In his first TA class start of the 2022 season, Justin Marks won the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli Franklin Road Apparel Classic at Watkins Glen International in a rain-filled event where the new Pirelli 18-inch rain tire made its impressive debut. Marks started the race from the pole and led every treacherous lap in the wet. Second-place finisher Chris Dyson, who has led the point standings since the season opener at Sebring International Raceway, officially clinched the 2022 TA championship.
After laying down a new track record in yesterday’s sunny qualifying session, Marks took the green flag under rainy conditions in his No. 5 Franklin Road Apparel Camaro. He instantly opened up a gap on Dyson’s No. 20 GYM WEED/ALTWELL Ford Mustang, which he maintained until the first caution flag of the day waved on lap four. When green-flag racing resumed, Dyson challenged for the lead, but Marks once again pulled ahead of the field with significant speed.
Meanwhile, fourth-place Ken Thwaits in the No. 7 Franklin Road Apparel Camaro, who was second in the standings coming into this weekend’s event, sustained contact on lap 6. The contact broke his car’s suspension and forced the Showtime Motorsports team owner to retire, relegating him to a ninth-in-class finish. Thwaits’ misfortune allowed Tomy Drissi in the No. 8 Lucas Oil Ford Mustang to enter the top five. Despite a fogged windshield obscuring his view, Drissi began to carefully pick off his competitors. By lap nine, Drissi had advanced into the fourth position, and after a lap-20 restart, he maneuvered around the No. 2 Technique Chassis/STEEL-IT/Weaver Dodge Challenger of Boris Said for third place.
The restart on lap 20 gave Dyson one final chance to make the pass for the lead, but Marks’ speed was too great, and he pulled out to gap Dyson, who was also now struggling with an obstructed view from windshield fog.
With the clock winding down, Marks maintained his lead for the final four laps and crossed the finish line to earn his first ever Trans Am victory in his ninth-career start. Dyson and Drissi rounded out the podium in second and third respectively, while Said took the fourth position. Paul Fix in the No. 21 allgram Ford Mustang was fifth. Kerry Hitt in the No. 22 ACP Motorsports Camaro earned the Masters Award for the TA class, and Drissi was awarded the ChillOut Keep Cool Move of the Race.
“Winning is better than losing, isn’t it?” said Marks to his young daughters in victory lane. “This is awesome. My car was great right off the truck. These Franklin Road Apparel guys at Showtime Motorsports built a really, really great race car that was prepared super well.
“I have not driven a TA car at Watkins Glen before, so it was great to be able to get into the car in that first test session and have it just work immediately. These are my favorite racecars in the world. I’ve driven a lot of cool stuff, but there’s nothing that quite compares to Trans Am. We’ve got to get the word out to the world about how amazing this series is, and I’ll certainly do my part. I’m honored and humbled to be able to have a great weekend here.”
At the conclusion of the event, Dyson had accrued enough points to clinch his second-career championship in the Trans Am TA class.
“We’ve had a lot of good days here, and today was certainly one of the more exciting ones,” said Dyson from the podium. “Justin [Marks] put on a clinic out there. I’m so happy to be here with ALTWELL and GYM WEED joining forces with the series in addition to being on our car. We’re just trying to grow this thing, and if we can keep having weekends like this together, with the competitive fight we have up front, I think this series is just going from strength to strength right now. I’m proud to be here and proud to be a champion.”
In XGT, Stephen Hamman in the No. 72 TLM Racing Porsche GT3 Cup 991.2 got out to an early lead, but he went off track and into the gravel trap on lap six, leaving his teammate Jody Miller in the No. 3 TLM Racing Porsche GT3 Cup 991.2 with the lead. Miller earned the class victory in his first Trans Am start, followed by Danny Lowry in the No. 42 BridgeHaul/Bennett International/Pitboxes.com Audi R8 LMS.
“First of all, it was treacherous; I think that’s the word of the day,” said Miller. “Visibility just was not there. But what I liked about it is that everybody kept their head about them. I didn’t see any dangerous driving, and people were courteous. I think we all had our heads in the game, and for a first-time Trans Am racer, I couldn’t have been happier with the field. TLM did an awesome job prepping the car, and I would not be here without Pippa Mann. She has been my coach for almost two years now, and without her guidance and coaching, I wouldn’t be here. I am so thankful to have her in my paddock.”
The SGT class was the most exciting finish of the day, as the win came down to the final turn of the final lap. Aaron Pierce in the No. 26 LSI Inc./Sam Pierce Chevrolet Corvette led the entire race, until a bobble on the final turn widened his line. With Lee Saunders in the No. 44 Landsearch LLC Dodge Viper right on his tail, he was able to make the last-lap pass for the victory. Pierce finished second, and Dirk Leuenberger in the No. 35 Lux Performance Group Dodge Viper finished third.
“That was my favorite race I’ve ever been in,” said Saunders. “I’d like to thank God for allowing us to be here today and for keeping everybody safe. Thank you to Trans Am; this is unbelievable. I’ve never been to Watkins Glen before and it is an absolutely beautiful facility. Thanks to the fans for coming out, it’s just awesome seeing everybody out there, even in the rain. I’d like to dedicate this race to my best friend Brian. He lost his battle with cancer about a month ago and it was really special to win for him today. He would have been watching if he was still here with us, but I know he’s watching from above.”
In GT, Michael Saia in the No. 13 Rapid Performance Management/Rapid Wraps PMC Porsche GT3 Cup 997.1 led the first half of the event, but at the halfway point, a spin allowed Scott James in the No. 61 Chicane Racing/Vascular Care Group Porsche GT3 Cup to take over the lead. In the final laps, Saia recovered and made the pass for the lead, earning the victory in the class.
“I want to say thanks to KMC, my crew chief Chris Ross, my teammate, and Trans Am for putting on a great show,” said Saia. “I think I need my head examined to be out there for that long. I had a couple of spins, came back, rallied and thank God I got through it. On a scale of 0-10, the visibility was a negative 50.”
The broadcast of today’s race, presented by Franklin Road Apparel, will air on CBS Sports Network on Sunday, September 18 at 5:30 p.m. ET, with an encore presentation later that evening at 11:30 p.m. ET.
TA returns to the track October 6-9 at Virginia International Raceway.