Tire selection, turns of fortune, traffic and treacherous weather all shaped the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli Round 2 into a plot-twisting tale of two races in today’s combined TA and SuperGT class event at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
The 40-lap race ran under green flag conditions from start to finish, but featured ever-changing track conditions, three TA class lead changes, and four different SGT class leaders, including one who established a 30-second margin on the field early in the going as Road Atlanta played host to another dramatic chapter of Trans Am competition.
There was drama right to the end as Lawrence Loshak needed a penultimate-lap overtake to capture the TA class win, pushing his No. 3 Pennzoil/Elavon/GoShare Chevrolet Camaro to nearly a five second victory over Burtin Racing teammate Tomy Drissi. Drissi, whose No. 8 XMEN: Dark Phoenix Camaro led the race for 13 laps, recovered from a late off-track excursion to take second.
Three-time Road Atlanta winner Amy Ruman displayed her experience on the 2.54, 12-turn road course, finishing a solid third, while Chris Dyson and Simon Gregg rounded out the TA top five.
Due to inclement weather and a damp track, the TA/SGT race start was changed to rolling, single-file, pole winner Loshak locked into an immediate battle with 2018 Trans Am champion Ernie Francis Jr. Sadly, a great duel ended with Francis forced to pit with a malfunctioning taillight before returning to action two laps down.
With Francis pushed to the back of the field, the focus shifted to Loshak, Drissi and Dyson. Using lapped traffic to his advantage, Drissi stole the lead from Loshak, pulling away with a 1.21s advantage. Dyson, in third, set several fast laps of the race, chopping away at the Burtin Racing Camaros’ lead.
“This was the hardest race I’ve done in a long time,” said Loshak. “All I kept thinking was ‘100 miles, Lawrence, 100 miles’. I used to do the rain dance and loved racing in the rain in other series, but I am a bit inexperienced in wet conditions with these Trans Am cars. We started on Pirelli slicks, looking for a rain line, but with the Esses, the streams and the cold temperatures, we were having trouble finding grip. It was treacherous.
“As the track started drying,” Loshak continued, “I had an incredible battle with my teammate. Traffic played a huge factor in us exchanging the lead back and forth. In the end, though, it was a 1-2 finish for Burtin Racing, and that’s all that matters.”
“Lawrence and I are so evenly matched, and we were just on each other the whole race,” Drissi said. “Going down the hill to the Esses, there was a Viper and we were coming so fast that I had to check up. I came back after him, and with two laps to go, I had another run on him but I was pushing so hard I went off. It’s tough coming down that hill in Turn 12, and it was still a little slippery, so he had to check up and I went off. If it weren’t for that, I know I would have gotten into him, put both of us out, so I avoided him, went off, came back on and finished second.
“I didn’t have a good Sebring race, so I needed a good points day today,” Drissi added.
With a broken axle, Dyson tried to hold onto third place, but just as the white flag dropped, he retired to the pits.
“I was taking it easy early in the race,” said Dyson. “Once I saw it start to dry up, I felt like I could start pushing, but I didn’t want to over pressure the tires. I kept accelerating and braking gently so that I didn’t put a lot of side load into it. I started working the car harder and we started making big gains. But on two occasions when we were charging, we got held up in traffic. And then the axle broke, so we lost drive, and unfortunately couldn’t finish the race.”
Hanging on behind Dyson, Ruman saw her chance to claim the last step on the podium.
“I’m pretty pleased with our result today,” said Ruman. “We were a little far back, but at least we captured a third. Our game plan was not to make any mistakes at the beginning, because we knew it was going to dry out at the end, and hopefully, we would be there.
“I wish it could have been sunny so fans could see what everybody had, but we’ll take a solid third today for good points,” Ruman continued. “I love Road Atlanta. I’ve had success here — three wins and lots of podiums. This track is busy but it’s challenging. If you have a good car, it can be really fast, but if you have a bad car, it can be treacherous.”
The SGT class, featuring a wide range of machinery including several Porsche 911 Cup cars, Ford Mustangs and a Dodge Viper, found itself at a significant advantage early in the race as the field made the most of the grip on offer from the rain-specification Pirelli tires.
But it was a choice of dry tires for fifth-place-starting Brian Kleeman that saw him secure his first win in the SGT class. Fall Line Racing’s Mark Boden finished second and Lee Saunders rounded out the SGT podium, while a pair of Porsche 991 GT3 drivers — Milton Grant and Tom Herb — completed the top-five.
Boden got an outstanding start, moving immediately into the overall lead and creating a significant gap to the field with his Pirelli rain tire selection. On Lap 19, though SGT polewinner Aaron Pierce passed Boden for not only first place in the SGT race but for the overall lead.
Boden continued to push, but as the track dried, his rain tires quickly went off forcing hime to pit for slicks.
“We don’t have the fastest car out there — and we know that — so we had to do it all on strategy today,” said Kleeman. “We threw the dice and at the start, I think we were the only ones out there on slicks. It was absolutely a handful at the beginning and we fell way back. It was pretty treacherous, but once it started to dry out, we knew we had to click off the laps and close the gap, hoping those guys came in for tires — which they did. At that point, it was just a matter of staying in front and holding on. By the end, it was pretty much a dry race.”
“Everybody out there was pretty good, and at the end of the day, the TA guys had to brake so early,” said Boden. “More than the moisture, it was the track temperature. You mix that with cold weather, and that tire is not going to come up [to temperature]. Our error was we should have come in three laps earlier. We were hoping for a yellow so we could do a quick tire change and get out. Pitting under green really hurts you.
“It was fun, the Pirelli tires were just excellent and if we had a little more rain, we could have gotten the overall victory!”
The inside overtake on Drissi for the TA lead, yielded Loshak the CoolShirt Cool Move of the Race. Kerry Hitt won the Masters award in the TA class following a ninth-place finish in the No. 19 Advanced Composite Products Inc. Cadillac CTSV, while Milton Grant won the award in SGT, placing fourth in the No. 55 SentrySelfStorage/Fairfield Inn Porsche 991 GT3 Cup.