Ernie Francis Jr. put an exclamation point on the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli season by winning the Motul Pole Award for the season-ending Heacock Classic at Circuit of The Americas on Saturday.
Francis shared the spotlight with Rafa Matos, with the newly crowned champion winning the TA2 pole in a class-record turnout of 52 competitors. Due to time constraints, the TA/XGT/SGT/GT sessions were combined and cut to 12 minutes, with the TA2 class divided into two groups with 10 minutes a piece for qualifying.
Eliminated from the championship for the first time in his Trans Am career, seven-time champion Francis ran only two laps – both under the track record – capped by a flyer of 2m05.871s in the No. 98 Future Star Racing Ford Mustang. It was the 23-year-old driver’s fifth pole of the season, the 52nd of his career and 23rd in the TA class.
“It’s always great to get a track record,” Francis said. “The car has had good pace all weekend. We got it off the trailer and were already super quick. We are super happy with that. We put some new Pirelli Tires on there and the car was almost a second quicker than second place. We couldn’t get the championship done this year but if we can end the season with a win, we will be super happy.”
Third-generation driver Matt Brabham qualified second in his Trans Am debut, running 2m06.771s in the No. 20 ALTWELL CBD Ford Mustang. He is filling in for Chris Dyson as the recently crowned 2021 TA champion forced to miss the event due to a family matter.
“I am super grateful for the opportunity to race in Trans Am, but obviously I am hoping all the best for Chris and his family,” said Brabham. “Everyone on the CD Racing team has been so great and welcoming. It’s been quite fun learning the car, but I was a bit disappointed in myself during qualifying. I didn’t play traffic right and wished I would have got an open lap to show what the car and I can do. Second place is still super good, especially the first time out. The car and team did such a great job.”
Tomy Drissi took third, 2m07.942s in the No. 8 Lucas Oil Chevrolet Camaro. The Hollywood veteran enters the finale second in the championship.
Pro-Am point leader Oscar Teran was fourth, 2m08.743s in the No. 3 Oscar Teran Ford Mustang, followed by Ken Thwaits, 2m09.283s in the No. 5 Franklin Road Apparel Chevrolet Camaro.
In TA2, Matos quickly got down to business, shattering the track record by two seconds on his first lap in the No. 88 3-Dimensional Services Ford Mustang. Entering the event with the title already in hand, Matos improved twice to win his fourth pole of the season and 15th of his career with a lap of 2m10.539s.
“It’s always nice to start from pole position,” explained Matos. “It gives us the freedom to pace ourselves for the first part of the race. But, there’s a lot of hungry guys out there. Misha (Goikhberg) is looking for his first win. There’s (Connor) Mosack, who is in good form today. I expect to have a very exciting race tomorrow. Dealing with 50-plus cars is going to be very difficult.”
Misha Goikhberg will start second in the class, 2m10.736s in the No 20 BC Race Cars Camaro. Mosack, currently third in the points, will start third, 2m10.962s, followed by former TA2 champions Cameron Lawrence, making his season debut in the No. 6 Franklin Road Apparel Camaro, and Adam Andretti in the No. 86 3-Dimensional Services Mustang.
Carl Rydquist captured his fourth TA2 West Coast pole of the season. He was 12th fastest overall, running 2m14.181s in the No. 47 Racecars4Rent/Group Wholesale Ford Mustang.
Thomas Merrill recorded the fastest lap in Saturday’s lone practice, running 2m11.376s in the No. 26 Mike Cope Race Cars Ford Mustang before sustaining a blown engine near the end of session. While it appeared his weekend was finished, veteran TA2 competitor Tom Sheehan graciously stepped up and loaned Merrill his backup car, keeping his quest to finish third in the championship alive. Merrill led the second qualifying group, eighth overall in 2m12.864s in the No. 91 HPTuners Ford Mustang.
Erich Joiner scored his seventh consecutive pole in XGT, running 2m10.096s in the No. 10 Good Boy Bob Coffee Roasters Porsche 991 GT3 R. It was the 10th Trans Am pole of his career.
In SGT, Justin Oakes took his sixth pole of the season and eighth of his career in the No. 11 Droneworks Corvette, running a track record lap of 2m12.226s.
“Everything really came together today,” said Oakes. “We did a lot of tuning to the car when we were in Indy (for SCCA National Runoffs) and got the car really dialed in. We’ve improved and learned so much since we were here at COTA last year, and that’s the biggest difference in our gains. I think we can go even faster tomorrow with some minor adjustments to the car.”
Second in the class — and leading the four SGT West competitors — was Cindi Lux, 2m17.973s in the No. 45 Lux Performance/Black Rock Coffee Dodge Viper.
Sean Young made his Trans Am debut by capturing the GT class pole. He ran 2m24.204s in the No. 74 Corsair Racing Aston Martin Vantage.
Sunday’s races will each be 30 laps, with a 75-minute time limit. The TA2® event takes the green flag at 11:50 a.m. CT, with the TA/XGT/SGT/GT race set to start at 2:50 p.m. CT.
Follow live timing and scoring at: www.gotransam.com/livetiming
Qualifying Results: https://gotransam.com/standings/?cat_id=522#13495