Pickett Wins Trans-Am Return
Greg Pickett, of Benicia, Calif., captured his 17th-career Trans-Am win today at Road Atlanta, the season-opener for the Muscle Milk SCCA Trans-Am Series and the first Trans-Am race since 2006. Michael Skeen, of Charlotte, N.C., and Amy Ruman, of Kent, Ohio, completed the top three.
Driving the No. 6 Muscle Milk Jaguar XKR, Pickett started third behind polesitter Tony Ave’s No. 10 McMahon Group/Stumpf Ford Mustang and Tomy Drissi’s No. 5 X-Men Origins – Wolverine Jaguar XKR and fell back another position at the start to fourth-starting R.J. Lopez, of Bal Harbour, Fla.
Ave built a six-second lead in the opening seven laps over Lopez, Drissi and Pickett. On lap eight, Lopez began to separate his No. 06 WabashPower.com/Mobil 1/Goodyear Chevrolet Corvette from the pair of Jaguars and started to reel in Ave’s Mustang. Ten laps later, Lopez was all over Ave and took the lead on lap 20.
From there, Ave fell back into the clutches of the pair of Jaguars, eventually dropping from second to fourth on lap 24, with Pickett moving to second and Drissi remaining third.
All the while, Rookie Skeen, known to the road racing community from the 2008 television show Setup, was slicing through the field after starting last (19th) in his No. 70 Atlantic Autosport Chevrolet Corvette. Two laps later, he was clear of Ave with his sights set on the Jaguars of Drissi and Pickett.
In the meantime, Lopez drove away to a four second lead and looked to be in good shape to take a Trans-Am Series debut win. In traffic, Pickett was able to bring the gap down to the two second range, but on lap 32, it was back up to nearly three seconds. Eight corners later, it was all over, as the Corvette’s motor expired on the back straightaway without warning.
“It just went,” Lopez said. “I was 100 percent sure I had the win. I was starting to cruise, saw Pickett coming after the traffic and was able to pick the pace back up. Next time…”
At the same time Lopez’s motor was expiring, Ave tangled with another car and ended up in the Turn One gravel, ending a run that started with his first series pole earlier in the day. Both incidents brought out the full-course caution and when the field came around to be picked up by the pace car, Pickett was in front, with Drissi second and Skeen third.
As the cleanup ensued, it appeared that the final three would be locked in with the 36-lap, 91.44-mile contest ending under yellow, but on the final tour, Drissi’s Jaguar sputtered to a stop with a fuel pickup problem, promoting Skeen to second and Ruman’s No. 30 McNichols/Goodyear/Cenweld Corp Chevrolet Corvette to third.
“This is a little fairy tale, winning the first race in the series that Muscle Milk sponsors,” Pickett said. “I’m just tickled for the SCCA and our Muscle Milk brand. Trans-Am is back!
“It was a difficult race. I’ve done a lot of these races, and you can’t push too hard—it just won’t work over the course of a race. RJ [Lopez] was going faster than I wanted to go at that point. But he was gradually coming back to me. It was too bad for him, but look—we have two GT-1 cars on the podium. That’s fantastic. We need more people to bring their GT-1 cars out to race with us in Trans-Am!”
Skeen earned the Flowmaster Star of the Race Award and the Sunoco Hard Charger of the race for his drive from 19th to second. He set a new Trans-Am Series lap record during his run to the front of 1:22.650 (110.635 mph). Skeen was visibly exhausted after the race.
“This is our first race this long and I don’t have a cool suit,” Skeen said. “In fact, we’ve only had the car a month and weren’t really sure we were coming until last week. In qualifying, we had a wheel separate and didn’t turn a time. We knew we would have a good pace because we were good in practice and that was on old tires—we only had one set of sticker tires.
“From the start, we just went for all the marbles. I knew I was catching the Jaguars, and figured Tony [Ave] was running away. Toward the end, I was starting to get hot, but I was still keeping up. It’s great to finish second.”
Ruman started sixth and ran seventh for the first 20 laps before gradually moving up as other cars retired. When, Drissi stopped on course on the final lap, she wasn’t sure what to do and didn’t realize where she’d finished until after the checkered flag fell.
“This is just awesome,” Ruman, who equaled her father Bob Ruman’s best finish of third, said. “This McNichols team has worked so hard for so long. [Jeff] Emery and I were battling for a long time and when I got clear, I was about 14-15 seconds off the cars ahead of me and we were trying to close in and were beginning to. It really fell our way today in the end.”
Ruman’s accomplishment was particularly impressive as she was competing with a 310ci engine in a sea of larger-displacement powerplants.
John Schaller, of Fort Myers, Fla., moved from eighth on the grid to finish fourth in his No. 08 JRS Motorsport/Central Power Distribution Chevrolet Camaro, followed by Drissi, who was the first car one lap down.
Daniel Ramoutarsingh (Jaguar), Jon “Chevy” Leavy (Camaro), Bob Monette (Corvette), Glen Jung (Mazda RX-7) and Rob Foster (Corvette) completed the top 10.
After the race, Pickett revealed that he would donate his winnings to series programs that help GT-1 racers get to future Muscle Milk SCCA Trans-Am Series events.
The series next travels to VIRginia International Raceway April 17-19 as part of the North Carolina Region Double National weekend. For more information, please visit www.sccatrans-am.com.