|Francis at Sebring last year|
For the fifth consecutive year the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli will begin the racing season at Sebring International Raceway. The 2018 championship will commence this weekend, March 3-4, with 63 competitors participating across its four classes. The annual pilgrimage south is more than a modern-day tradition, the event stands as a return to Trans Am’s very birthplace where its inaugural event was held in 1966, a fitting way to begin each season anew.
The event will feature two 110.98, 27-lap races on the iconic 3.74-mile circuit on Sunday, following Trans Am’s standard weekend format in the modern era: a multi-class TA, TA3 and TA4 race and the TA2 Muscle Car Challenge powered by AEM race. As in years past, the event will be held in conjunction with the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association’s Sebring Vintage Classic.
With every new season comes new faces, new opportunities and another shot at Trans Am championships. Sebring stands as a fresh start for veterans and rookies alike, of which the entries boast a plethora of both.
In the TA class, Ernie Francis, Jr., in the No. 98 Frameless Shower Doors Ford Mustang, stands the man to beat on any given day- and for good reason, as his 2017 showing was dominant in fashion, racking up 10 wins over the 13 rounds of action on his way to the class championship in his first year of TA competition. 2017’s Sebring race marked Francis’ debut in the TA class, as he set pole and led most of the race before being sidelined with a mechanical failure- leaving the lead to Cliff Ebben who captured victory in the No. 36 Stumpf Ford/ McMahon Ford Mustang.
Facing Francis at Sebring will be a field of 18 additional TA competitors, including Amy Ruman, the 2016 and 2015 champ in the No. 23 McNichols Company Chevrolet Corvette, and Simon Gregg, the 2012 champ in the No. 59 Derhaag Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette. Ruman saw success at Sebring in 2015, setting pole and topping the podium; however, the past two years at Sebring have been difficult ones for both Ruman and Gregg, with both missing out on podium finishes.
After a partial effort in 2017, Paul Fix, in the No. 4 StopFlex.com/ CarCoachReports.com Ford Mustang, returns to full competition for 2018. Fix stands one of the true veterans of the TA class, having made his Trans Am debut in 2000 at Road America, and will make his 66th Trans Am start at Sebring in pursuit of his 12th class win.
Other veterans to the TA class in attendance include 2016 Sebring victor Kenny Bupp, in the No. 81 Hamilton Safe Security/ NCR Chevrolet Camaro, making his first TA appearance in over a year; Cliff Ebben; and 2017 SCCA GT-1 National Champion David Pintaric, in the No. 57 Kryderacing Cadillac CTS-V. 2017 TA class Rookie of the Year Jeff Hinkle, in the No. 9 Technical Realty Group of Texas Dodge Challenger, is also set for another season of competition.
A newcomer of note to the TA class is Lawrence Loshak, in the No. 2 Pennzoil/ ETE/ GoShare Chevrolet Camaro. Loshak enters TA after a stint of 32 starts in the TA2 class and a single appearance in TA at Circuit of The Americas in 2017, where he finished second to Francis. Now with Burtin Racing, Loshak will look to continue that success, potentially adding to a trophy cabinet that includes five SCCA National Championships and the 2013 Mark Donahue Award.
A last minute addition to the field is Chris Dyson, in the No. 20 CD Racing Ford Mustang, fielding a TA class championship effort under the newly formed CD Racing banner. Dyson announced the formation of the team mid-day Thursday, with the intent of tackling a wider breadth of motorsport including Trams Am, midget and sprint cars. Sebring will mark Dyson’s second Trans Am start, following up on his debut in a one-off appearance at Watkins Glen last year with Kryderacing.
The TA2 class returns to Sebring in form, with 32 cars taking to the tightly contested class with plenty of new faces mixed in with the veterans of Trans Am competition.
Tony Buffomante, 2016 TA2 champ and driver of the No. 34 Mike Cope Racing Ford Mustang, returns for another full season of competition as the winningest TA2 driver over the past two seasons. 2018 marks a continuation of the No. 34 and the Mike Cope Racing Enterprises duo that has been a powerhouse over the past several years, where Buffomante has finished first and second in the TA2 championship points.
Shane Lewis, a perennial top-three finisher in the TA2 championship, returns as well, this time in the No. 92 TurnKey Industries Chevrolet Camaro for Napoleon Motorsports. Lewis, who ran with Robinson Racing from 2015 to 2017, will now work to replicate his stellar results with his new team and teammate, Joe Napoleon, driver of the No. 91 TurnKey Industries Chevrolet Camaro.
The duo of Rafa Matos, in the No. 88 3-Dimensional Services Group Chevrolet Camaro, and Doug Peterson, 2013 and 2014 TA class champ and driver of the No. 87 3-Dimensional Services Group Chevrolet Camaro, return as well. Both Matos and Peterson saw success in 2017 with multiple top-five finishes despite a partial schedule and mechanical issues late in the season.
Tony Ave will also make a rare appearance in the driver’s seat in the No. 25 BC Race Cars Chevrolet Camaro for team owner Blaise Csida, debuting the brand new No. 25 at Sebring. Ave, who spends most of his time at track managing Tony Ave Racing, one of the largest TA teams and suppliers, only made a single appearance in Trans Am in 2017. Still, Ave stands as one of the most successful drivers in Trans Am history with 18 wins and as holder of the 2010 and 2011 Trans Am championships.
Sportscar veteran Marc Miller will make his official Trans Am debut at Sebring in the No. 12 Speedlogix/ Prefix Dodge Challenger, headlining a four-car Stevens-Miller effort that will feature fellow rookies Ethan Wilson and Paul Van Terry alongside veteran Peter Klutt. Miller had participated in a TA2 exhibition race in 2016 at the Detroit Grand Prix, finishing second to Kyle Marcelli, a mark he will be eager to replicate this weekend.
Tom Sheehan, in the No. 97 LTK Insulation Technologies Chevrolet Camaro, a top-five championship finisher in 2017, returns, as do Keith Prociuk, in the No. 9 HP Tuners Chevrolet Camaro, and Louis-Philippe Montour, in the No. 13 Montour Ltd. Chevrolet Camaro, both running under the Mike Cope tent.
Additional debutants in the TA2 class include Edward Sevadjian, in the No. 70 Multi Builders/ Texas Tool Chevrolet Camaro; Anthony Honeywell, in the No. 76 Liquid Moly Chevrolet Camaro; and Frank Dalene, in the No. 82 Telemark Inc Chevrolet Camaro.
TA3 competition will be headlined by the returning Fall-Line Motorsports trio of Mark Boden, Tim Kezman and Tom Herb who swept the top three places in the TA3 championship in 2017. Boden, the defending champ and driver of the No. 46 Fall-Line Porsche 991 GT3 Cup, also stands the defending TA3 victor at Sebring, emerging victorious after a race-long battle with Randy Kinsland.
Kinsland returns to competition as well, bringing in tow the No. 11 RF Engines Chevrolet Corvette, with the hope that the mechanical issues that derailed his 2017 championship bid midseason are a thing of the past.
Trans Am veterans Milton Grant, in the No. 55 Sentry Self Porsche 991.1, and Dave Ricci, in the No. 71 Breathless Racing Chevrolet Camaro, will both be back in TA3 action; while Alline Cipriani, in the No. 60 Ginetta G55, will make her Trans Am debut as the Ginetta make prepares for its first season of Trans Am action.
In TA4, defending champion Brian Kleeman, in the No. 07 DWW Motorsports/ Racetech Ford Mustang Boss, returns with his DWW teammate Chris Outzen, in the No. 09 DWW Motorsports/itrackzone Ford Mustang, alongside. In 2017, Sebring helped launch Kleeman’s championship winning campaign, with the Baltimore, Maryland, based driver setting pole and leading every lap in a victory.
The Phoenix Performance team of Andrew Aquilante, in the No. 32 Phoenix Performance/Hawk Chevrolet Camaro SS, and Ronald Hugate, in the No. 42 Phoenix Performance/Hawk Ford Mustang Boss, will also be in attendance. Despite the race only marking Aquilante’s fourth Trans Am start, he has two Series victories to his name. The event will be Hugate’s debut.
Steven Davison, in the DAVinci Plastic Surgery Aston Martin Vantage, also returns to competition in 2018 looking to improve upon his fifth place finish in the 2017 championship.
Friday March 2, 2018
11:30 AM – 11:55 AM TA/TA3/TA4 Test Session 1
11:55 AM – 12:20 PM TA2 Test Session 1
4:50 PM – 5:15 PM TA/TA3/TA4 Test Session 2
5:15 PM – 5:40 PM TA2 Test Session 2
Saturday March 3, 2018
10:35 AM – 11:05 AM TA, TA3 TA4 Practice
11:30 AM – 12:00 PM TA2 Practice
5:05 PM – 5:25 PM TA Qualifying
5:27 PM – 5:44 PM TA3/TA4 Qualifying
5:48 PM – 6:05 TA2 Qualifying
Sunday March 4, 2018
11:05 AM – 12:20 PM TA, TA3, TA4 Race
3:05 PM – 4:35 PM TA2 Muscle Car Challenge powered by AEM Infinity