Round 4 of the Trans Am Presented by Pirelli West Coast Championship Series started out somewhat leisurely, with a pair of hour-long Friday test sessions; two Saturday practices; and then … wham!
A split qualifying — just 10 minutes for the TA/SGT/GT group; another 10 minutes for TA2 Powered by AEM — was intense, dramatic and dizzying for all in one of the largest-ever West series Trans Am fields.
As if the 2.52-mile, 12-turn Sonoma road course featuring some 160 feet in elevation changes every lap was not challenging enough, the TA/TA2/SGT/GT runners had the clock to battle as well.
Driving the family-prepped No. 72 Berkeley Jet Drive-backed ex-Frank Emmett Chevrolet Corvette in the flagship TA class, Michelle Nagai of Loomis, Calif., (photo above) snatched the pole away from veteran Simon Gregg (No. 59 Derhaag Motorsports Corvette), with her 1m38.583s lap narrowly edging Floridian Gregg’s time of 1m38.713s.
“He (Gregg) was so gracious, shook my hand, congratulated me,” said a jubilant Nagai whose husband Steve and a small group of family and friends prep the immaculate Corvette parked in the family’s local marine jet drive manufacturing facility during the week.
“Everything ran so well today — I was so determined to get this,” she added.
Fastest in one of Friday’s test sessions and in with a real shot at the TA pole today, Michael Fine of West Sacramento, Calif., will start Sunday’s race from the back after the differential housing in his No. 66 Architectural Glass Systems Chevrolet Camaro suffered a massive crack in Saturday morning practice.
If TA qualifying can be described as a focused duel between two Corvette drivers, then TA2 is best labeled a free-for-all, as the unexpected took place almost everywhere one looked.
Shockwave Marine Suspension Seating owner David Smith brought four cars to Sonoma, one for 17-year-old soon-to-be high school senior Derek Kraus, who is one of the fast-rising stars in the hard-fought NASCAR K&N Pro Series. Kraus has tested at Sonoma but Sunday’s race will be his first in a TA2 car, and he wasted no time in displaying his talent — in two different Shockwave Chevrolet Camaros.
The engine in Kraus’ No. 5 blew up in spectacular fashion in the 20-minute practice session just before qualifying. With no spare, team owner Smith decided to step out of his No. 11 and turn it over to the Stratford, Wisc., teen. The Shockwave crew tracked down all the seat padding they could find and Kraus jumped in confidently, wasting no time in reeling off a 1m38.183s — good enough for the overall pole — in an already short session made even shorter by a full-course yellow to retrieve a stranded car.
“I’m so grateful to David [Smith] and his Shockwave crew for giving me this chance to run here this weekend,” said Kraus. “Seat time at the track is always the biggest thing. [The 11 car] was maybe a little bit different, maybe rolled a little bit more, but other than that … it was fine.”
The mid-session yellow flags caught out driver coach Chris Cook, on his hot lap and forced to throw it away. The experienced Scottsdale, Ariz., resident, wheeling the third of Smith’s four Shockwave Camaros and providing plenty of coaching through the weekend, had to settle for second in TA2 with a still-warming-up 1m39.507s lap.
Fastest in morning practice, TA2 West points leader Anthony Honeywell (No. 76 Honeywell Competition / TFB Performance Chevrolet Camaro) was also ready to battle for the pole, but the Tulsa, Okla., CPA was also caught out by the yellows, never able to regain momentum, ending up third with a solid 1m39.189s.
The back of the grid will be crowded with frontrunners looking to move up quickly tomorrow as several other TA2 contenders were sidelined with a wide assortment of mechanical woes: Young AutoParkIT/Mike Cope-backed National Trans Am Series regular Lawless Alan (running in the No. 22w fourth Shockwave Camaro for this one-off West Championship appearance) was stranded with an electrical failure; Thunderhill and Laguna Seca TA2 winner Brad McAllister (PortlandImplantDentistry.com/Rhom Innovations Mustang) had an engine misfire due to burned plug wires; and Michele Abbate (No. 30 Grr Racing Camaro) suffered a broken throttle linkage.
Sadly, Fontana winner Nicholas Rosseno lost an engine on Friday and had no spare. Rosseno’s fate echoed the setback faced by Trans Am legend Greg Pickett, who was forced to miss out on the Sonoma round after having had a very fast start to his 2019 West Coast championship campaign.
Like the West Coast series in general, the SGT and GT classes are growing, thanks to the promotional efforts of friends and rivals Roger Eagleton ( No. 21 Five Star Property Management/Energy Real Estate Mustang) and Beau Borders (No. 7 APEX Race Parts/CorteX Racing Mustang) who will start third and fourth in GT.
San Jose, California’ s Clark Nunes (No. 79 Premier Homes Camaro) won the GT pole with 1:45.084, while Arvada, Colorado’s Joe Bogetich (No. 65 Westover Controls Camaro), was second quick, 1:46.777.
Oli Thordarson (No. 22 Alvaka Networks Corvette), 1:46.306, was the only qualifier in SGT.
Sunday’s 40-lap, 100-mile (or 70 minutes, whichever comes first) mixed-class feature race, headlining the huge NASA weekend which has packed the Sonoma Raceway paddock on a glorious early-summer weekend, rolls off at 12:45 p.m. PT. For live scoring, log onto gotransam.com.