Driving the No. 6 Disco 106/ECR Engines/Goodyear Chevrolet Corvette, Lopez blistered the 3.7-mile Sebring circuit with a lap at 2:00.587 (110.459 mph), well in excess of the previous Trans-Am lap record 2:03.885 (107.519 mph) set by Boris Said in 2001. With the pole, Lopez also scored the first championship point of the season.
“It’s just amazing," Lopez said. “I’ve got to say thank you so much to my uncle, Carlos Lopez, because he’s the one that really put this all together. We weren’t really all that prepared to come here a couple weeks ago and he worked his butt off to get the car down from Illinois and get a whole crew together and all the tools we need and everything.
“It’s my first pole and the car was just hooked up. The car felt good yesterday and yesterday I learned a little bit about how to drive the track. You can’t be too aggressive on coming out of some of the slow corners because you’ll pitch the car sideway, so you’ve just got to be real progressive on the throttle. Through some of the quicker stuff, I just said, ‘RJ, don’t lift off that gas!’ I still lifted a little bit, but I guess it was enough to get the pole, so I’m super happy. I’m really happy for the crew. I guess we’re leading the points now because we got a point for that, so it’s great. We’ve just got to make sure we stay in front tomorrow."
Joining Lopez on the front row will be defending series champion Tony Ave, of Maiden, N.C., in the No. 4 Lamers Racing/McMahon Group/Optech/PME Engines Chevrolet Corvette. Ave posted a best lap at 2:01.646 (109.498 mph) to secure second on the grid, but he believes an issue with the car prevented him from scoring his 13th career Trans-Am pole.
“We had low voltage," Ave explained. “It acted like it would only run on seven cylinders, so I just did one lap and came in. After our first lap and his first lap, we were on pole, but then he went a bit quicker and our car was slowing down. I think we could have got the pole, but the battery was going dead or something. We’ll have to work on it and see if we can beat ‘em tomorrow."
Cliff Ebben, of Appleton, Wis., will start third in the No. 36 McMahon Group/Stumpf Ford/Lamers Racing Ford Mustang at 2:02.392 (108.830 mph), followed by Amy Ruman, of Kent, Ohio, who clocked a best qualifying lap of 2:03.643 (107.729 mph) in the No. 23 McNichols/Goodyear/Cenweld Chevrolet Corvette. Simon Gregg, of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., was fifth at 2:04.524 (106.967 mph) in the No. 59 Derhaag Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette.
Carlos de Quesada, of Miami, Fla., originally qualified the No. 22 Alegra Motorsports/Vitalz Jaguar XKR in the third position at 2:02.309 (108.904 mph). However, post-qualifying technical inspection revealed that his rear wing did not conform to series rules so he was moved back five positions and will start his first Trans-Am Series race from eighth on the grid.
In qualifying for the new Trans-Am 2 class, which makes its debut as a points-paying class this weekend at Sebring, Tony Amico, of St. Petersburg, Fla., took the pole position. Amico turned a best lap at 2:15.056 (98.625 mph) in the No. 78 Caddy’s on the Beach Chevrolet Monte Carlo.
“I’ve been on this track a lot of times and I know the track real well," said Amico. “It feels good to be the pole, but that means you’ve got to stay in front of everybody in the race, and that’s tough to do. The biggest challenge is staying out of the way of (the Trans-Am cars) and trying to run a semblance of a line. I try to move out of the way of them and I have to slow down quite a bit so I don’t spin out or go off the track. That’s the biggest challenge, but we all have to deal with it. Racing is racing."
Starting second in TA2 will be Gregg Rodgers, of Southlake, Texas, in the No. 40 PinnacleAutosports.com/Eagles Canyon Raceway/Petfinder.com Chevrolet Camaro at 2:17.686 (96.741 mph). J. Thomas “Hollywood" Graham will start third in TA3 at 2:19.975 (95.159 mph).
The 2011 SCCA Pro Racing Trans-Am Series kicks off on Friday morning at 9:10 a.m. ET. The scheduled distance for the race is 28 laps (103.6 miles). Live updates and Timing & Scoring data from the race will be available at www.trans-amracing.com/transamlive.
1. TA, (6) RJ Lopez, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Chevrolet Corvette, 2:00.587, 110.459.
2. TA, (4) Tony Ave, Maiden, N.C., Chevrolet Corvette, 2:01.646, 109.498.
3. TA, (36) Cliff Ebben, Appleton, Wis., Ford Mustang, 2:02.392, 108.830.
4. TA, (23) Amy Ruman, Kent, Ohio, Chevrolet Corvette, 2:03.643, 107.729.
5. TA, (59) Simon Gregg, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., Chevrolet Corvette, 2:04.524, 106.967.
6. TA, (18) Daniel Ramoutarsingh, La Romain, Trinidad, Jaguar XKR, 2:05.442, 106.184.
7. TA, (07) Blaise Csida, Stouffville, Ontario, Chevrolet C6 Corvette, 2:05.994, 105.719.
*8. TA, (22) Carlos de Quesada, Miami, Fla., Jaguar XKR, 2:02.309, 108.904.
9. TA, (77) Glen Jung, Osteen, Fla., Mazda RX-7, 2:06.198, 105.548.
10. TA, (3) Kenny Bupp, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Chevrolet Camaro, 2:06.395, 105.384.
11. TA, (00) Doug Harrington, Kemah, Texas, Chevrolet Corvette, 2:06.441, 105.345.
12. TA, (86) John Baucom, Charlotte, N.C., Ford Mustang, 2:06.592, 105.220.
13. TA, (92) Charles Wicht, Big Pine Key, Fla., Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 2:07.794, 104.230.
14. TA, (9) Jordan Bupp, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Chevrolet Camaro, 2:08.261, 103.850.
15. TA, (66) Denny Lamers, Appleton, Wis., Chevrolet Corvette, 2:09.449, 102.897.
16. TA, (55) Scott Tucker, Overland Park, Kansas, Porsche 977 Cup, 2:12.100, 100.832.
17. TA, (70) David Jans, Mundelein, Ill., Ford Mustang, 2:13.793, 99.556.
18. TA2, (78) Tony Amico, St. Petersburg, Fla., Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 2:15.056, 98.625.
19. TA2, (40) Gregg Rodgers, Southlake, Texas, Chevrolet Camaro, 2:17.686, 96.741.
20. TA2, (7) J. Thomas Graham, Clearwater, Fla., Ford Taurus, 2:19.975, 95.159.
21. TA2, (37) George Lutich, Palm Harbor, Fla., Chevrolet Camaro, 2:21.179, 94.348.
22. TA2, (32) Bill Prietzel, Hubertus, Wis., Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 2:22.449, 93.507.
23. TA2, (19) Ricky Sanders, Stockbridge, Ga., Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 2:28.182, 89.889.
* – NOTE – No. 22 was penalized five positions for noncompliant rear wing.