Following one of the most intense Trans Am presented by Pirelli TA/SGT/GT qualifying battles seen all year, TA2 powered by AEM qualifying was just as high-pressure. Competing for the first time on the challenging Virginia International Raceway circuit, California native Thomas Merrill (No. 81 Big Diehl Racing Ford Mustang) held the point for the majority of the 20m session with his early fast lap of 1m49.565s.
“Qualifying was really difficult,” Merrill said. “The grip was really poor and the lighting, with the sunset — coming off a couple of these turns, I couldn’t see anything. But our Skip Barber Mustang was absolutely killer. It came in right away, we set our best lap, I didn’t think we could go any faster, so I pulled in and we sat on it.
“Unfortunately, right at the end Rafa (Matos) got an even better lap, so congratulations to him.”
Despite Merrill’s early quick time, Rafa Matos (No. 88 3Dimensional Services Group Chevrolet Camaro) wasn’t about to give. Second in the championship behind Marc Miller, it was crucial for Matos to take the pole in an effort to earn every point possible. With minutes to spare, the Brazilian driver topped Merrill’s time by just over a tenth of a second (1m49.401s) en route to his fifth pole of the season.
“It was a very difficult session because of the track conditions,” Matos said. “I think that it’s also going to be a tough race. I have a lot of great drivers behind me. Thomas (Merrill) is hungry for another win, and Marc (Miller) needs the points — it’s his championship to lose at this point. We just need to keep focused, keep chipping away and, hopefully, by the end of the year, we’re on top.”
Miller, recovering from the flu, reeled off a 1m49.841s best and will start on the inside of Row 2 in his No. 40 Prefix/Stevens-Miller Racing Dodge Challenger. But his fast lap was not without a cost: Miller stayed out on the track the entire qualifying session, one of just five drivers to do so, sacrificing his tires in effort to get a better starting position.
“Qualifying was pretty good,” Miller said. ”Obviously we don’t want to be giving up points, so pole was really important today, and at one point I was even rooting for (Thomas) Merrill. I think Rafa still has more in the bag, and didn’t show us everything today in qualifying.
“We have the car well balanced, and the car has been bullet-proof all year,” Miller continued. “We can’t have any mechanical problems this close to the end of the season, with the championship as close as it is. If we are not starting on pole, we are happy with starting from the inside of Row 2 going into that first turn.”
The Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli Gold Cup weekend with the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association continues Saturday morning with the 100-mile (70 minutes, 31 laps) TA2 powered by AEM race at 10:40 a.m. EDT.