Rafa Matos and Thomas Merrill were the pair to beat in Round 5 of the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli at Sonoma Raceway. With Matos topping practice and Merrill earning the Motul Pole Award, the two battled hard once the green flag waved. However, it was Matos out front when it mattered, as the Brazilian drove his No. 88 3Dimensional Services Group Ford Mustang to his second victory of 2022.
When the field took the green flag for the Trans Am Mission Foods 100, Matos had the advantage over polesitter Merrill’s No. 26 BridgeHaul/HP Tuners/Cope Race Cars Ford Mustang. The two raced nose-to-tail, and on lap three, Merrill made an impressive move to retake the lead. The two continued to contest the point position, but it was Matos that was able to edge out Merrill on lap 8. The two were evenly matched and running similar lap times, but Matos was able to put some space between he and Merrill by the time the caution flag waved on lap 28 for a multi-car incident.
It appeared that the field would be reset for a close and exciting finish, but oil on the racetrack required a massive cleanup effort, and the race’s 70-minute clock ran out before green-flag racing could resume. Matos took the checkered flag under yellow, followed by Merrill. Young Brent Crews finished third in his No. 70 Nitro Motorsports Ford Mustang, followed by his teammate Corey Heim in the No. 90 Nitro Motorsports Mustang. Connor Zilisch maintained his fifth-place starting position to round out the top five in his No. 57 Silver Hare Racing Camaro.
“Today was nerve-wracking for me,” said Matos. “This place is very difficult; tire degradation is a big thing here and I was trying to pace myself. Thomas [Merrill] knows this place very well and he was super quick this weekend, but I think we definitely had a better car in the long run. I couldn’t be more proud of the team. The 3Dimensional Services Group guys did an amazing job again. I have to thank [team owner] Doug Peterson for allowing us to do this at a very high level. This is an extremely good day for us in the championship points, and we’ll build up for Lime Rock.”
“We had great race; we battled with Rafa early on and it was a lot of fun out front,” said Merrill. “When he got out in front of us, he flipped a switch and off he went. We held onto second place, and full credit to the Cope guys for giving me a good car. I also have to thank BridgeHaul and HP Tuners for their support. I’m really glad to be here.”
In the Western Championship, the top three competitors were in a battle for the top of the podium the entire race. Roy Fulmer IV earned the pole in his No. 186 Fulmer’s Auto Body/Nichols Construction Camaro, but competitors Jeff Holden in the No. 11 RELAXandCBD.com/Dakota Lithium/Mid Valley Transmission Camaro and Ken Sutherland in the Cascade Sotheby’s/Wyatt Fire Protection Camaro fought their way past him early on. The three were in tight competition the entire race, but last week’s winner Holden took the checkered flag, followed by Sutherland and Fulmer.
“I am so happy to get two in a row, we’re going to try to keep this going all year,” said Holden. “I have to thank RELAXandCBD.com, Dakota Lithium, Mid Valley Transmission, Joe’s Racing Products and everyone who gets us to the track every weekend. We’re just a small family team, we built this car in my dad’s garage, so we wouldn’t be here without our sponsors.”
Following the event, Matos was awarded the ChillOut Keep Cool Move of the Race, and Crews was awarded the Omologato custom-branded Trans Am watch, earning the Young Gun Fast Lap Award for being the Young Gun with the fastest lap of the race. Doug Peterson in the No. 87 3Dimensional Services Group Mustang won the TA2 Masters award for the National Championship, and Dave Kunicki in the No. 67 Blue Max Camaro won the Masters award for the Western Championship.
The broadcast of today’s race, presented by Big Machine Vodka SPIKED Coolers, will air on CBS Sports Network on Sunday, May 8 at 5:30 p.m. ET, with an encore presentation that night at 10 p.m. ET.
TA2 returns to the track May 27-30 with the Trans Am Memorial Day Classic at Lime Rock Park.
Full provisional race results can be found here.