Trans Am returning to its roots for Sebring opener

Images by Chris Clark

Trans Am returning to its roots for Sebring opener

Trans Am

Trans Am returning to its roots for Sebring opener

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The 54th Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli season will launch this weekend at the same track that hosted the first-ever Trans Am race as the series returns to Sebring International Raceway for the 2020 season opener.

With nearly 60 machines fielded by a deep roster of talented drivers backed by strong teams, the 2020 Trans Am season will open with two Sunday races featuring five competition classes: On Sunday morning, it’s the combined TA, Xtreme GT, SuperGT and GT race on Sebring’s notoriously bumpy 3.74-mile circuit; in the afternoon, the TA2 powered by AEM race.

“We are extremely excited to start our 54th Trans Am season,” said President of Trans Am Race Company John Clagett. “It’s been a really productive off-season to continue to build our paddock and our audience. We are looking forward to some exciting announcements and some tremendous racing. The grids for all the classes continue to grow and we cannot wait to see what the future holds for our series.”

TA

The Sebring entry list features drivers from 21 states and several countries, including Abu Dhabi and Canada. Headlining the entry? Arch rivals Ernie Francis Jr. (No. 98 One South Florida Wealth Advisors Ford Mustang) and Chris Dyson (No. 20 Plaid Ford Mustang), returning to the flagship TA class for another championship bout this year after fighting all the way to the finish in 2019.

Francis Jr. emerged on top last year, claiming his sixth Trans Am title across three classes. But the Floridian’s thirst for victory has not been quenched and the 22-year-old will start his fourth consecutive championship chase outfitted with a new orange and black livery backed by a new team partner.

“We couldn’t be happier coming back to the Trans Am series to defend our TA title,” said Francis Jr. “And we are also proud to announce a new title sponsor, One South Florida Wealth Advisors, along with a new livery for the 2020 season.”

Francis Jr.’s Mustang gets a new livery celebrating a new sponsor.

Dyson, meanwhile, is ready to resume his quest: “We are really excited to return to the Trans Am Series in 2020,” said Dyson. “It will be our third season competing for the full national championship, and we feel better prepared than ever. I’m confident that we will have a competitive season, and the aim is to be finishing every race trouble-free. We have shown plenty of pace and consistency and we know how to win. We have grown as a team the past two seasons and we are ready to roll.”

While Dyson and Francis Jr. are looking to continue their championship duel, there are several contenders looking to join that fight including 2015 Sebring TA winner and 2016 champion Amy Ruman (No. 23 McNichols Co. Chevrolet Corvette); 2012 champion Simon Gregg (No. 59 Derhaag Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro); 2019 Northern Cup TA winner Adam Andretti (No. 43 ECC/Anchor Bolt & Screw Dodge Challenger); and Tomy Drissi (No. 8 Lucas Oil Chevrolet Camaro).

All are looking for a new Crystal Sensations hardware this weekend to launch their 2020 campaigns.

Meanwhile, 75-year-old Kerry Hitt will return behind the wheel of his No. 19 Advanced Composite Products Cadillac CTS-V for another season of TA Master Class competition.

TA2

The roster of TA2 contenders continues to get more crowded with IndyCar veterans, NASCAR legends, IMSA greats and youthful rookies all filling out the entry list which features a strong 29-car field for the standalone TA2 race.

Reigning TA2 champion Marc Miller will not return to defend his title, leaving the door wide open for challengers like former champions Rafa Matos and Cameron Lawrence, and 2019 two-race winner Thomas Merrill.

Last season, Matos opened the year with a pair of wins at Sebring and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, but missed two rounds and finished third in the championship standings. He has partnered with Silver Hare Racing for a full-season effort in 2020, and looks forward to opening a new chapter in his personal Trans Am history.

“I finished last season with Silver Hare Racing at Daytona,” said Matos. “We had a great Daytona weekend, the team was fantastic and I was very impressed with everyone’s positive attitude. The owners, Maurice and Laura (Hull), are doing it properly, they have a passion for the sport.”

But, a new team and new Camaro might not be enough for Matos to edge out returning two-time TA2 champion Lawrence. Following a two-year hiatus, Lawrence has joined Peterson Racing — Matos’ former team — for a full season in the No. 8 3-Dimensional Services Group Camaro, the same car Matos drove to a championship in 2018.

Lawrence competed in the Trans Am Series with Miller Racing from 2012 to 2015, clinching back-to-back TA2 titles, and returned in 2017 for a full-season campaign with Class Auto Motorsports.

He currently tops the list for all-time TA2 class wins.

Lawrence’s teammate and team principal Doug Peterson will drive the No. 87 3-Dimensional Services Group Mustang, and is a two-time TA winner at Sebring (2013-14).

“I’m excited to join Peterson Racing for a full-season championship effort in the Trans Am Series,” said Lawrence. “I’m very appreciative of Doug Peterson for this opportunity and the support of 3-Dimensional Services Group as our primary sponsor for the season. Doug has assembled a strong team at Peterson Racing, combined with the support of a long-time partner, Howe Racing Enterprises, and I look forward to getting behind the wheel of our 3-Dimensional Services Group Chevrolet Camaro next month at Sebring International Raceway.”

Starting the 2019 season as a Trans Am West Coast driver, then shifting to the National series mid-season, Thomas Merrill and Big Diehl Racing have merged with Mike Cope Racing for 2020 in hopes of creating a TA2 powerhouse. Merrill will pilot the familiar No. 81 Diehl-Merrill Racing Ford Mustang with the continued support from Concept Part Solutions.

“We’re thrilled to partner with MCR for the 2020 Trans Am season,” said Merrill. “The 2019 season could not have gone better for us and MCR with two wins in two races, and that bodes well for us as we go into 2020.”

Elsewhere, Scott Lagasse Jr. and Misha Goikhberg both look to be strong factors in the TA2 championship once again, while the class’ youth movement continues this season: 18-year-old John Paul Southern Jr. (No. 61 Pittrace.com / Southern Motorsports Camaro) and 15-year-old Florida-native Jett Noland (No. 99 Mike Cope Race Cars Ford Mustang) are entered for Sebring.

XGT / SGT / GT

The new-for-2020 XGT class features 2016 and earlier FIA GT3 machinery, and slots in between the TA and TA2 classes. XGT will add another layer of European flair to the Trans Am scene, with two Audi R8s, an Aston Martin and a Porsche set to take the green on Sunday.

Showtime Motorsports will be fielding two Audi entries in the class debut. Team Principal Ken Thwaits had a great showing in 2019 in a partial season which included a victory at COTA driving his No. 5 Franklin Road Apparel Audi R8 GT3 Ultra.

The SuperGT and GT classes will share the track with the top TA and XGT classes, as the category is expected to see continued growth in 2020.

With 11 SGT cars slated for Sebring, the top three championship finishers in the SGT class are expected to return in 2020. Mark Boden is seeking his fifth career and fourth-consecutive SGT victory at Sebring in the No. 46 Beverage Flavors International Porsche 991 GT3 Cup. Tom Herb (No. 16 Fall-Line Motorsports Porsche 991 GT3 Cup) and Tim Kezman (No. 44 Lemons of Love Porsche 991 GT3 Cup) also return to challenge for top honors.

Aaron Pierce will play iron man this weekend, competing in back-to-back 60m feature races in both SGT (No. 26 Logical Systems / Sam Pierce Chevrolet Corvette) and TA2 (No. 2 Sam Pierce Chevrolet Camaro) rounds.

The GT class will see Ford and Porsche battle the championship-winning Aston Martin, with Billy Griffin (No. 14 Griffin Auto Care / Sheehan’s Towing Ford Mustang), Tim Horrell (No. 45 Breathless Racing Porsche GT4 Clubsport) and 2019 champion Steven Davidson (No. 22 Davinci Plastic Surgery Aston Martin Vantage) all entered in the production-based category for Sunday’s sprint.

The Sebring weekend kicks off a 12-race 2020 Trans Am presented by Pirelli championship season which will feature events on many of America’s most-storied road courses.

At Sebring, the Trans Am races join the SVRA Sebring Vintage Classic in an historic weekend mixing great race cars from the past and present.

Test sessions on Friday will open the on-track activities. Saturday begins with practice at 11:00 a.m., followed by qualifying for each of the classes beginning at 4:55 p.m. Sunday features two 60m races, with the mixed class of TA/XGT/SGT/GT taking the green at 11:10 a.m. and the TA2 race at 1:25 p.m., all times ET.

WEEKEND SCHEDULE

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