Lopez Bags Sebring Trans-Am Pole

R.J. Lopez earned his first SCCA Trans-Am Series pole position at Sebring Int'l Raceway. (Mark Weber/SCCA Photo)
R.J. Lopez earned his first SCCA Trans-Am Series pole position at Sebring Int'l Raceway. (Mark Weber/SCCA Photo)

SEBRING, Fla. — R.J. Lopez drew first blood in the 2011 SCCA Pro Racing Trans-Am Series this morning by taking his first SCCA Trans-Am pole position during qualifying for Friday’s season-opening round at Sebring Int’l Raceway.

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 miles per hour), well in excess of the previous Trans-Am lap record 2:03.885 (107.519 miles per hour) 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,” Lopez said.

Joining Lopez on the front row will be defending series champion Tony Ave in the No. 4 Chevrolet Corvette. Ave posted a best lap at 2:01.646 (109.498 miles per hour) 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 said. “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, Amy Ruman and Simon Gregg completed the top five in qualifying. A total of 23 cars qualified for the race, including several cars in the Trans-Am 2 class.