Ernie Francis Jr. and Shane Lewis secured their respective Trans Am poles for Saturday’s Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli races at Circuit of The Americas, while Kurt Fazekus would lead the TA3 class in qualifying and Lewis, guest driving in TA4 as well, turned his second fast lap of the afternoon.
The pole marks the sixth of the season for Francis, Jr., and will put the No. 98 FramelessShowerDoors.com Ford Mustang at the front of the 30-car field for The COTA Trans American, 102.81 miles (30 laps) around the 3.427-mile, 20-turn COTA surface with the TA class being joined by TA3 and TA4 in a multi-class competition.
Francis and the Breathless Pro Racing team secured the TA class championship last round at New Jersey Motorsports Park, but his recent success did not stop the recently minted champ from turning a 2:09.096 lap, taking pole by over a second.
“The car is running great,” said Francis. “I’ve got to thank the guys from FramelessShowerDoors.com for getting us out here, R&B Company and Buoniconti Fund as well — the new look on the No. 98 is amazing. We’ve got the championship, but I’m still having fun. The car felt awesome in practice on old tires, but we saw the times everyone was running and thought we could match them with stickers. We threw them on, dropped another second and went from there.”
With several new faces behind Francis, the pole position comes event sweeter for the 19-year-old champ.
“I like seeing the new faces; it definitely helps us out,” said Francis. “We’ve proven throughout the year that we can race with some of these new faces that are coming into TA and run with them at the front. We’ll have to work for this win; and as more come in, I hope they see the talent in TA. They’ll have to work for it too if they want to beat us.”
Following Francis was one of those new faces, coming in the shape of long-time TA2 competitor Lawrence Loshak, in the No. 50 Pennzoil/ GoShare Chevrolet Camaro, who turned a 2:10.123 in his first TA class qualifying session.
Trans Am veteran Paul Fix, making his third appearance of the season in the No. 4 StopFlex/TheCarCoach Ford Mustang, would just edge Justin Marks, debuting the No. 25 Katerra Chevrolet Camaro, for third starting position with Fix turning a 2:10.229 to Marks’ 2:10.299.
Current championship points runner up Vinnie Allegretta, in the No. 41 TA Sights & Sounds Chevrolet Corvette, secured fifth starting position with a 2:11.752.
The TA class qualifying top ten also included in order, Tomy Drissi, Amy Ruman, Simon Gregg, Greg Pickett and Kerry Hitt.
Shane Lewis would secure his first TA2 pole of 2017 in the No. 72 Pura Vida Tequila/ 74 Ranch Resort Chevrolet Camaro, and fifth of his career, and will lead the 31-car TA2 field to the green flag for the Trans American Muscle Car Challenge. Lewis, entered as a competitor for TA2 in both the primary championship and West Coast, also secured pole in TA4 as a guest driver in the No. 22 Rennsport KC Ford Mustang, flying a tribute livery to Mel Shaw. Lewis would turn a track record
“This is just a phenomenal day,” said Lewis. “It probably sounds like people say this over and over again, but the Robinson team give me the best car. The give Gar (Robinson) the best car. We’ve had equal equipment, and Gar’s been whooping my ass all year. To finally get one means I really earned this one. Gar and Matos were neck-in-neck all session; and when they told me their lap times, I thought, ‘there’s no way.’ But that’s when you dig deep and try to bring something back to the team. I’m very fortunate to be driving this car.”
“I’m having a great time driving the No. 72, but I’m also having a great time driving the No. 22 in memory of Mel Shaw for JR Pesek,” said Lewis. “Shaw was a comrade, a good guy and we miss him dearly. For them to ask me to field the car for them, it’s a real honor.”
Lewis was followed in the session by teammate and championship points leader Gar Robinson, in the No. 74 Pura Vida Tequila/ 74 Ranch Resort Chevrolet Camaro, who turned a 2:13.721, just barely edging out Rafa Matos, in the No. 88 3-Dimensional Services Group Chevrolet Camaro, who turned a 2:14.097.
West Coast TA2 competitor Thomas Merrill, in the No. 81 Big Diehl Ford Mustang, would turn a 2:14.097 in his TA2 debut to secure fourth starting position; while defending TA2 champ Tony Buffomante, in the No. 34 Best Line Superior Lubricants Ford Mustang, turned a 2:14.135 to qualify fifth.
TA3 debutant Kurt Fazekas, in the No. 52 Kelly-Moss Porsche GT3, will start his first Trans Am Series race at the head of his class after turning a qualifying track-record 2:15.702 lap—shattering the previous mark of 2:19.876 set only a year ago.
Alongside Fazekas will be current points leader Mark Boden, in the No. 46 Fall-Line Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3, after turning a 2:16.358 lap of his own. Boden entered the round with only 13 points separating himself and teammate Tim Kezman; the second position start gives Boden an additional two points towards that effort.
Road America victor Jason Daskalos, in the No. 7 Daskalos Dodge Viper Comp Coupe, qualified third with a time of 2:16.695; while Rookie of the Year Tom Herb, in the No. 16 Fall-Line Porsche 911 GT3, and Dirk Leuenberger, in the No. 35 Lux Performance Group Dodge Viper, completed the class top five with times of 2:18.678 and 2:21.041, respectively.
In TA4, Lewis’ No. 22 led the way with a qualifying time of 2:22.363, beating out points leader Brian Kleeman, in the No. 07 DWW Motorsports Ford Mustang, who turned a time of 2:23.727, for the production class’ top spot.
Rookie Joe Bogetich, in the No. 65 Westover Controls Ford Mustang, was third quick with a time of 2:24.830, with Todd Napieralksi, in the No. 39 Chevrolet Performance/ Tremec Chevrolet Camaro, and Guy Dreier, in the No. 13 Guy Dreier Designs Maserati Gran Turismo GT4, completed the top five with times of 2:24.873 and 2:26.737, respectively.
The weekend’s competition features both the Trans Am Championship presented by Pirelli and the Trans Am West Coast Championship running alongside each other, with separate points awarded depending of their finishing order within their individual championships.