Trans Am, SVRA celebrate the series’ Sebring history

A legendary Penske Camaro. Image Trans Am Archives

Trans Am, SVRA celebrate the series’ Sebring history

Trans Am

Trans Am, SVRA celebrate the series’ Sebring history

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The Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli opens its 2019 campaign this weekend at the same circuit where it debuted in 1966, returning to the Florida Highlands region and the legendary Sebring International Raceway.

This will mark the 14th Trans Am event at the historic 17-turn, 3.74-mile airport-based circuit, sharing the asphalt on this occasion with the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) and its Sebring Vintage Classic.

The late Jochen Rindt, the 1965 Le Mans 24 Hour winner for Ferrari and future Formula 1 world champion, won the first Sebring Trans Am race, the Four-Hour Governor’s Cup, held on Friday, March 25, 1966, the day before the 12 Hours.

Impressively, Rindt drove an Alfa Romeo 1600GTA that he had rolled in pre-event practice. There were 40 starters and the early laps of the race featured a side-by-side battle for the lead between A.J. Foyt in a Ford Mustang and Charley Rainville in a Plymouth Barracuda. But Bob Tullius would survive the long race to finish second in a Dodge Dart, as Alfas claimed the next three positions.

Trans Am returned the following year as the Four-Hour International, drawing a then-record 61 entries. Jerry Titus won in a Ford Mustang, lapping Mark Donohue’s second-place Chevrolet Camaro Z-28. Peter Gregg and Sam Posey took honors in the Under-2 liter class, sharing a Porsche 911.

In 1968, Trans Am ran concurrently with the 12 Hours of Sebring. While Porsche backed up its 1-2-3 finish in the Daytona 24 Hours by taking the top two positions at Sebring with its potent 907s, Donohue and Craig Fisher took Trans Am honors with a third-place overall finish. Roger Penske-entered Camaros placed third and fourth overall, with Joe Welch and Bob Johnson finishing behind their winning teammates.

The Under 2-liter class ran separately on Friday, with Bert Everett winning the Three-Hour Governor’s Cup in a Porsche 911.

With the series moving to shorter races, the next Trans Am race at Sebring was not until 1999, with a standalone weekend serving as the season finale. Paul Gentilozzi put the icing on his championship title by winning in a Mustang.

For 2000 and 2001, Trans Am ran in support of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring. Brian Simo won the 2000 season opener in a Qvale Mangusta, while Boris Said won the following year in a Mustang.

Trans Am next returned in 2011 during the 12 Hours weekend, with R.J. Lopez winning a 103.5-mile race in a Chevrolet Corvette.

Since 2013, Trans Am has been a major component of the SVRA Sebring Vintage Classic, held two weekends prior to the 12 Hours.

Doug Peterson scored the 2013 and 2014 overall victories in a Corvette, while Cameron Lawrence captured both TA2 victories in a Camaro. The two drivers went on to win their respective titles in both seasons.

Amy Ruman won the 2015 season opener to begin her successful bid to become Trans Am’s first female champion, while Lawrence took his third consecutive Sebring TA2 triumph, this time at the wheel of a Dodge Challenger.

Kenny Bupp led the 2016 event by winning TA while Gar Robinson led TA2, both driving Camaros. The following year, Cliff Ebben led TA and Dillon Machvern paced TA2, both in Mustangs.

Last year, Ernie Francis Jr. won the lead TA class in a Mustang. Dodge Challenger driver Marc Miller took a dramatic victory in TA2, passing Rafa Matos for the lead with only two laps remaining. Mark Boden took his second consecutive Sebring TA3 (now SuperGT) triumph in a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, while Andrew Aquilante paced TA4 (now GT) in a Camaro.

At this weekend’s event, each of the four Trans Am classes tested on Friday to open on-track activities. Today began with late-morning practice, qualifying for each of the classes beginning at 4:55pm.

The TA2 race will take the green flag tomorrow at 11:10am, while the TA, SGT and GT classes will race together beginning at 3:25pm.

The Sebring Vintage Classic offers racing for all SVRA race groups, highlighted by an MG Marque Reunion. Click hereClick here for SVRA entry lists and event schedules.

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