The TA2 powered by AEM Round 3 lived up to the Trans Am SpeedFest weekend name at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Hometown favorite Thomas Merrill drove from a near-last-place start to finish the race first in Sunday’s Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli weekend 70-minute finale.
Dillon Machavern in the No. 77 Liqui-Moly/Prefix Ford Mustang claimed second with his Stevens-Miller Racing teammate Marc Miller taking third in the No. 40 Prefix Dodge Challenger.
“Winning at home is the best thing I can possibly imagine,” said Salinas, Calif., native Merrill. “I’ve raced here a lot in other pro series and had a lot of poor luck racing at my home track. This is the first one I’ve had success at — it’s incredible. Making noise at Laguna is my favorite thing to do, and I hope all of Salinas heard it.
“I can’t say enough about Big Diehl Racing, Skip Barber Racing,” the excited race winner added. “We are the best team in the paddock, and today really proved that.”
After setting the third fastest lap in practice on Saturday, Merrill didn’t make it out for qualifying due to a mechanical issue that showed up on the pre-grid. Without a qualifying time, Merrill’s No. 81 Big Diehl Racing Ford Mustang was forced to start 26th — second-to-last position.
As the green flag dropped, Merrill cut through traffic, making up several positions by the first turn, and at the end of the first lap shot into the top-10.
Shortly after the start, a full course caution came out, grouping up the field. On the restart, Merrill continued to thread through traffic all around the 11-turn, 2.38-mile track, making it to the top five before another yellow called out the safety car.
Again, Merrill used the restart to his advantage.
“To win the race, we really needed yellows to make quick passes and save on tires,” Merrill continued. “We were fortunate to have a couple yellows early on. Pair that with the good luck in traffic, and it really helped get us up front.”
Merrill didn’t get from back to front by playing it safe: Picking off drivers one by one, Merrill made it to third and focused his attack on second-place Machavern. Climbing up the hill toward the Corkscrew, Merrill dove to the inside, making a quick overtake.
Miller, who had led from the start, suddenly had mirrors full of Merrill Mustang and soon had to concede the lead. Steadily losing momentum as his tires started to fade, Miller eventually fell to third behind his teammate Machavern.
“I was really happy to give Stevens-Miller their first pole,” said Miller. “But we didn’t have the luck with traffic [in the race] that Thomas had. My tires started to wear, I picked up some rock debris, and my brakes started to go at the end which made it a little hard to keep up with those guys.
“I want to thank all my team that worked late at night making my car fast,” Miller added. “Even though I didn’t have the best brakes at the end, we were solid on the brakes all week until then. I am really happy with everything.”
The TA2 presented by AEM West Coast Championship drivers also put on a phenomenal race. Mixed with the National Championship runners, Brad McAllister, of Portland, Ore., piloted his Ford Mustang to his fourth career TA2 powered by AEM class win, with Anthony Honeywell and Michael Mihld completing the TA2 West Coast podium celebrations.
“Today was great competing with the full field of National competitors,” said McAllister. “I wouldn’t be where I am without help from Team Shockwave and Team TFB. It’s a great group of teams and that makes the series that much more enjoyable. To come away with a win at such a technical track is truly amazing.”
Two podium finishers are under investigation which could affect official results: The No. 81 car is under post-race review for failure to leave racing room and the No. 77 car is under post-race technical scrutiny. The action of the Stewards will be decided early next week.
The Trans Am presented by Pirelli returns to action in just three weeks for the Memorial Day Motorsports Festival at Lime Rock Park May 24-27. For result updates, visit GoTransAm.com.