The monstrous roar of the 850 horsepower Trans Am presented by Pirelli TA class machinery echoed around the iconic Watkins Glen International road circuit and had fans on their feet, watching as Ernie Francis Jr. dominated Sunday’s 100-mile feature.
Leading flag to flag from pole for his third consecutive Trans Am victory, Francis Jr. (No. 98 Frameless Shower Doors Ford Mustang) padded his championship lead over Chris Dyson (No. 20 Plaid Ford Mustang), collecting all the points available on the weekend.
Dyson delivered yet another podium performance, finishing second this time, with Tomy Drissi (No. 8 Lucas Oil Slick Mist/Axalta Chevrolet Camaro) close behind in third. It was Drissi’s first run for Burtin Racing since Lime Rock.
“This weekend went as good as it could have,” Francis Jr. said. “Last year and the year before we had a DNF; so to go out here and get a clean sweep of the weekend — leading all the sessions, getting pole in qualifying, and finishing the race in first — was great. I’m looking forward to our next race at VIR.”
From the start, Francis Jr. steadily distanced himself from the field, building a lead of more than 11 seconds before the only full-course yellow of the race regrouped the field. On the restart, it looked like Dyson might have something for him, but the New York native’s speed faded as he also had to shake Drissi, who was stuck to his bumper.
“I was fighting the car more than I was fighting with Tomy; I was just too loose around here today,” explained Dyson after the race. “I had a glimmer of hope on the restart, but Ernie had a great restart and we just couldn’t match his pace. I had Tomy in my mirrors and we had a good battle.
“We will regroup and be back in a couple week’s time at VIR,” Dyson added.
Drissi returned from medical leave, his Camaro sporting a newly wrapped Slick Mist livery. Starting fourth, Drissi moved up a position with Boris Said’s retirement, hounding Dyson through the second half of the race and finishing third.
“It was tough not being here (the last three races),” Drissi said. “I pleaded with the doctor, giving him some pretty ridiculous reasons why I should get back in the car.
“Ernie did a fantastic job,” Drissi continued. “Dyson didn’t make any mistakes and I couldn’t get by him. Burtin Racing — you guys are great. I’m glad to be back.”
Mechanical issues plagued several front runners in the TA field, including second fastest qualifier Said who faced teething problems in the new Pancho Weaver Dodge. Said turned in just three laps before losing power completely due to a bad alternator.
“This was really the first run for the No. 2 Dodge,” Said commented. “I really thought on the first lap that we had something for Ernie, and I was pretty confident after Lap 2 that I was going to be able to get him; but unfortunately, (the alternator) let us down.”
Amy Ruman, meanwhile, parked her cherry red No. 23 McNichols Co. Chevrolet Corvette after just two laps.
“We felt good on the start, went around, then had some mechanical issues I didn’t think would clear up, so I decided to park it early to save what I could,” Ruman said. “We made some adjustments from qualifying that I thought would have worked in the right direction, but unfortunately I didn’t have a lot of time to test them out.”
Adam Andretti only had to take the green in the No. 17 Engineered Components Company/Anchor Bolt Chevrolet Corvette to clinch the Trans Am Northern Cup title. But, following a great start, Andretti broke a shift linkage on Lap 2 which forced him to the pits. However, he accomplished what he came to The Glen to do: Take the Trans Am Northern Cup Championship.
“We’ve had trials and tribulations this weekend, but we knew that coming in,” said Andretti. “We had some metal in the oil and didn’t know how long the motor would last during the race. But we figured it wouldn’t be anything catastrophic, so we started. We had a good run until the shift linkage snapped. Our whole objective was to seal up the Trans Am Northern Cup Championship. If we didn’t have that to focus on, we would have run all the sessions — and would have found and fixed a simple problem like that.”
Karry Hitt (No. 19 Advanced Composite Products Inc. Cadillac CTSV) received the Masters Award in the TA class after finishing eighth, while the Cool Shirt Cool Move of the Race was awarded to Vincent Allegretta in the No. 41 TA Sights and Sounds Chevrolet Corvette.
Veteran driver Simon Gregg, who earlier clinched the TA-class Trans Am West Championship title, missed Round 8 of National series to be with family.
Eleven SGT-class cars took the green with Aaron Pierce going flag to flag for his first victory of the season. SGT championship leader Mark Boden (No. 46 Beverage Flavors International Porche 991 GT3 Cup) finished second, while Tom Herb in the No. 16 Fall-Line Motorsports Porsche 991 GT3 Cup edged out Adrian Wlostowski in the No. 96 F.A.S.T. Auto Ford Mustang on the final lap on his way to a third-place finish.
Pierce (No. 26 Sam Pierce Chevrolet/Logical Systems Inc. Chevrolet Corvette) is a winged sprint car racing veteran, but adjusted quickly to the Watkins Glen road course.
“The team has come a long way since we’ve started,” Pierce said. “They’ve busted their butts on this race car. We’ve run well everywhere we’ve been to. I’ve not been to most of the tracks, and it took me some time to adjust to this one since it’s my first time here. Things got a bit hairy on the straight, but we pulled it together and had a lot of fun doing it.”
Milton Grant in the No. 55 Sentry Self Storage/Fairfield Inn Porsche 991.3 GT3 Cup received the Masters Award after finishing sixth in SGT.
In GT, Steven Davison in the No. 22 Davinci Plastic Surgery Aston Martin Vantage wheeled his way to another victory.
“This was a personal best race for me in terms of time,” said Davison. “Last year I (crashed) in the Esses. It was clean racing from all the SGT guys, and a privilege to run with Trans Am.”
The Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli returns to action at Virginia International Raceway Sept. 20-21. For live timing and scoring, event photos and post-race recap videos visit GoTransAm.com. For live race updates follow @GoTransAm on Twitter.