Simon Gregg will start up front in Sunday’s Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli West Coast Championship feature race — the veteran driver’s second consecutive series pole — while Brad McAllister, winner of the season opener, was fastest of all in the TA2 powered by AEM field.
Gregg, from Ponte Verde, Fla., arrived at Southern California’s Auto Club Speedway for Friday testing in a confident frame of mind after a strong run in the Thunderhill opener, and his Derhaag Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette was quickest of all in the Friday and Saturday practices and, most importantly, straight out of the gate in late-afternoon qualifying.
Gregg’s 1m35.579s (105.46 mph) on his third flying lap of an abbreviated 15-minute session stood solidly more than two seconds clear of TA rival Greg Pickett who notched a 1m37.839s just before losing an engine coming off the banking onto the challenging infield section of the 2.800-mile circuit.
“The car’s been going good all weekend, and I’m thrilled to get the pole at another Trans Am,” said Gregg, who in April has celebrated 20 consecutive years with the Minnesota-based Derhaag team with his fourth and fifth career Trans Am poles.
“I think I could have gotten it down to 1:35 flat if I’d had a little more confidence gassing it on the banking. I try to keep the car on rails there and kept the throttle on longer and longer…
“I’m sorry Greg [Pickett] broke,” Gregg added. “But we’ll have a good race tomorrow.”
Indeed, the pair make up the most experienced front row in Trans Am history, Gregg (third on the all-time wins list) making his 180th career start and Pickett (second on the list) his 189th.
As for the blown engine in Pickett’s Ford Mustang, “It was perfect — all day, perfect” said the West Coast Championship Round 1 winner. “But coming off the banking, it just sputtered and stopped — no warning lights; no warning.”
The Pickett team has a spare engine last raced in 2016, and early Saturday evening had set to installing it. As the only other TA entry, Pickett will start second in Sunday’s 36-lap, 100.8-mile (or 65m) feature race.
Thunderhill winner McAllister, TA2-class runner-up in Fontana the last two seasons, arrived determined to move up one place this year and, like Gregg in TA, was quickest in both practices and the single qualifying session.
But he was under a lot more pressure throughout than Gregg, and emerged with the TA2 pole by just 0.25s, clocking a 1m40.044s (100.76mph) on his first flying lap, then forced to watch as Thunderhill TA2 runnerup Anthony Honeywell got closer and closer.
“I was watching [Anthony] picking up a tenth here, a tenth there, and I really thought it was going to be close,” said McAllister, a pilot from Portland, Ore., whose Ford Mustang carries http://www.PortlandImplantDentistry.com sponsorship.
In the end, Honeywell’s best of 1:40.291 left him just over two-tenths back, with the top six in TA2 all covered by a 3.5s blanket.
Oklahoma CPA Honeywell’s TFB Performance Camaro led much of the way at Thunderhill before the ex-karting star threw away his lead with a spin, but recovered for second. 2-1 in qualifying, he and McAllister will essentially be picking up the TA2 battle right where they left off.
David Smith, Nicholas Rosseno, Michele Abbate and Mitch Marvosh round out the top six, while Michael Mihld, a podium finisher at Thunderhill, will be starting from the back after a suspension pick-up pulled out of the frame in morning practice and forced him to miss qualifying while making repairs.
Most of the post-qualifying discussion in the TA2 ranks centered on strategy for Sunday’s race: With the lap times all so close, victory could well come down to who manages the wear of his or her tough Pirelli tires most diligently, the demands of the banking putting extreme loading on the right fronts especially.
This weekend’s Auto Club Speedway event is the second in the six-race Trans Am West Coast Championship, with two of the six (WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca May 3-5 and Circuit of the Americas Oct. 4-6) integrated into the National Championship.
Now in its third season, the West Coast-oriented series continues to gain momentum.
Next up: Trans Am Feature Race at 1:25pm Sunday. Live timing and scoring is available at GoTransAm.com or on the Race Monitor app.