In the closest qualifying session of the season so far, a mid-session strategy switch up for the Mike Cope Racing team sent Thomas Merrill straight to the pole, the California native stealing the fastest lap in the final seconds of the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli TA2 powered by AEM qualifying Friday at Lime Rock Park.
Underscoring the nature of the tight TA2 competition, the top eight times were separated by less than four tenths of a second.
With an initial strategy to find a gap and lay down a fast time in the opening laps, Merrill caught traffic in the tight, fast corners of the 1.53-mile circuit, eventually falling back to mid-pack in the 29-car field. About halfway through the session, Merrill’s team called his No. 26 Mike Cope Race Cars Big Dielhl Racing Skip Barber Ford Mustang into the pits.
With minutes left on the clock and the track clearing out, the team found the perfect gap and sent Merrill out for a last-ditch attempt at a flying lap. On the final lap of the session, Merrill eclipsed the previous fastest time by just over two tenths of a second to clinch pole position.
“I got to give Mike Cope and the crew huge credit for timing my return to the track perfectly,” said Merrill. “Traffic played a huge factor in the start of qualifying, really foreshadowing what we should expect for tomorrow’s race.”
Watching from pit lane as Merrill’s name shot to the top of the results, was Dillon Machavern, fastest of all in testing, practice and through much of qualifying. Driving the No. 77 Liqui-Molly Prefix Ford Mustang, Machavern got off to a rough start in qualifying, though, being shunted off track on the opening lap. The New Englander recovered, though, and started chipping away until he reached the top of the standings … only to be beaten out by Merrill in the final minutes.
With no time left on the clock, Machavern had to settle for a front-row P2 start.
“This is the most competitive field we’ve had all season,” said Machavern. “Keeping it clean and making no mistakes is going to be the name of the game. We have a really strong car for the race, and the Liqui-Moly Prefix Ford Mustang has been fast all weekend. I am really excited for the race tomorrow.”
Returning to TA2 for the first time this season, Tony Ave in the No. 25 BC Race Cars Chevrolet Camaro will share Row 2 with points leader Marc Miller in the No. 40 Prefix Stevens-Miller Racing Dodge Challenger.
Scott Lagasse Jr. in the SLF/Fields Racing/M1 Racecars Chevrolet Camaro rounded out the top five.
The TA2 powered by AEM class kicks off the Memorial Day Classic on Saturday at 12:55pm EDT with a 100-mile (or 65 minutes, whichever comes first) feature. For results and live timing and scoring, visit GoTransAm.com.