew his No. 92 Central Welding Supply Ford Mustang from Sunday’s event. However, he had his team’s driver coach, Will Rodgers, on hand to pilot a backup entry, which was given a 22nd-place starting berth. Taking the green flag from the last position, Rodgers posted lap times that eclipsed his competitors, making his way up to seventh overall and first in the XGT class before a lap-three full-course caution. After the restart on lap seven, it only took one lap for Rodgers to take the overall lead. With a race that remained green until the finish, Rodgers drove away from the rest of the field, dominating until he took the checkered flag with an impressive advantage over second place.

That second-place competitor was Rick Wright in the No. 45 AR Motorsports Audi R8 LMS GT3, who started first in class and ninth overall. With 2022 TA2 champion Thomas Merrill coaching him in his ear once again, Wright also picked through the field with impressive speed, moving into second place overall on lap 17. He handily fended off any competitors going forward and maintained his position through the remainder of the race. Rob Gordon in the No. 79 Chris Evans Race Cars Ford Mustang finished third in class and eighth overall, while Tim Rankin in the No. 5 TCR IT Solutions Ford Mustang finished fourth.

Michelle Nagai in the No. 72 Nagai Racing/Berkeley Jet Drive Chevrolet Camaro, who won yesterday’s Race 1 and started second in the XGT class today, went off course with a flat tire on lap two following a multi-car bunch-up at the front of the field during the opening lap. Forced to retire, she finished last in class.

“That first-turn incident, that was pretty hairy; I don't know what the heck happened there,” said Rodgers. “I’m real bummed out for our teammate, Michelle [Nagai]. I really wish she was up here on the podium with us. Maybe we'll get Rick [Wright] in a [Chris Evans] XGT car later in the year. We can have a team XGT podium. Hats off to Chris Evans Racing, Jeff Jefferson, everybody on this team. It's the only reason I'm here. I feel very fortunate to be the exclusive coach for Chris Evans Racing and to be able to represent them behind the wheel. So, thank you, Chris, we had a good race. We'll go to Sonoma and hopefully do it again.”

XGT Results:
1. Will Rodgers, No. 2 Chris Evans Race Cars Ford Mustang
2. Rick Wright, No. 45 AR Motorsports Audi R8 LMS GT3
3. Rob Gordon, No. 79 Chris Evans Race Cars Ford Mustang
4. Tim Rankin, No. 5 TCR IT Solutions Ford Mustang
5. Michelle Nagai, No. 72 Nagai Racing/Berkeley Jet Drive Chevrolet Camaro

CUBE 3 Architecture TA2 Series:
The CUBE 3 Architecture TA2 Series competitors had a challenging race, with several hopeful contenders experiencing trouble in the 35-lap event. Yesterday’s race winner and fourth-place starter Tim Barber in the No. 33 DIG Motorsports Ford Mustang faced a mechanical issue before the green flag waved, pulling into the garage and finishing last in the field.

With the grid set by fastest times in yesterday’s race, Ken Sutherland in the No. 68 Kallberg Racing/Wyatt Fire Chevrolet Camaro started the race from the point position and maintained the lead through most of the first 10 laps, only facing a brief challenge from Bobby Hodges in the No. 54 NATC Ford Mustang. Unfortunately, Sutherland and Michael LaPaglia in the No. 31 Papini’s Garage/F.A.S.T. Auto Ford Mustang made side-by-side contact while LaPaglia was attempting a pass, which led to Sutherland spinning off course. The driver of the No. 68 was able to resume his race, but had dropped back to the eighth position.

LaPaglia took the class lead, quickly building a gap between his car and second-place Hodges. Behind them, Barry Boes in the No. 32 Accio Data/TRB Autosport Ford Mustang, Tim Lynn in the No. 17 RoofOptions Ford Mustang and Troy Ermish in the No. 38 Ermish Racing Ford Mustang jockeyed for positions in the top five. Ermish worked his way into third, followed by Lynn and Boes. The top five remained the same until lap 24, when Hodges spun, dropping down to fifth in class. Once Ermish and Lynn settled into second and third, respectively, they held their positions for the remaining 11 laps.

On lap 30, Sutherland battled his way back into the top five, passing Hodges and taking over fifth. In the closing laps, Sutherland was unable to make his way past Boes, who defended the fourth position until the race’s conclusion. LaPaglia, who never looked back after taking the lead early in the race, crossed the finish line to take his first victory of 2024.

“I couldn't be happier, coming in second yesterday and capitalizing and getting the win today in some pretty tricky conditions,” said LaPaglia. “This marks my one-year anniversary of racing TA2, so I’m happy with the progress we've made, happy with everything we've learned. It's been fun. It’s a great group of guys that we race with, a great organization. I’m so happy to be here. I want to thank my parents, my mom and dad. Mom couldn't be here, but dad is with me every step of the way, so thanks, Pops. And my father-in-law, Colin, my grandfather-in-law is here helping us out, my uncle Scott is here. And then, of course, Robert and Richard Papini from Papini’s Garage. They prepped the car and just basically make everything happen so I can get on track and do what I can do. It’s cool to have some family and friends here. It just makes it more fun, makes it more special for this win. So, cheers and thanks to everybody.”

CUBE 3 Architecture TA2 Series Top Five:
1. Michael LaPaglia, No. 31 Papini’s Garage/F.A.S.T. Auto Ford Mustang
2. Troy Ermish, No. 38 Ermish Racing Ford Mustang  
3. Tim Lynn, No. 17 RoofOptions Ford Mustang
4. Barry Boes, No. 32 Accio Data/TRB Autosport Ford Mustang
5. Ken Sutherland, No. 68 Kallberg Racing/Wyatt Fire Chevrolet Camaro

TA:
Both TA entries experienced troubles in Race 2. Winner Greg Pickett in the No. 6 Pickett Racing Ford Mustang was forced to start at the back of the field for not maintaining position on the pace laps, then went off course on lap four, requiring a tow. However, he returned to the track five laps later and was able to make it to the checkered flag. Steve Goldman in the No. 13 LIG Racing Chevrolet Corvette inherited the lead when Pickett went to the paddock, but spun on lap 19 and was forced to retire early with exhaust damage.

“Well, listen, that was a difficult one,” said Pickett. “Right at the start, we had some electrical problems. I pitted and we put it back together. Then it was pretty quick; it came alive a little bit. We made it through, but I've had more fun in a racecar before. To my crew, you guys are the best. I mean that. Steve Dix and all the boys. This means a lot to me at this old age; these are memories I won’t forget. Thanks to my family, you’re the best. My daughter is here with two little grandsons of mine that are badass go-karters. You just watch. One of these days, you're going to hear about those guys.”

TA Results:
1. Greg Pickett, No. 6 Pickett Racing Ford Mustang
2. Steve Goldman, No. 13 LIG Racing Chevrolet Corvette

GT:
As the only entry in GT, David Hampton diced it up with the other classes in his No. 14 AR Motorsports Porsche Cayman GT4 CS. After starting 21st overall, Hampton finished 15th, scoring his second win of the Thunderhill doubleheader.

“The race was pretty entertaining,” said Hampton on the podium. “I got a little salad in the front there, so I was looking for meat on the bone. We went off a little bit; it got slippery, but I just kept pushing and pushing and pushing. I was trying to slide the car a little bit, trying to get used to the new car. I really appreciate the fast drivers that were looking out for me. I was trying to look out for them and just stay where I was supposed to be. I’ve got to thank God for this. This was a great weekend. We came back with the car in one piece and I'm super happy about it. Thank you so much.”

GT Results:
1. David Hampton, No. 14 AR Motorsports Porsche Cayman GT4 CS

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

The Western Championship returns to the track at Sonoma Raceway for the Sonoma SpeedTour, April 18-21. Tickets can be purchased here.

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