Rafa Matos and the No. 88 3-Dimensional Services Group Chevrolet Camaro captured a flag-to-flag victory today in Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli TA2 class action at Mid-Ohio Spots Car Course, securing his fourth win of the 2018 season. Tony Buffomante, in the No. 34 Mike Cope Racing Ford Mustang, and Scott Lagasse Jr. in the No. 95 SLR/Fields Racing/ M1 Fastrack Chevrolet Camaro, would finish second and third to complete the FirstEnergy Muscle Car Challenge podium.
Matos began the race on pole for the 20-car TA2 field, with Lagasse alongside, and would lead a tight TA2 class field through the initial stages of the race with the top eight cars running nose-to-tail. As the field began to separate, so did Matos and the No. 88, pulling away from the No. 95 of Lagasse, who was busy with constant pressure from Buffomante, followed tightly by Christopher Bell, in the No. 28 Mike Cope Racing Ford Mustang, and Brandon Jones, in the No. 24 Mike Cope Racing Ford Mustang.
Matos would improve his lead as the race progressed, eventually building a lead that spanned over six seconds; and, without a single full-course caution to pull the No. 88 back to the field, Matos kept the field at bay for the remainder of the competition to bring home the victory in comfortable fashion.
“This was a validation of our team’s work,” said Matos. “After having the pole position yesterday I knew we had a big task on our hands today. This track is extremely difficult, and the conditions were not easy. This just proves again that our Coleman Motorsports team makes a difference; our chemistry, our atmosphere — it’s all working extremely well. We’re synchronized.”
“I had to keep my nose clean on the start,” continued Matos. “Afterwards as the tire temperature got to the right level, I was able to pull away. Still, a couple times, I almost lost the car — there was a lot of dirt on the track, and I really had to keep my eyes open. In the end, once I had about a six second gap, I was able to maintain my position and bring the car to victory lane.”
While Matos may have been clear of most of the action, Buffomante was in the midst of it. After enduring heavy pressure from Bell early on, Buffomante would pass Lagasse for second position on the 28th lap and fend off the No. 95 for the remainder of the race. The second place finish was Buffomante’s fifth podium in TA2 competition.
“It was hot today, and we went without a caution,” said Buffomante. “A bit of dirt got kicked up on the track, and you didn’t know what you were going to get sometimes. The Mike Cope team did a great job; we’re just missing a little bit with the Mustang, particularly on a really torque-heavy track like Mid-Ohio, but congrats to Rafa — he did a great job. Scott slipped there a bit coming off of the keyhole, and the competition is so tough here that’s all it takes. Fortunately I was able to get by him. He kept pressuring us, but we were able to bring it home.”
Still sitting second to Matos in the TA2 championship points, Buffomante hopes to narrow the gap with the No. 88 as the season progresses.
“The No. 88 is going to be tough every weekend you race them,” said Buffomante. “They’re a great team with a great driver. We knew we were down a bit on the torque side to the Chevys here, but we’re a little bit to the good on the horsepower side, so I’m looking forward to Road America and Watkins Glen — high-speed tracks like that. I think we’ll have something for them.”
Lagasse would finish third for his second consecutive podium finish, despite being challenged by the No. 24 of Brandon Jones over the final laps. Jones would manage to get by Lagasse on the final lap, but stewards ruled the position was gained by avoidable contact and awarded Lagasse back the third place finish.
Jones would finish fourth in his Trans Am and TA2 debut for Cope, while Matos’ teammate Doug Peterson, in the No. 87 3-Dimensional Ford Mustang, captured his first top five finish of the 2018 season with a pass of Bell with only four laps remaining giving the Coleman Motorsports team two cars in the top five. Matos was quick to acknowledge Peterson’s efforts.
“Doug puts so much effort into this program,” sad Matos. “He loves this team, he loves racing and he loves Trans Am. So to see him succeed, and in some cases lapping the field, is pretty amazing.”
The TA2 top ten also included, in order, Christopher Bell, Anthony Honeywell, Tom Sheehan, Ernie Francis, Jr., and Steven Lusting.
NASCAR legend Bill Elliott, in the No. 9 ECC Anchor Bolt & Screw Chevrolet Camaro, also took part in the competition but struggled with engine issues that eventually saw him retire from the competition with 29 laps complete.
For his pass of Lagasse, Buffomante was awarded the COOLSHIRT Systems Cool Move of the Race; while Anthony Honeywell, in the No. 76 Honeywell Competition/ Prefix Chevrolet Camaro, was the top finisher in the Northern Cup and Doug Peterson was the TA2 Masters winner.
The FirstEnergy Muscle Car Challenge ran for a total of 45 laps around the Mid-Ohio circuit for a total of 101.96 miles and was held under green flag conditions for its entirety.
Earlier in the day Trans Am held the FirstEnergy Trans Am 100 with Ernie Francis, Jr., Mark Boden and Warren Dexter taking class victories.
Both races are available for replay on Motor Trend On Demand and will be showcased in a one-hour highlight show on CBS Sports Network on August 26th at 2:00 PM ET.