The Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli added a new chapter to its 54-year history on Saturday as the popular road racing series took to virtual Lime Rock Park for its inaugural Esports doubleheader.
With the help of NAGRA, Torque eSports, GreenLight.TV and rFactor 2 Simulator, a global audience shared Trans Am’s historic simulated moment.
While the races were virtual, they delivered all the intense action Trans Am racing is known for. Twenty-six current, former, and future Trans Am drivers made the most of the virtual opportunity to bump, drift, and run on the fast 1.5-mile Lime Rock Park in identically trimmed 2012 Camaro GT3 chassis.
A short 10-minute qualifying session was followed by two 20-minute race sessions, with drivers lining up for the second race in reverse finishing order.
After last-lap battles in both races, two-time TA2 champion Cameron Lawrence, in the No. 4 3-Dimensional Services Group entry, added “Trans Am eRace winner” to his long list of accolades, claiming checkered flags in both Trans Am showdowns.
“It (got) kind of crazy in the first race,” explained Lawrence. “I drove off track and handed the lead to somebody else. I was surprised when they said I won. In the second race, the biggest thing was working traffic and not making any contact. I saw a lot of dirt and people all over the place, and I was trying to keep it on the track.
“It was great going for the win on the last lap; I didn’t want to finish second.”
After qualifying, reigning TA2 champion Marc Miller (No. 16 Stevens-Miller Racing / Sabelt America / Unit Nutrition / Gradient Racing) looked like the driver to beat, edging out Dylan Archer, son of former Trans Am driver Bobby Archer, by a mere .075-second for pole position. Edward Sevadjian (No. 10 Leadfoot Racing) and Tyler Kicera (No. 30 Carbotech Brakes) slotted into Row 2 for the first race.
“I was saying before the race that I miss Trans Am — I am missing racing the real cars more,” said Miller. “People follow the rules a little bit better in real life. It was pretty crazy today, but I enjoyed it.
“I would have liked to have held the lead for the first race, but I did not like getting removed from the track by a lapped car,” Miller added. “It was fun coming from the back in the second race. I got hit a few times, too, but it was like that for everybody. I was pretty pleased with the results, considering that I downloaded rFactor 2 yesterday morning. Now I have the opportunity to have more options on my simulator and to be able to use it.”
In the opening round, Miller held the point for most of the race until lapped traffic slowed his efforts. Kicera took a brief lead before a tap from lapped traffic sent him spinning across the track. A prowling Thomas Merrill (No. 28 Diehl-Merrill Racing / HP Tuners / Mike Cope Racing), who won the real-life Lime Rock TA2 race last season, capitalized on the leaders’ misfortunes, crossing the stripe in first. However, Merrill was issued a post-race penalty due to an unserved in-race penalty. Second-place finisher on the road, Lawrence got the win.
Archer moved up to second while Miller slotted into third. Roger Eagleton (No. 24 DIG Motorsports / Five Star Property Management / Ford Performance) and Nick Rosseno (No. 21 Rosseno Racing / Burrtec Waste Industries / AMSOIL) completed the top five.
“The race was awesome. I love Lime Rock and was stoked to see that our first sim race would be there,” said Merrill. “We are definitely still working out the kinks (on the sim integration), but I want to thank John Clagett and his team for doing such a great job to put this event together in a very short period of time. I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel of my real Diehl-Merrill Racing HP Tuners Mustang; but until then, I’m excited for more Trans Am Esports!”
With most of the drivers dialing in during Race 1, Race 2 delivered better racing, more intense action and heated battles throughout the 30-car field. With the inverted lineup based on finishes in Race 1, John Paul Southern (No. 13 Stevens-Miller Racing) and Kicera started from the front row, with Daniel Urrutia (No. 7 Ferrea Racing Components / Saenz Transmissions / Mustang Vacuum Coatings) and Sevadjian filled out Row 2.
Kicera got the jump on Southern for the lead and paced the race for nearly half the session until Lawrence, starting last, stormed through the field to steal first. Kicera paid back Lawrence in a huge pass in the final moments of the 20-minute session, shuffling Lawrence back to second. But, just like in the first round, lapped traffic halted Kicera’s hunt for victory.
Weaving through traffic on the final lap, contact with a slower car shunted Kicera off course. Lawrence took the lead and the checkered, while Kicera was forced to settle for second with Miller in third.
Eagleton just missed a podium, finishing fourth, while Archer completed the top five.
“On the last lap, there were lapped cars that slowed both of us down,” said Lawrence. “That’s how he (Kicera) got around me, in traffic. I don’t think people knew who was coming up behind them, so I just had a run coming down on the inside, and figured on the last lap, I was there. I knew he wasn’t giving me much room, but I was hoping we could make it through side by side. Unfortunately, there was a little bit too much contact and he lost it, giving me the lead.”
With a lot more experience in the real world than the virtual one, six-time champion Ernie Francis Jr. entered the Esports races as an underdog. But the winner of the 2020 season-opening Trans Am race at Sebring International Raceway earlier this month, learned quickly to score sixth in the second race.
As Trans Am and track management are still monitoring the impact of COVID-19 in Connecticut, Trans Am presented by Pirelli is scheduled to return to real-life racing May 22-25 for the Lime Rock Festival. Future simulation races will be announced at a later date.
Full replays of the race can be found by downloading the Trans Am by Pirelli app for free: