Francis scores 45th Career Trans Am Victory in late-race shootout

Ernie Francis Jr. held off Boris Said and Chris Dyson in a two-lap shootout to win Saturday’s Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli race at VIRginia International Raceway.

Said started on the pole and led the opening 18 laps in the No. 2 Weaver Racing Dodge Challenger. Francis went to the inside on the front straight on lap 19, edged ahead and maintained the position through Turn 1. Francis led the final 13 laps, including a green/white/checker finish following a late incident, winning by 2.623 seconds.

“Patience was key today from the start of the race,” Francis said. “These cars are wicked fast around here at VIR but it is hard to make a move with the aerodynamics of the Trans Am cars. When I saw an opening, I shot the car in there, hoped it would stick and it did. It is a very big weekend with a doubleheader which means double points. We are trying to maximize what we have here and try to do it again tomorrow.”

It was third victory of the campaign for the six-time champion, and the 45th of his career. Francis also tied Scott Pruett for fourth on the all-time TA list with his 22nd overall victory, and now trails only Paul Gentilozzi (31), Mark Donohue (29) and Tommy Kendall (28).

Said had won in 2002 and 2018, and returned in a brand-new car built by Pancho Weaver. That car will be driven in Sunday’s race by NASCAR veteran Paul Menard.

“It was the first time out in this newly built car,” Said explained. “We have a few things to work on but when we get rid of the bugs, we have a car that is a winner. Ernie (Francis Jr.) did a fantastic job getting by me in traffic. He won today fair and square. We were so dominant for the first half of the race. I made a few mistakes that allowed some room to open up. It was just one of those things. Running this car for the first time, it was a fantastic car.”

Francis leads

Chris Dyson had a back-and-forth day in the No. 20 Plaid Mustang. Passing Frances at the start, he pressured Said during the early laps before losing two positions after being blocked by a backmarker. Dyson fought back, again pressuring Said in the closing laps before finishing third.

“VIR puts on a fantastic show,” Dyson said. “I am so happy we got the Trans Am cars back to this track. The top five were nose to tail the entire time. It is great to have Boris (Said) back and hats off to Ernie (Francis Jr.). When you run in traffic here at VIR it all comes down to timing of when to make that pass. I am excited we have another race here tomorrow and I hope I can get the No. 20 car to the top step tomorrow.”

The race was black-flagged twice. There was a brief stoppage following the opening lap when Jeff Hinkle went off in Turn 6 in the No. 9 Dodge Challenger and damaged the tire barrier. On lap 25, Trans Am West point leader Matthew Butson went into the tires in NASCAR turn, with Tomy Drissi and Humaid Masaood also going off. With time running out, the clock was stopped to allow a green-flag finish.

Amy Ruman finished fourth in the No. 23 McNichols Co. Corvette, followed by Simon Gregg. Tomy Drissi entered the race second in the points and ran with the leaders early in the event in the No. 8 Lucas Oil Corvette. He lost several positions after going off on lap 18, and worked his way back to take sixth.

Ken Thwaits regained the XGT lead on lap 20 and went on to take his third consecutive victory of the season in the No. 5 Franklin Road Apparel Audi R8 GT3 Ultra. Erich Joiner passed Thwaits on lap 14 to take the lead in the No. 10 Championship Coffees and Tool Porsche 911 GT3 R, but went in Turn 10 shortly after Thwaits regained the position.

“A big thank you to my crew,” Thwaits said. “We crashed in qualifying in the rain that required a bit of work. It was so nice being able to race in the dry. We got a good start but the yellows took away any advantage that we had. As usual, I had to fight tooth and nail but it’s great to come away with the win today.”

Lee Saunders led all the way up to the final caution en route to his fourth SGT triumph of 2020 in the No. 84 Landsearch LLC Dodge Viper, but had his work cut out over the final two laps. Adrian Wlostowski made several challenges for the lead before finishing second for the third time this season in the No. 96 F.A.S.T. Auto Ford Mustang, followed by Mark Brummond in the No. 24 Garage Door Dr./Dynamic Auto Tune BMW M4 GT4.

“It feels great to get the win today,” Saunders said. “It was a tough race and we had multiple lead changes, especially on that last lap. Adrian was able to get around me in Oak Tree but I was able to get a draft to get the spot back. Everyone drove very clean and VIR is one of the best tracks in the country.”

With his car damaged in an accident during Thursday testing, Lou Gigliotti raced up to second in his rebuilt No. 28 GT Performance Corvette. His day ended on the 14th lap, when he spun and stopped with a mechanical problem in the Oak Tree turn.

Billy Griffin captured his first GT triumph in the No. 14 Griffin’s Auto Care/Sheehan’s Towing Ford Mustang. Tim Horrell led the first half of the event in quest of his third victory of the season, but parked the No. 45 Breathless Racing Porsche GT4 Clubsport with mechanical issues.

“Today was my first Trans Am win,” Griffin said. “The car was hot, making it tough, but I still had a ton of fun getting to drive around VIR today. Getting the win today gives me a positive mindset going into tomorrow. We have some damage to repair but fixing damage is a lot more fun when I am standing on the top step of the podium. VIR is a fantastic track. Winning here makes it one of my favorites now.”

On Sunday, all five Trans Am classes will race in a 100-mile race to complete the unique VIR doubleheader.

Francis won the TA pole for Sunday’s combined event by virtue of turning the fastest race lap, 1:47.189-seconds. He will be joined on the front row by Dyson, 1:47.488-seconds. Other pole winners were Joiner in XGT, 1:51.543; Saunders in SGT, 1:55.625; and Horrell in GT, 1:58.510.

Sunday’s combined race will be 100 miles with a 70-minute time limit, set to take the green flag at 11:05 a.m. ET. The race will have a divided grid, with TA, TA2® and XGT/SGT/GT having split starts.

Race Results

Pos No. Class PIC Name Sponsor/Car Best Tm Laps Behind Gap
1 98 TA 1 Ernie Francis Jr / Southwest Ranches Fla OneSouthFloridaWealthAdvisors Ford Mustang 1:46.684 31 0.000s 0.000s
2 2 TA 2 Boris Said / Escondido Calif WeaverRacing/Techniques/SRIPerf Dodge Challenger 1:47.495 31 2.623 2.623
3 20 TA 3 Chris Dyson / Poughkeepsie N.Y. Plaid Ford Mustang 1:47.488 31 2.880 0.257
4 23 TA 4 Amy Ruman / Stow Ohio McNichols Co Chevrolet Corvette 1:50.499 31 7.575 4.695
5 59 TA 5 Simon Gregg / Ponte Vedra Bch Fla Derhaag Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro 1:50.844 31 9.022 1.447
6 8 TA 6 Tomy Drissi / Los Angeles Calif Lucas Oil Chevrolet Camaro 1:47.222 31 9.198 0.176
7 86 TA 7 John Baucom / Charlotte N.C. BaucomMtrsprts/ Ford Mustang 1:51.032 31 15.208 6.010
8 7 TA 8 Ryan McManus / Seveill Ohio The McManus Agency Chevrolet Corvette 1:52.104 30 1 Lap 1 Lap
9 30 TA 9 Richard Grant / Germantown Tenn Grant Racing Chevrolet Corvette 1:54.184 30 1 Lap 4.268
10 84 SGT 1 Lee Saunders / Lakeland Fla Landsearch LLC Dodge Viper 1:55.625 30 1 Lap 0.601
11 96 SGT 2 Adrian Wlostowski / Maspeth N.Y. F.A.S.T. Auto Racing Ford Mustang 1:55.734 30 1 Lap 0.471
12 24 SGT 3 Mark Brummond / Charlotte NC GarageDoorDr/DynamicAutoTune BNMW E92 M3 1:57.786 30 1 Lap 2.724
13 6 SGT 4 Carey Grant / Eads Tenn Grant Racing 2 Porsche 991.1 GT3 Cup 1:58.733 30 1 Lap 5.998
14 55 SGT 5 Milton Grant / Germantown Tenn Sentry Self Storage Porsche 991.1 GT3 Cup 1:59.775 30 1 Lap 0.546
15 5 XGT 1 Ken Thwaits / Brentwood Tenn Franklin Road Apparel Audi R8 LMS Ultra 1:52.858 30 1 Lap 2.544
16 14 GT 1 Billy Griffin / W. Palm Beach Fla GriffinAutoCare/Sheehan’sTowing Ford Mustang 2:02.858 29 2 Laps 1 Lap
17 22 GT 2 Steven Davison / Arlington Va Davinci Plastic Surgery Aston Martin Vantage 2:01.191 29 2 Laps 4.280
18 33 SGT 6 Joe Moholland / St Pete Beach Fla Breathless Moholland Racing Chevrolet Corvette 1:58.624 27 4 Laps 2 Laps
19 10 XGT 2 Erich Joiner / Torrance Calif Championship Coffees and Tool Porsche 911 GT3 R 1:51.543 27 4 Laps 9:12.468
20 04 TA 10 Matthew Butson / Snohomish Wash Butson Racing Chevrolet Corvette 1:52.388 23 8 Laps 4 Laps
21 19 TA 11 Kerry Hitt / Harrisburg Penn Advanced Composite Products Inc Cadillac CTS-V 1:52.430 22 9 Laps 1 Lap
22 21 TA 12 Humaid Al Masaood / London England Amamos LaVida Tequilla Ford Mustang 1:52.589 16 15 Laps 6 Laps
23 45 GT 3 Tim Horrell / Parkland Fla Breathless Racing Porsche GT4 Clubsport 1:58.510 15 16 Laps 1 Lap
24 28 SGT 7 Lou Gigliotti / Princeton Tex G2 Performance Chevrolet Corvette 1:55.775 14 17 Laps 1 Lap
25 02 SGT 8 Larry Bailey / Memphis Tenn LogicalSystems/SamPierceChevy Chevrolet Corvette 2:21.171 6 25 Laps 8 Laps
26 26 SGT 9 Aaron Pierce / Fishers Ind LogicalSystems/SamPierceChevy Chevrolet Corvette 2:05.166 5 26 Laps 1 Lap
27 9 TA 13 Jeff Hinkle / Destin Fla Dodge Challenger 0 31 Laps 5 Laps