With a blanket of ash from the Northern California wildfires blanketing the Napa circuit, Trans Am Series Presented by Pirelli West Coast Championship drivers battled poor air quality and the challenging Sonoma Raceway during the back-to-back 30-minute qualifying sessions for the TA2 powered by AEM and Trans Am, XtremeGT, SuperGT and GT classes.
Seventy-three-year-old Greg Pickett out drove the entire field in the familiar Pickett Racing Ford Mustang, setting the fastest time of the day on his fourth lap with a 1m37.337s flyer.
But despite shaving two seconds off of his Friday testing time, Pickett wasn’t satisfied.
“It’s rare that I get out of the car moaning and whining after achieving the pole,” said Pickett. “(But) we picked up a strange miss on the last lap of practice today – something went wrong. No hesitation, no popping, but when I pressed the throttle, the revs went down. We changed everything electronically, but we were still down 500 rpm from practice to qualifying today. So, we have some things to work out before tomorrow.”
Coming into the weekend, Pickett had one goal: To edge out Simon Gregg’s Mercedes for the overall pole. Gregg, driving the Gregg Motorsports Mercedes AMG GT3 in the new XGT class, eclipsed Pickett in the opening round at Thunderhill Raceway Park. Only 0.267s separated the pair this weekend.
“We came here a little fearful of Simon’s Mercedes,” Pickett said. “With all of its electronic driver aids, traction control, ABS brakes, all of that on this great track where you’re always coming off some corner going into another, we thought it would be really tough to beat him in qualifying.”
While Pickett achieved his goal, Gregg still set pole position and a track record for his class with a fast time of 1m37.604s, but it took him double the number of laps to get it.
“I was happy with the two-second improvement in qualifying and to get in the 1m37s range – just about a half a second off pole,” explained Gregg. “It means a lot to me to participate here. California has a lot of history with Trans Am. Greg (Pickett) raced here against my dad (Peter Gregg), and it’s my honor to be able to race Greg here too.
“Also, Sonoma is a bad ass track…”
While the front row boasts names synonymous with decades of Trans Am history, the future of the category was busy making their own names on Saturday: Starting on point in TA2 is 18-year-old rookie Matthew Butson (Butson Racing Chevrolet Camaro). Capturing the first pole of his Trans Am career, Butson out-paced the TA2 field by 0.879-seconds. The pole position was a great feat for the Washington-native, recovering from a race-ending wreck in his season debut at Thunderhill.
“I am feeling really good after securing our first career pole,” Butson said. “The Butson Racing crew have been really great with the car. We found several gremlins (but) the guys seemed to get those worked out before qualifying. Glad to bounce back after our accident at Thunderhill with a good qualifying.”
The second through fourth place times were considerably closer with only 0.032s separating the three. Tim Lynn (Roof Options/TFB Performance Ford Mustang) came out on top of the three-way battle for the runnerup spot with a fast time of 1m41.342s. Slotting onto the second row were TFB teammate Anthony Honeywell (Honeywell Competition/TFB Chevrolet Camaro), 1m41.360s, and Jim Gallaugher (Madison Development Group/MCR Ford Mustang), 1m41.374s.
Mitch Marvosh (Wolf Entertainment Ford Mustang) rounded out the top five.
In SGT, Carl Rydquist (MyRaceShop.com/Tel-Mac/Mendeola Factory Five GTM) celebrated his program’s one-year anniversary with his second pole position of the season. Rydquist’s Trans Am debut was at Sonoma last season, where he finished first in class.
“It’s awesome to get pole on our anniversary. We definitely pulled it out today, said Rydquist. “The biggest difference from last year to this year in our program is experience. Last year we struggled a bit getting used to the Pirelli tire wear and learning how the other drivers raced. We struggled with the set up a bit last year, too, since we had to take some of the wing out to pass tech. But this year we have applied everything we learned, and the results are starting to show.”
In GT, Beau Borders (APEX Race Parts Ford Mustang) mastered the California heat to take his second pole of the season.
“The track was a little slippery today with everything that is going on in Northern California,” said Borders. “I’ve done a lot of racing in Florida, though, and I am accustomed to the heat. I do a lot of heat training. Race cars get hot. I can always tell in a race around the mid-point when a driver and car start to get heat fatigued. That is when my fangs come out and I go in for the kill, because the heat does not bother me.”
NEXT UP: The Trans Am West Coast Sunday feature that will see the all-class 100-mile race starting at 12:45 p.m. PDT.
Live timing and scoring is available at GoTransAm.com or on the Race Monitor app.