Veteran Greg Pickett delivered on his post-qualifying promise, reeling off a stunning series of fast laps early and romping to victory in today’s 53-lap, 102.1-mile Trans Am Presented by Pirelli West Championship race at Portland International Raceway.
What Pickett didn’t predict was the race-long challenge from Michelle Nagai whose No. 72 Berkeley Jet Drive Inc. Chevrolet Corvette out-jumped second qualifier Simon Gregg’s similar machine at the start and stuck to the rear wing of Pickett’s white Mustang through the first six laps before ever-so-slowly slipping back.
Through two yellow-flag action periods, Nagai kept Pickett honest, and she finished a strong second, just 15 seconds back after a virtuoso performance in only her fourth Trans Am start.
“I did qualifying laps every lap trying to stay with him,” said an excited Nagai. “I learned so much from him, found such a smooth rhythm. And zero problems with the dang car for once. I looked at the back of him for longer than I ever expected. Second is second, but it’s not the first loser today.”
Pickett, celebrating his 22nd career Trans Am victory, was quick to offer praise: “Michelle, would you be a little easier on an old guy? No, she will not!
“Oh, I love coming to PIR — this is three wins in a row up here,” Pickett continued. “You fans are most gracious, the weather’s always beautiful — we appreciate the people of PIR. And of course, thanks to my wife Penny who’s allowed me to do this all these years. I’m deeply appreciative; those memories are precious to me. Thanks everybody — thanks to my competitors; and congratulations to that great TA2 race I came upon from time to time.
Gregg (Derhaag Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette) had a low-key weekend, qualifying second but slowly slipping back into the clutches of a race-long TA2 tussle, ultimately finishing third in TA following fast-starting Michael Fine (Architectural Glass Systems Chevrolet Camaro)’s retirement.
Third place, though, was enough to clinch the 2019 Trans Am West Championship – the Floridian’s second career TA title (Gregg was the 2012 National champion). Race-winner Pickett was among the first to offer congratulations when his title was officially unofficially announced: “Congratulations, Simon. I wish I could have given you more competition,” Pickett exclaimed.
Blue skies, a gentle wind and cooler temperatures were the unlikely backdrop for a heated, intense TA2-class battle that stretched through all 53 laps.
Local driver Brad McAllister (www.PortlandImplantDentistry.com Ford Mustang) led every lap from the pole, but that fact belies the fierce jockeying for position behind. Second at the finish was teenage soon-to-be pre-med college student Matthew Butson whose Butson Racing Chevrolet Camaro dogged pre-race points leader Anthony Honeywell (Honeywell Competition/TFB Performance Chevrolet Camaro) for the first 10 laps until Honeywell’s team boss suggested he started saving tires and let Butson by.
On lap 16, a full-course yellow brought the pace car out, as TA2 runners Michele Abbate (Grr Racing Chevrolet Camaro) and David Smith (Shockwave Marine Suspension Seating Chevrolet Camaro) tangled in the final corner, forcing Nicholas Rosseno (Burrtec Waste/Wildhammer/Amsoil Chevrolet Camaro) off track taking avoiding action.
Butson closed right in on McAllister on the restart, but Honeywell dropped back, his Camaro’s handling suddenly off with what was later discovered to be a broken A-arm.
McAllister’s hard pace took him right to the tail end of the TA field, but he pulled a hugely impressive Butson along with him, the white Camaro finishing just two seconds behind the black Mustang.
“Winning on my home track is long overdue,” said a happy McAllister on the podium. “The last two years I’ve had mechanical issues. This year, I got stuck in traffic in the closing laps, and I had Matthew in my mirrors. Luckily the yellows worked out, the tires were great, brakes hung in there, but Matt was right there behind me the whole time …
“Long overdue, but glad it’s here!”
Honeywell finished a distant third, fortunate to make it to the end with damaged suspension, while Tim Lynn (Roof Options Racing Chevrolet Camaro) was fourth and Mitch Marvosh (Wolf Entertainment Chevrolet Camaro) fifth after almost a race-long duel.
With his win, pole and laps in the lead, McAllister moves to within two points of Honeywell in the TA2 standings, trailing 132 to 134 with just one race remaining to sort out this year’s title.
Beau Borders (APEX Race Parts/CorteX Racing Ford Mustang) was the lone survivor in the GT class, Roger Eagleton (Five Star Property Management/Energy Real Estate Ford Mustang) retiring with a failed alternator on lap 42. Before that, the pair had swapped the class lead back and forth five times at start-finish, perhaps more often on the back part of the course — a thoroughly entertaining scrap that sadly didn’t carry to the flag.
The Trans Am Presented by Pirelli West Championship series finale will be Oct. 4-6 at Circuit of The Americas in Texas, a race run in conjunction with the National series. For team and series news, log on to http://www.gotransam.com.