Today’s Trans Am presented by Pirelli qualifying session at the Chevrolet Detroit GP ended dramatically with 2018 winner Tony Buffomante’s No. 34 Mike Cope Racing Ford Mustang snatching the pole on the penultimate lap for Saturday’s TA2 powered by AEM Muscle Car Challenge, as the top three drivers were separated by just seven tenths of a second.
Buffomante and reigning TA2 champion Rafa Matos traded fast times lap after lap for much of the 30-minute session, as Matos, in his his freshly painted No. 88 Lear 3Dimensional Services Group Chevrolet Camaro, was intent on claiming pole.
Pitting in mid-session to allow his Pirelli tires to cool, Illinois native Buffomante dropped to mid-pack in the quickly moving session. But, with a cleaner track and cooler tires, his Mustang turned rocket ship, and he flew to the top in the final minutes to bump Matos off the pole by just .288s.
Buffomante’s last-minute qualifying heroics set up a repeat of last year when he led flag to flag from the pole to win the Detroit GP opening TA2 round.
“It’s good to be back,” he said. “I haven’t raced since Sebring, so I was a little bit rusty, but these Mike Cope Racing guys continue to work on the cars, making them better each round. We went out those last few laps and did what we could do! A driver has to have a good-handling car here and be confident in it, because those walls will come out and bite you.
“It will be an interesting race tomorrow. I’ll be uber-aggressive, since we’re going for wins so we’ll see how things shake out.”
Teenage rookie Lawless Alan enjoyed his best qualifying run so far this season in the AutoParkIT Mustang. After a troubling pair of practice sessions earlier in the day, Alan finally adapted to the 2.35-mile circuit, sliding into a third-place start for Saturday’s 60-minute feature. This was the 18-year-old’s first time turning laps on a street course.
“The first two sessions, I didn’t have a clue, and I knew I needed to figure out something for qualifying,” said Alan. “I talked to my teammate (Tony Buffomante) about gearing and how he was picking up some of the corners, and I decided to modify what I was doing to fit that more closely. I picked up a lot of time from that, so I appreciate his help, though I think I could have gone even faster. Coming from short tracks, I’m all too familiar with the wall — and occasionally finding it! — so once I got used to how the car handled on this bumpy track, the walls weren’t that much of an issue. As long as I knew I was going to miss them, I didn’t care how close I got …”
Representing Michigan and Prefix in the No. 40 Dodge Challenger, hometown favorite Marc Miller overcame a series of technical difficulties in the opening practice session to claim a third row start. Last season, a devastating wreck in qualifying left Miller’s car unrepairable, forcing him to sit out the most anticipated race of his season.
“I thought about last year a bit in qualifying,” explained the current points leader. “I got into a slower car going for pole, and we were done for the weekend. Today, we started back on our heels, losing an axle shaft which cost us the first session; and I’ve been playing catch up ever since.
“We’ll make it a more raceable car tomorrow, because this type of track will abuse you if you’re over-driving it,” Miller continued. “I’m hoping for some luck — to finish in a solid position with no scratches on the car. We have a lot of guests here this weekend – racing friends, partners and family. It’s nice to see everyone here and it adds a lot to the weekend, but it makes it that much more hair-raising at moments.”
Miller isn’t the only driver representing Motor City in this weekend’s events. Making his racing debut after a 12-year absence was Jordan Dick of Northville, Mich., a suburb of Detroit. In his first-ever street course qualifying session, Dick finished just outside the top-10 in 11th.
“This has been an emotional experience,” said Dick. “It’s been about 12 years since I’ve done a race like this, so this is a comeback for me. My favorite number is 19, which is Steve Yzerman’s number (the Red Wings legendary player recently returned to the team as general manager), and now he’s back as well. I carried that number through my racing career, and when I played hockey, because I like the way he played the game and how he conducted himself.
“And it’s really something special to be able to race here,” the Prefix Dodge Challenger driver added. “I’ve raced all over the country and around the world, and my friends and family always say how nice it would be to see me race so it’s great to share the experience. This is my first time driving a Trans Am TA2 car and my first street course race, so I should have been more patient this morning. But it all came together during that qualifying session and we’ll build on that for the races. The car feels really good and I’m getting a lot more comfortable.”
In the first round of the doubleheader weekend, the 17 TA2 powered by AEM drivers will hit the track early on Saturday morning at 9:15 a.m. EDT for the Muscle Car Challenge. Adding yet more motivation for the Saturday race will be the fact that the starting grid for Sunday’s Motor City Dash 75-minute event will be determined by race fastest lap in the Muscle Car Challenge.
For full results, live timing and scoring and event photos, visit GoTransAm.com.