Trans Am veteran Greg Pickett added to his legacy this weekend, racing the Pickett Racing Ford Mustang to his 21st career Trans Am presented by Pirelli victory at Thunderhill Raceway Park on Sunday afternoon.
Surrounded by friends and family on hand for the season-opening Trans Am West Coast championship event, Pickett took an early lead in the 35-lap, 100-mile race and never looked back, crossing the line just over four seconds clear of Simon Gregg.
Pickett, who lost an engine in practice on Saturday morning, missed qualifying and had to start at the back of the 16-car field.
Nagai’s Corvette got the jump on polewinner Gregg’s similar machine at the start.
Local SCCA racer Michelle Nagai led at the drop of the green flag, pulling ahead of fast qualifier Gregg, third-running Michael Fine and a hard-charging Pickett. Her black Corvette set the pace for the first four laps, but failing brakes sent her into the pits, setting up a battle between Gregg and Pickett for the lead.
The winning pass occurred on lap eight when Pickett powered by Gregg down the long straightaway and motored away on what became a 28-lap drive to the checkered flag.
Gregg held second the entire distance, fading but then launching a late-race charge that had his Derhaag Motorsports Corvette hunting down Pickett’s white and blue trimmed Mustang at the line.
Pickett beamed with pride as his children and grandchildren greeted him in victory circle, sharing another winning moment with his Northern California-based family.
“This is a good start to the season! With a new bullet under the hood and family at my side, it just doesn’t get any better,” Pickett smiled. “I appreciate the Trans Am Series having a west coast presence, and I appreciate racing at Thunderhill as well. It’s a great race track and a fantastic facility. I couldn’t be happier.”
“I had a good time out there this weekend,” said race runnerup Gregg. “I enjoyed getting the pole and I liked the fact that it was all green flag racing today. I held off Greg for while, but once he got by, he pulled away. I had some issues with my Hans device. I worked through that and then was able to close the gap somewhat at the end.
“It’s an interesting track, and I like that there is a lot of elevation change over the course of the lap.”
Oregonian Brad McAllister piloted his Ford Mustang to his third career TA2 powered by AEM class win, with Michael Mihld and Anthony Honeywell completing the TA2 podium celebrations.
Honeywell, coming off an impressive 2018 TA2 rookie season, led at the start and looked to be in control through the first nine laps. But McAllister and Mihld were shadowing, always within a car length or two.
Going into the 100mph Turn 1 on lap 10, McAllister made his move and took the lead with a daring inside pass. Honeywell, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, stayed a close second until a late-race spin at the bottom of Turn 5 relegated him to third place in his TFB Performance Camaro.
The spin allowed Californian Mihld to slip past in his Camaro to finish second which matched his career-best finish.
“It is great to win today and to be able to compete at a track that I am very familiar with,” McAllister said. “Thunderhill Park is a challenging and fun track, and I think my experience here helped me earn this victory.
“I’m really pleased the Trans Am has returned for a third season here in the West,” McAllister continued. “It’s great to come to tracks we’re familiar with. This TA2 group is great. I wouldn’t be where I am without help from Team Shockwave and Team TFB. It’s great group of teams, and that makes the series that much more enjoyable.”
“The TA2 Group [in the west] keeps getting bigger and bigger and more competitive,” said Mihld. “We’re learning a lot and enjoying the class a great deal. We didn’t have the car to take the victory today. We were forced to pace ourselves. We were running very low on fuel and actually sputtering in and out of some turns. So we just managed the gap between first and third, and brought the car home.
In the GT class, Roger Eagleton spent the entire race dicing with his only other challenger, fellow Californian Beau Borders, also in a Mustang.
The pair swapped the lead an amazing 16 times on Thunderhill’s front straight, including eight consecutive laps. Eagleton grabbed the lead for good, though, on lap 24 and sped away to the class victory.
The Trans Am West Coast Championship presented by Pirelli heads to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana California on April 26-28 for round two in the six-race, 2019 series.