The 2020 Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli West CoastChampionship is finally underway and the pandemic-delayed season opener on the 3.0-mile, 15-corner Thunderhill Raceway Park in Northern California brought with it 100-degree temperatures and shiny new expectations: Qualifying records were set and broken in four classes and the pole was claimed by a storied Trans Am driver in a new class.
Longtime racer Simon Gregg, driving the No. 59 Derhaag Motorsports Mercedes AMG GT3 in the new XtremeGT class, set a blistering lap time of 1m44.826s to grab pole position for Sunday’s race at Thunderhill. Gregg’s time was nearly a full second faster than the next closest competitor. And, as a new class this year running for the first time at Thunderhill, Gregg’s accomplishment becomes a new XGT track record.
Early in the 15-minute qualifying session, Gregg found himself bunched up with several other cars from multiple classes, one competitor sliding off course right in front of him. Soon thereafter, the Floridian found his pace.
“At the very end of the session, the car was just hooked up,” Gregg said. “I’m so happy about that. But that was all she had, and all I had.”
Gregg is the reigning Trans Am West Coast championship, winning three races and taking the title last year in a TA-class Corvette. For 2020, he moved to the new XGT class, and clearly has not missed a beat.
Lining up alongside Gregg for Sunday’s 99-mile race will be TA ace Greg Pickett in the No. 6 Pickett Racing Ford Mustang. Pickett’s TA-class pole-winning 1m45.789s also reset the class lap record at Thunderhill.
Qualifying has set up an interesting battle Sunday between two seasoned Trans Am racers in two different, but very fast cars.
“That Mercedes of Simon’s is a nice piece,” said Pickett. “It was really good in these hot conditions. It’s a bit different than ours, but I’m looking forward to the race. I’m glad that he’s got some speed. Simon and I have had a lot of fun in the past, and it looks like it’s just going to continue.”
Pickett, whose win last season at Thunderhill marked his 21st Trans Am career victory, will certainly be looking to repeat. If he does, he’ll reach the rarest of milestone — collecting professional race wins in six consecutive decades.
“I’m proud to be here,” Pickett said. “And any time you go out, even on a real hot day, and break your own qualifying track record, you can’t be all that unhappy about that.”
Lining up third behind Gregg and Pickett will be the TA2 powered by AEM class polewinner Ethan Wilson in the No. 49 Western Grinding Chevrolet Camaro. The Californian qualified at 1m48.156s, yet another new Thunderhill lap record. He will be flanked on the second row by the No. 17 Roof Options Racing / TFB Performance TA2 Ford Mustang of Tim Lynn who qualified just .605s behind, the entire TA2 class separated by not much more than two seconds.
Sunday could see quite a TA2 battle in expected hot conditions, and Wilson is pleased to be out in front to start.
“I didn’t have a great practice,” he confessed. “But I really just tried to drive a clean lap (in qualifying), stay within the limits of the tires, and lay one down. I’m really pleased to end up on pole.”
The pole in SuperGT went to Carl Rydquist in the No. 4 MyRaceShop.com / Tel-Tac / Mendeola Factory Five Racing GTM with a time of 1m51.733s, an SGT ttrack record. And finally, the GT pole was earned by the No. 7 APEX Race Parts Ford Mustang of Beau Borders with a lap time of 2m00.390s.
The 99-mile mixed-class Trans Am West Coast feature race starts at 1:15 p.m. PDT Sunday. Fans can follow live timing and scoring on GoTransAm.com.