Defending champion Ernie Francis Jr. broke the track record for the second year in a row on Saturday, leading Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli qualifying to pace the field in the TA class for the 2021 season-opening Sebring Speed Tour at Sebring International Raceway.
The Floridian turned a lap of 1m59.224s in the No. 98 Future Star Ford Mustang, his 20th career pole in TA class competition extending his overall Trans Am record to 48 poles.
“It feels pretty great to start the season off with pole,” said Francis Jr. “The car’s been quick all weekend, but we were running on old tires. We switched to stickers for qualifying and it showed our true speed. We are really fast around this place and tomorrow our goal is to lead the whole way to secure the first win of the season.”
Tomy Drissi also broke the two-minute barrier, running 1m59.825s in the No. 8 Lucas Oil Chevrolet Camaro.
“The team’s done a good job all weekend, but unfortunately we got to the grid last and we should have been first,” Drissi said. “The team was working so hard to get everything done for the two cars. I laid back to give myself a hole. I had a pole lap going on Lap 2 but I hit traffic. So frustrating. We still came back and managed the front row in the 1:59s. I really wanted a pole for the Lucas Oil family and the Burtin Racing team. All I can do tomorrow is go win.”
Adam Andretti put the No. 43 ECC/Anchor Bolt & Screw Dodge Challenger third at 2m00.647s. He will be joined on the second row by Chris Dyson, who rebounded from an early spin in the hairpin to run 2m01.213s in the No. 20 Plaid Ford Mustang.
— Chris Dyson (@ChrisDyson16) February 20, 2021
Justin Marks was fifth, 2m01.523s in the No. 99 Ave Motorsports Corvette, followed by Simon Gregg, 2m01.763s in the No. 59 Peter Gregg Foundation Camaro.
Former champion Amy Ruman was disappointed to qualify only seventh in her familiar red No. 23 McNichols Co./Corner Tech CNC Solutions Chevrolet Corvette, but should be in the thick of things in tomorrow’s feature.
Reigning XGT champion Ken Thwaits, meanwhile, qualified ninth in his TA-class debut wheeling the No. 2 Franklin Road/Weaver Racing/SRI Dodge Challenger.
In SGT, Justin Oakes captured his third class pole in just his third start in the series, the Houston driver clocking a fast lap of 2m09.878s in the No. 11 Droneworks Corvette.
“We tried out Trans Am at COTA last year, and had a blast,” Oakes said. “Then, we went to Road Atlanta and won – had even more fun! – so the team and I talked and decided that we were going to chase the SGT championship this year. This is a good start to 2021 and our plan is to not slow down.”
Lee Saunders was second, the defending SGT champion running 2m12.523s in his venerable No. 84 Landsearch LLC Dodge Viper. Making up the second row will be Aaron Pierce, 2m13.591s in the No. 26 Logical Systems/Sam Pierce Corvette, joined by James Candelaria, 2m13.660s in his first run in the No. 96 F.A.S.T. Auto/Hawk Performance/Forgeline Ford Mustang formerly campaigned by 2020 class runnerup Adrian Wlostowski.
Philip Di Pippo captured the GT pole with a lap of 2m27.937s in the No. 94 Sasco Sports Ford Mustang.
The 27-lap (or 75-minute) TA/SGT/GT race starts at 1:35 p.m. ET. Live Streaming for the race is available exclusively on the Trans Am by Pirelli Racing App (click here to download).