With four championships coming down to the wire, it was make or break time on Friday at Virginia International Raceway for the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli drivers.
When the smoke had cleared from Friday’s qualifying, TA -class driver Chris Dyson (No. 40 Plaid Ford Mustang) and SuperGT pilot Tim Kezman (No. 44 Lemons of Love Porsche 991 GT3 Cup) had the pole positions in their respective classes, and an extra two points each toward their season-long points race.
The top four times in the TA class were separated by less than seven tenths of a second in one of the most competitive qualifying sessions seen this season. Veteran racer Boris Said (No. 2 Technique/SRI Performance Dodge Challenger) was as fast as his lightning-adorned livery, setting the tone early for the TA class. Confident after laying down the fastest lap of the session (1m44.067s) on Lap 4, Said pulled into the pits to save tires for Saturday’s 100-mile feature.
On the hunt for the pole and raring for the extra championship points, Dyson stayed out on the 3.27-mile roller coaster of a circuit. Getting faster each lap, the CD Racing driver finally eclipsed Said’s time in the closing minutes — by two one thousandths of a second! — qualifying with a flying lap of 1m44.065s.
“VIR has to absolutely be one of the most exciting roller coaster rides in the world,” said Dyson, currently second in the TA points. “What a thrilling track, and I am so happy to be back racing here. It was a fantastic qualifying duel out there with Boris (Said). We’ve got a lot of series champions in the field, and to go out there against some of the all-time greats to get pole and it be such a close fight, is highly satisfying.”
Said, not happy with the knock-out news, shot out of the pits with two minutes left in the 15-minute session. Determined to pay back Dyson, Said flew around the 17-turn circuit for two laps until the clock expired, but couldn’t squeeze out the extra time to reclaim the pole.
“It was really close between Chris (Dyson) and I,” commented Said. “We were really fast out there and tomorrow, I’m going for broke. I don’t care about the points, just the win.”
Changing up his qualifying strategy and immediately hitting the track as it went hot, TA class championship leader Ernie Francis Jr. (No. 98 Frameless Shower Doors Ford Mustang) turned a fast time of 1m44.278s to start on the inside of Row 2, with Tony Ave (No. 04 Ave Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette) on his outside.
“Today it didn’t make much of a difference to wait it out, considering we were the first car out today,” Francis Jr. said. “We had a clean track, but I think we struggled a little for pace out there this session. We have a decent starting position for tomorrow and I am looking forward to some tight racing up front.”
In SGT, driving a new Porsche 991 GT3 Cup after a total loss at Watkins Glen, Kezman was back on top at VIR with a flying lap of 1m52.816s, the effort earning him the SGT class pole over championship leader Mark Boden (No. 46 Beverage Flavors International Porsche 991 GT3 Cup).
“After our disaster at Watkins Glen, the guys worked to get the new car put together in a quick turn around,” Kezman said. “Qualifying was good and it was a good session. We were able to put a lap down despite everything, and that’s what it’s all about.”
The Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli Gold Cup weekend with the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association concludes Saturday with the 100-mile (70 minutes, 31 laps) TA/SGT/GT feature at 5:15 p.m. EDT.