Chris Dyson passed Ernie Francis Jr. in Turn 1 on the final lap to complete a last-to-first victory in Sunday’s Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli 2021 season opener at Sebring International Raceway.
Electing to change Pirelli tires before the start, Dyson gave up his second-row grid position and started at the back of the 22-car grid. Undeterred, he charged through the field in the No. 20 Plaid Ford Mustang for his seventh-career TA victory in the caution-free event.
“Coming down and fighting with Ernie (Francis Jr.) is why we come here to race, he and I both come here and use each other as a benchmark.,” Dyson said. “The good Lord was looking down on us today, I am so blessed to be here. I’ve been down here for a week trying to prepare. I miss my family and I’m just happy to bring a win home.
“We didn’t have much of a choice after yesterday’s qualifying other than to change the tires and start from the back,” explained Dyson. “I was hoping for a yellow, but it never came, so I just had to drive my head off.”
Francis Jr. led nearly all the way in the No. 98 Future Star/Breathless Racing Ford Mustang to begin his quest for an eighth-consecutive Trans Am title. Francis Jr. held off relentless pressure from both Tomy Drissi and later Dyson before finishing second, 0.659-seconds back.
“It was a really hard-fought battle with Chris Dyson out there,” said Francis Jr. “It’s always disappointing coming in second after leading most of the race. I have to thank my Breathless Racing team. They gave me a great car all weekend and we barely had to do anything to the car between sessions, it was there and it was on point all weekend. A little mistake by me in the race allowed Chris to get by, and I just burned up the equipment during the race. I will have to work on that for the next one.”
Adam Andretti finished third in the No. 43 ECC/Anchor Bolt & Screw Dodge Challenger, in the thick of the battle throughout the race before falling back with ignition box problems.
“We had a good starting spot, got right up behind Ernie (Francis Jr.) at the beginning, but made a few mistakes early on,” said Andretti. “Through it all we ended up with an ignition box failure the entire race. The dashboard was going crazy the whole time with the lights, so we were really just nursing it home at that point.
“I had a great time coming out here and being with my Trans Am family,” Andretti said on the podium. “Racing with these competitors, there’s nothing like it. They are true professionals, true champions, it’s really a blessing. We are always out there racing for my dad and my brother. I love those guys and really miss them.”
Francis pulled away at the start, but Drissi began trimming the lead in the No. 8 Lucas Oil Chevrolet Camaro. Drissi managed to briefly pull ahead at the start/finish line with 10 laps remaining, but Francis retook the lead in Turn 1. Two laps later, Drissi spun in Turn 5 – costing him two positions and 30 seconds.
“Sorry guys,” Drissi said on his radio. “Big picture. Big picture.”
Dyson had taken third from Andretti moments before the Drissi spin and was 4.275-seconds behind Francis Jr. He nosed ahead with three laps remaining but spun, putting Francis Jr. back out front. Dyson didn’t lose much ground and continued the charge, regaining the lead on the final lap.
Justin Marks took fifth in the No. 99 Ave Motorsports, followed by Amy Ruman in the No. 23 McNichols Co./Cornertech/CNC Solutions Corvette.
In SGT, Justin Oakes took his second victory in three races driving the No. 11 Droneworks Corvette.
“I had a blast out there,” said Oakes. “The whole team came together to give me a beast of a car. We made a lot of changes to it going into this race. We didn’t get any testing done because of the conditions in Texas (COTA), but we showed up and everything worked great. I want to thank my competitors. I came to this series basically to race with guys like Lee (Saunders) and Mike (Phillips) and everyone else, and had so much fun doing it.”
Defending series champion Lee Saunders led the opening four laps in the No. 84 Landsearch LLC Dodge Viper. Oakes needed five laps to take the lead, going on to win by 20 seconds.
“It was awesome running with Justin (Oakes) today,” Saunders said. “We had some really close battles and he raced me super clean, so I really have to thank him for that. It’s going to be a really fun season.”
Phillips took third in his Trans Am debut, driving the No. 97 F.A.S.T. Auto Racing Corvette. Aaron Pierce was in position for a podium finish before losing oil pressure with nine laps remaining.
Fourth-place finisher Lou Gigliotti was the Masters winner in SGT. He blew the head gasket in his No. 28 LG Motorsports Corvette during qualifying. His participation was doubtful when his team could not find a spare part. Fortunately, a late-night search ended at a local junkyard where a Corvette was found and the needed part was procured.
Philip Di Pippo topped the podium for the GT class in the No. 94 Sasco Sports Ford Mustang.
|1||20||TA||1||Chris Dyson / Poughkeepsie N.Y.||Plaid Ford Mustang||27||0.000s||0.000s|
|2||98||TA||2||Ernie Francis Jr / Southwest Ranches Fla||Breathless Pro Racing Ford Mustang||27||0.659||0.659|
|3||43||TA||3||Adam Andretti / Brownsburg Ind||ECC/AnchorBolt&Screw Dodge Challenger||27||12.405||11.746|
|4||8||TA||4||Tomy Drissi / Los Angeles Calif||Lucas Oil Chevrolet Camaro||27||27.409||15.004|
|5||99||TA||5||Justin Marks / Brentwood Tenn||Ave Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette||27||1:29.809||1:02.400|
|6||23||TA||6||Amy Ruman / Stow Ohio||McNicholsCo/CornerTechCNCSolut Chevrolet Corvett||27||1:59.290||29.481|
|7||11||SGT||1||Justin Oakes / Houston Tex||Droneworks Chevrolet Corvette||26||1 Lap||1 Lap|
|8||30||TA||7||Richard Grant / Germantown Tenn||Grant Racing Chevrolet Corvette||26||1 Lap||15.130|
|9||84||SGT||2||Lee Saunders / Lakeland Fla||Landsearch LLC Dodge Viper||26||1 Lap||4.545|
|10||2||TA||8||Ken Thwaits / Brentwood Tenn||FranklinRoad/WeaverRacing/SRI Dodge Challenger||25||2 Laps||1 Lap|
|11||9||TA||9||Jeff Hinkle / Destin Fla||TRGDataCenters/Netdepot.com Dodge Challenger||25||2 Laps||26.923|
|12||97||SGT||3||Michael Phillips / South Salem NY||F.A.S.T. Auto Racing Chevrolet Corvette||25||2 Laps||11.743|
|13||28||SGT||4||Lou Gigliotti / Princeton Tex||G2 Motorsports Park Chevrolet Corvette||25||2 Laps||23.498|
|14||22||SGT||5||Steven Davison / Arlington Va||DavinciPlasticSurgery/Pinnacle Aston Martin Vantage||25||2 Laps||2.190|
|15||14||SGT||6||Billy Griffin / W Palm Beach Fla||GriffinAutoCare/SheehansTowing Ford Mustang GT4||25||2 Laps||23.786|
|16||94||GT||1||Philip Di Pippo / Mattituck NY||Sasco Sports Ford Mustang||22||5 Laps||3 Laps|
|17||3||TA||10||Oscar Teran / Panama||Oscar Teran Ford Mustang||20||7 Laps||2 Laps|
|18||26||SGT||7||Aaron Pierce / Fishers Ind||LogicalSystemsInc/SamPierceChev Chevrolet Corvett||18||9 Laps||2 Laps|
|19||86||SGT||8||John Baucom / Charlotte N.C.||Baucom Motorsports Ford Mustang||18||9 Laps||16:25.421|
|20||96||SGT||9||James Candelaria / Boca Raton Fla||F.A.S.T. Auto/HawkPerf/Forgeline Ford Mustang||16||11 Laps||2 Laps|
|21||59||TA||11||Simon Gregg / Ponte Vedra Bch Fla||ThePeterGreggFoundation Chevrolet Camaro||16||11 Laps||14:30.301|
|22||57||TA||12||David Pintaric / Canfield Ohio||Kryder Racing Ford Mustang||4||23 Laps||12 Laps|