UPDATE: Marc Miller, who provisionally finished fourth, was penalized 40 seconds for avoidable contact; Paul Tracy finished seventh in his series debut.
Rafa Matos captured his first career Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli victory today at Road Atlanta in the TA2 Muscle Car Challenge powered by AEM. Matos, making his seventh start in the No. 88 3-Dimensional Services Group Chevrolet Camaro, secured what had proven to be an elusive win through a second-to-last lap pass over Justin Haley during the 40-lap, 101.6-mile contest. Haley would finish second while Tony Buffomante captured third.
Matos began the race in fifth position but took lead of the 25-car TA2 field by lap four. The No. 88 held the lead into the race’s single, full-course caution on lap 13, for oil on the racing line, and through the restart on lap 19. Haley, polesitter and driver of the No. 99 Fraternal Order of Eagles Ford Mustang, would overtake Matos for the lead on lap 27.
Matos would pursue Haley for the remainder of the race with the duo separating themselves from the rest of the TA2 field by several seconds. While working the tail end of the 37th lap, the No. 99 of Haley was held up by the No. 13 of Matt Parent, running a lap behind, on the exit of turn 12, allowing Matos to make a pass for the lead in turn 12 – a lead he wouldn’t relinquish.
“I feel speechless,” said Matos. “When Doug Peterson first gave me the opportunity to run in this car, I had high expectations. To put the 3-Dimensional Services Group, Coleman Motorsports Camaro on top of the podium, finally, it’s like a dream come true. We’ve had really good runs, but we’ve never been able to get to the top spot. It feels like I finally got the monkey off my back, and I’m very happy – I think after this win, it will be a little bit easier to get the next one.”
Matos’ victory came in similar circumstance to Mike Miller’s pass for the lead, and win, at Sebring International Raceway over Matos, who had led the entirety of the Florida contest, just weeks ago. While Matos fell victim to lapped traffic in Round 1, he found opportunity in Atlanta for Round 2.
“I learned from Sebring,” said Matos. “I definitely learned form Sebring. I conserved my tires all race long, I conserved by brakes, I studied Justin (Haley) a lot. I studied where I was quicker than him – our car was very fast in the infield but he had more power in a straight line. I was, kind of, happy in second position – it would have given us the points lead – but when he caught lapped traffic I was able to pass.”
The competition marked the pro racing return for Paul Tracy, stepping in behind the wheel of the No. 87 3-Dimensional Services Group Chevrolet Camaro for team owner Doug Peterson. Tracy originally qualified in tenth position but was forced to change a set of badly flat-spotted tires, moving the No. 87 back to 25th starting position. Tracy moved up quickly, taking tenth before the full-course yellow and overtook Keith Prociuk for eighth on the final lap.
It was definitely a PT kind of race , started 25th , rear wing broke 1/2 way thru race , car was so loose and sliding all over , last lap gave a guy the chrome horn for 8th place . Not too bad ! Big congrats to @rafamatos2 on his win and all the help and fun talking we had all weekend !! Having his info got me back up to speed very quick , my biggest worry is I would be slow and not have that competitive fire anymore … definitely not the case … stay tuned #comback #racer big thanks to doug Peterson for letting me drive his car and answer some personal questions and also trans am tony parella
Despite being unable to retake the lead, Haley brought home the No. 99 in relative comfort for his sixth career TA2 podium. Tony Buffomante, in the No. 34 Mike Cope Racing Ford Mustang, captured third – emerging on the podium after a race-long battle with Marc Miller and Misha Goikhberg.
Buffomante, the winner of the past two Road Atlanta TA2 contests, began the race in second position and fell back to fourth after being overtaken by Goikhberg, in the No. 25 BC Race Cars Chevrolet Camaro, on the 20th lap. Buffomante would return the favor on lap 33, taking back his finishing position of third place.
Miller, in the No. 12 Berryman/ Speedlogix Dodge Challenger, and Scott Lagasee, Jr., in the No. 95 M1 Fastrack Chassis Chevrolet Camaro, completed the TA2 top five.
The TA2 top ten also included, in order, Shane Lewis, Keith Prociuk, Tracy, Tom Sheehan and Louis-Philippe Montour.
For his victory-clinching pass, Matos was awarded the CoolShirt Systems Cool Move of the Race, while Misha Goikhberg set the fast lap of the race with a 1:26.444.
Louis-Philippe Montour, in the No. 13 Montour Ltd Chevrolet Camaro, was the highest-placed TA2 Southern Cup finisher at tenth; while Maurice Hull took the TA2 Masters division with a 14th place finish.
While the TA2 class will return to action at the South Florida Sportscar Challenge, Round 3 at Homestead-Miami April 13-15, Trans Am will hold a second 101.6-mile 40-lap contest yet today, the Georgia Speedfest featuring the TA, TA3 and TA4 classes at 2:55 PM ET.