Patience paid off for Ernie Francis Jr. Saturday in the second Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli race of the season. Gridded fifth, Francis worked his way through the field on a slick but drying track to take his seventh consecutive victory at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Nearly four months since winning the 2020 season opener at Sebring, Francis took his 44th career victory – and 21st overall – driving the One South Florida Wealth Advisors Ford Mustang.
“The race was a struggle from start to finish,” admitted Francis, who went on to win the title following his six previous Mid-Ohio triumphs. “We had a lot of pressure going into this race: Not (getting) on pole and starting in fifth is not something we are used to. We knew we had some work to get done. The conditions made it more than difficult, raining before the green flag and drying out through the race.
“I can’t say enough about my team — they gave me a great car that ran without issues the whole weekend. This win makes it seven wins in a row here at Mid-Ohio which is awesome. Thank you to everyone who helped me get the win today and big thank you to my sponsor, One South Florida Wealth Advisors for their continued support.”
Francis had a sizzling battle with Chris Dyson for second early in the race, but after running nose-to-tail for six laps, Francis passed his rival with 33 minutes remaining. The reigning TA champ then began working to trim a 26-second deficit to polewinner and early race leader Tony Ave.
Francis finally took the lead with 20 minutes remaining, and went on to win by 2.827 seconds. He was awarded the Cool Shirt Move for going from fifth to first on the damp track.
The bulk of the field began the race on rain tires on a slick track. Ave, a former snowmobile champion, found conditions to his liking and pulled away to a sizable lead in his pole-winning Lamers Motor Racing Corvette. With the track gradually drying out, Ave lost his advantage – along with the lead – with both Francis and Ave nursing their tires to the finish on a nearly dry track at the finish.
“Our strategy for today was to go as hard as possible,” Ave said. “We had a problem yesterday with an electrical component, (and) we thought we solved it. But it was still an issue in the race. In the rain, we were able to run as normal, but when the sun started to dry out the track we struggled. I ran as hard as I could but I couldn’t keep up. We ran wet tires the whole time to save a set since I knew we wouldn’t be able to do much with the electrical issue.”
Losing second place to Francis, Dyson gambled and pitted for slick tires on the Plaid Ford Mustang. Returning to the race more than 70 seconds in arrears, Dyson passed both Tomy Drissi (Lucas Oil Chevrolet Camaro) and Doug Peterson (3-Dimensional Services Group Camaro) to get in podium position. Time ran out on the New Yorker, though, with Dyson finishing 23.757s back after repeatedly turning the fastest laps of the race.
“It’s great to be back with Trans Am here at Mid-Ohio,” Dyson said. “In our race, the tires were a gamble. The gap between Ernie (Francis Jr.) and Tony (Ave) was worth a shot to make a change. The pit stop took forever, though, which cost us the race win today, even having the fastest car on track. The Plaid Mustang was flying today, but we just ran out of time.”
Drissi held on for fourth, followed by Peterson, Simon Gregg in the Derhaag Motorsports Camaro and hometown racer Amy Ruman in the McNichols Company Corvette.
Seeing his closest rival in the XGT Class pit for slick tires, Erich Joiner made a similar move on the following lap. It paid off, with Joiner winning his second-consecutive race in the Championship Coffees and Tool Porsche 911 GT3 R. Ken Thwaits took second in the Franklin Road Apparel Audi R8 LMS Ultra.
One day after capturing the SGT Class pole in the rain, Trans Am debutant Mark Brummond led start to finish to win in the Garage Door Doctor/Dynamic Auto Tune BMW M4 GT4.
“I love racing in the rain, so when it was raining during practice I wanted to nail down my racing line,” Brummond said. “That practice paid off in the race. We had a good one even with the tires being completely worn down; we kept going and I am happy with our result today.”
Adrian Wlostowski took a career-best second in the F.A.S.T. Auto Ford Mustang, after finishing third three times, while Sebring winner Lee Saunders rounded out the podium in the Landsearch LLC Dodge Viper.
In addition to fielding Francis’ overall-winning Mustang, Breathless Racing also won in GT. Making his second career start, Tim Horrell led start to finish in the Porsche GT4 Clubsport.
“I was limping home,” Horrell admitted “I was having the same problems I had at Sebring with the car failing, no power at all, and I had less than an eighth of a fuel tank left. Thank God I made it.”
Rounding out the GT podium were Aponte-Rios Racing BMW E92 M3 teammates Miguelangel Aponte-Rios and Gabriel Jasper.
Later today, TA2 powered by AEM qualifies at 5:55 p.m. Eastern. The weekend concludes tomorrow with the TA2 100-mile (or 65 minutes) race at 1:45 p.m. Eastern.
By downloading the app, fans can access exclusive Trans Am content. Fans can watch the live stream of the races, follow their favorite drivers through the field by switching from six different camera angles, access live timing and scoring, keep up with the latest news and download the event program all from the Trans Am by Pirelli Racing App. The stream will also be available on the series Facebook and YouTube pages.
Streams will begin five minutes before the start of each race on Saturday and Sunday.
In addition to fielding Francis’ winning Mustang, Breathless Racing also won in GT, with Tim Horrell leading all the way in a Porsche GT4 Clubsport.