Merrill claims first Trans Am win at Fontana

Image: Seth DeDoes

Merrill claims first Trans Am win at Fontana

SCCA / SportsCar Magazine

Merrill claims first Trans Am win at Fontana

Round 1 of the 2018 Trans Am West Coast Championship, now in it second year, at Auto Club Speedway yielded plenty of first time victors across its four classes, with new names and new teams laying down initial claims on the West Coast Championship.

First time victor Thomas Merrill captured the TA2 class and overall victory, while Trans Am debutant Tim Adolphson took the TA class win. Defending TA3 class West Coast champ Oli Thordarson was the only previous winner to secure Trans Am silverware, while Dane Smith, in the No. 29 Bob Smith Motors Ford Mustang, became a first time winner in TA4.

Merrill, in the No. 81 Big Diehl Racing Ford Mustang, began the race on pole for TA2 and was able to pull ahead of the No. 24 PortlandImplantDentistry Ford Mustang of Brad McAllister. Merrill would hold the lead through the race’s only full-course caution, spanning Laps 17 through 21 to recover the No. 8 GoShare Chevrolet Corvette of then race leader Tomy Drissi, stopped at pit in.

With Drissi out of the race, Merrill inherited the overall lead, one he would hold at the restart and through the remainder of the 36-lap, 100.8-mile competition, becoming the first TA2 competitor to secure an overall victory in Trans Am competition since Bob Stretch at Lime Rock Park in 2013.

“The TFB/ Big Diehl Racing crew did a great job putting this car together,” said Merrill. “We worked on race pace, and the goal was to be there at the end and that was exactly what we did. It was easy to control the pace, control the gap. I was a little nervous there in the middle of the race with the caution and the restart, but fortunately we got through it ok, and we’re here.”

The opening round victory is the first of Merrill’s two-race Trans Am career and his second West Coast podium – following up on a strong third place finish in his debut at COTA in 2017. With the points lead under his belt, Merrill has his sights firmly set on the five-race Trans Am West Coast TA2 Championship.

“Our goal is the championship, said Merrill. “We’re here to win and this is a great start, but we certainly respect our competition so we’ll be ready to go come Sonoma.’

Joining Merrill on the TA2 podium was 2017 TA2 West runner-up Brad McAllister and Michael Mihld, making his first Trans Am appearance in the No. 55 Track Fanatic Chevrolet Camaro.

Despite battling an early race pit stop that set him back several laps, TA class debutant Tim Adolphson, in the No. 88 Cybersight/ Craig Raudman Racing Chevrolet Corvette, was able to go the distance, capturing his career first Trans Am victory as he steps up from GT-1 competition to pro racing in Trans Am.

“I tried my best to stick with Tomy early on,” said Adolphson. “He’s very fast and very confident, and I picked up quite a few lessons from him. All in all we made it to the end; and it’s an hour long in the heat and these cars are big and can wear you out driving them. I’m proud of my finish.”

The step up to the TA class is one Adolphson is enjoying, as he works on getting up to speed on the TA platform, confident that more results will come his way as the West Coast Championship progresses.

“I’m used to running an outlaw super late model on some bias bly tires and no aero,” said Adolphson. “I’m taking a liking to the TA car. It’s very easy to drive compared to my old car but I’m yet to extract everything the car is capable of, but it’s only my first event. We’re gunning for the championship; and the farther north you go, the closer you get to my home in Gig Harbor, Washington. When you get to Sonoma, I’m faster; and when you get to Portland, I’m fastest.”

For Oli Thordarson, in the No. 22 Alvaka Networks/ Trackspec Chevrolet Corvette, the TA3 win was the fourth of his career, following up on a strong 2017 campaign that saw him secure the 2017 TA3 West Coast Championship.

In the TA4 class Dane Smith’s win from behind the wheel of the No. 28 Bob Smith Motors Ford Mustang capped off a strong debut weekend in Trans Am, securing the class points lead headed into Round 2 at Sonoma Raceway.

Three new track records were set during the race, a 1m36.582s by Tomy Drissi in the TA class, a 1m38.983s by Merrill in TA2 and a 1m45.419s by Dane Smith in TA4.

The race, constituting Round 1 of the 2018 Trans Am Championship, underwent a single full-course caution and completed 36 laps around the 2.8-mile 21-turn sports car course at Auto Club Speedway for a total of 100.8 miles.

The Trans Am West Coast Championship will resume June 1-3 at Sonoma Raceway.

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