Peterson Controls Trans-Am Opener

Doug Peterson drove to victory in the TA class during Sunday's Trans-Am Series opener at Sebring (Fla.) Int'l Raceway. (Chris Clark Photo)
Doug Peterson drove to victory in the TA class during Sunday's Trans-Am Series opener at Sebring (Fla.) Int'l Raceway. (Chris Clark Photo)
Doug Peterson drove to victory in the TA class during Sunday’s Trans-Am Series opener at Sebring (Fla.) Int’l Raceway. (Chris Clark Photo)

SEBRING, Fla. – Doug Peterson and Cameron Lawrence have started 2014 the same way they ended 2013, on top.

Peterson and Lawrence, the Trans-Am Series TA and TA2 class champions from 2013, both drove to victory during the season opening round for the Trans-Am Series at Sebring Int’l Raceway on Sunday during The Earwood Classic. They were joined in victory lane by TA3 class winner Dean Martin.

The race began with 49 cars on grid, the highest since 1983 at Road America, as Trans-Am legend Bob Tulius gave the drivers start. Peterson began the race from pole in the No. 87 Chevrolet Corvette and shot out ahead of the pack during the first lap of the race. However, his lead dwindled as the caution flag waved for the No. 72 Performance Driving Group/S.C.D.W. Ford Mustang of Michael Defontes, which had caught fire because of a ruptured fuel cell.

The race stayed under yellow for a total of three laps while safety crews dealt with the fire. After the restart Peterson once again jumped out to an early lead, but was tailed closely by the No. 23 McNichols Chevrolet Corvette of Amy Ruman. Ruman tried to stay close, but Peterson slowly and steadily built up a lead.

Meanwhile Cliff Ebben in the No. 36 Stumpf Ford/ McMahon Group Ford Mustang closed in on Ruman, matching her move for move. After several attempts to pass the No. 23 car, Ebben finally made his move with seven laps remaining, overtaking Ruman for second position. The three leaders remained in that order for what remained of the race, with Peterson and Ebben continuing to build their respective gaps.

“We’ve got a lot of power with the pro motor guys, and all of the fellas at Tony Ave Racing know how to set up a car,” said Peterson. “We made change after change after change this weekend—and I’m sure we’re going to have to make more changes next weekend — but we had the power and ran well, and I was patient. We had a good pace, and we ran that the entire time. It’s a great way to start the year.”

Following the three front runners were John Baucom, in the No. 86 Baucom Motorsport/ Ford Mustang and Simon Gregg in the No. 59 Derhaag Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette.

In TA2 Lawrence, in the No. 1 Trick Titanium Chevrolet Camaro, started on pole and never relinquished his position — powering the Miller Racing Machine forward while building up an impressive gap.

Early in the race Adam Andretti, in the No. 44 Engineered Components Chevrolet Camaro, followed Lawrence closely but slowly began to lose ground until ultimately retiring due to transmission failure.

Ron Keith, making his first ever Trans Am appearance in the No. 25 Mike Cope Racing Chevrolet Camaro, worked his way up through the TA2 field after starting fifth. As Andretti pulled into the pits, Keith assumed the second place position, a spot he would defend against eventual third place finisher and 2013 Rookie of the Year Tom West.

“Miller Racing gave me a great car,” said Lawrence. “They worked hard after a few mishaps in practice and improved the front end tremendously. It’s a great feeling to come out on top, especially with all the competition and cars we have out on the track. It’s always exciting to be racing with multiple classes on track; you have cars passing you and you’re constantly trying to pass cars. It’s what makes multi-class racing fun.”

The recent growth in the TA3 class, Trans Am’s production-based class, resulted in a multitude of rookies placing on the podium and some of the best racing the TA3 class has ever seen. In total the TA3 American Muscle Group experienced six lead changes and was highlighted by the battle between Ernie Francis Jr., in the No. 9 Breathless Performance Chevrolet Camaro, and Dean Martin, in the No. 52 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang.

The two battled back and forth for the lead throughout the race and crossed the line, side-by-side, with Martin just barely edging out Francis for the top place in the group and the TA3 American Muscle track record, a 2:16.180

Lee Saunders, in the No. 84 Landsearch LLC Dodge Viper, led the International Group for the entire duration of the race, pushing his car to the limit while setting a track record for the TA3 International Group, a 2:16.918.

Todd Napieralski, in the No. 39 Temec/SKF/ Backstreet Performance, Chevrolet Performance Camaro, finished third for the American Muscle Group while Russ Snow, in the No. 20 Carbotech Chevrolet Corvette and Mark Klenin, in the #62 Breathless Performance Aston Martin GT4, placed second and third in the International Group.