|Ernie Francis, Jr. wins again|
Ernie Francis, Jr., made it win number seven in 2017 for the No. 98 Buoniconti Fund Ford Mustang today in Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli action at Virginia International Raceway, bolstering his TA class championship aspirations. Cindi Lux would secure her second career TA3 class win, while Steven Davison captured the first TA4 class win of his Trans Am career.
Francis began the race on pole with Paul Fix, in the No. 4 StopFlex/ ClassicTube/ CarCoach Chevrolet Corvette, alongside. While Fix was able to keep the No. 98 close through the first few laps, Francis was able to build a solid gap entering the first full caution of the race on lap five of the slated 31.
Following the restart Francis again began building a lead on the rest of the field, turning consistent lap times while working through the multi-class traffic–his best, a 1:48.132, stood as the fast lap of the race and a new track record for the TA class. Come the end of the race, Francis comfortably passed the checkered flag with a 19.3 second gap on the rest of the TA field.
The win edges Francis, who made the jump to the TA class this year after three consecutive TA4 class championships, closer to yet another Trans Am championship to his name. While the championship remains Francis’ primary goal, the win also brings him to a total of 30 series victories across all classes–now sitting second behind Paul Gentilozzi.
“This was a race we knew we needed to get some points in," said Francis. “Vinnie (Allegretta) was starting in the back, so we knew there was a good chance we could build on our lead in the championship. We went out there and Paul Fix put some pressure on us in the beginning and got into the back of us a bit; but once that happened, we just checked out and pulled away from him–we turned some good laps out there, just doing what we had to do."
Francis entered the weekend on the back of a disappointing round at Watkins Glen International where the No. 98 suffered a mechanical failure while in the lead; however, at VIR Francis seemed strong as ever.
“We couldn’t have won today without help from EMCO Gears and Mark Meissen. our chassis builder," said Francis. “They both worked really hard to figure out a gear pack that could handle the abuse and show speed out there–they worked magic and got the car back together and it worked perfectly for the entire race."
Paul Fix would bring the No. 4 home in second position, also with a considerable gap on the rest of the field, for his fourth consecutive podium finish at VIR, following up class victories in 2014, 2015 and 2017.
Finishing third was Shane Lewis, making his TA class debut in the No. 6 Derhaag Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette, after a back and forth battle with defending TA class champion Amy Ruman. Lewis, a full-time TA2 competitor, stepped in to fill the seat of the No. 6 after its originally slated driver Cameron Lawrence was forced to sit the race out following evaluation as the result of a heavy hit in TA2 practice, in which Lawrence was also participating.
Amy Ruman and the No. 23 McNichols Company Chevrolet Corvette would finish fourth by a comfortable margin; while Simon Gregg, in the No. 59 Derhaag Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette, completed the top five while giving Derhaag Motorsports two top-five finishes.
In TA3, Cindi Lux, in the No. 45 Lux Performance Dodge Viper ACR-X, secured her first class win since 2015. Lux, a part-time competitor in the Series, started the race in second position but quickly jumped to first over Tim Kezman, who started the race on pole in the No. 14 Fall-Line Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 Cup. The two TA3 competitors would spend much of the race nose-to-tail with Lux holding a slight advantage; however, the No. 14 would go off course briefly with only a handful of laps remaining, leaving Lux to cross the finish line relatively unchallenged. Lux also set a new TA3 class record 1:53.548 on the 21st lap of the race.
“This was anything but a gimme, that’s for sure," said Lux. “This was definitely one of the hardest races I’ve had in Trans Am, but in a good way, a fun way. This is where we need to be with the cars; Tim was so much stronger in the tighter corners with the Porsche but the Viper was stronger on the straights. I’m really proud of the crew. I know it sounds generic; but the bottom line is this: We travel all the way out from Portland, Oregon, and we’re going to bring our A game as much as we can. And that’s what I got from these guys. I’m stoked and ready to go celebrate tonight."
Finishing third in the TA3 class was Tom Herb, in the No. 16 Fall-Line Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3, securing his fourth podium finish of the season; while points leader Mark Boden, in the No. 46 Fall-Line Motorsports Porsche 997 Cup, and Dirk Leuenberger, in the No. 35 Lux Performance Group Dodge Viper ACRX, completed the TA3 top five.
In TA4, rookie Steven Davison, driver of the No. 2 DaVinci Plastic Surgery Aston Martin Vantage GT4, won a survivor’s race for his career-first TA4 win– rebounding after having a victory rescinded after Watkins Glen for avoidable contact. After front runners Brian Kleeman and Todd Napieralski came together on the first lap of the race and were removed from contention, Davison navigated the multi-class field while keeping JR Pesek, in the No. 10 Rennsport KC Ford Mustang, at bay for the win.
“Any win is fantastic," said Davison. “Any time you get on the podium is a big positive. I tried not to let the penalty last round affect me and instead tried to learn from the issues. I stayed out of the way this time–fitting as the win came my way after car-to-car contact. After that, self-preservation was priority one."
JR Pesek would bring the No. 10 home in second position, the only other finisher in the category.
The race underwent a single full-course caution lasting from lap five to lap eight for fluid cleanup between turns 10, 11 and 12. In total, the race underwent the full 31 laps around the 3.27-mile, 18-turn course for a total of 101.37-miles.
For her first lap pass of Tim Kezman, Cindi Lux was awarded the Coolshirt Systems Cool Move of the race, while the VA Racing team of Vinnie Allegretta won the Pitboxes.com Crew of the Race for their efforts in repairing the No. 41 Chevrolet Corvette following car-to-car contact in practice. For his efforts in helping the team with repairs, fellow competitor Kerry Hitt was awarded the PitBoxes.com Crew Chief of the Race in an honorary capacity.
Earlier in the weekend the TA2 class held their VIR Muscle Car Challenge competition with Gar Robinson emerging victorious; full coverage of that race can be found at gotransam.com.
The Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli will now head to New Jersey Motorsports Park for the New Jersey Muscle Car Challenge and New Jersey Trans Am 100 for Round 11 of the 2017 championship.
All results provisional until posted final.