ALTON, Va. – With four championships coming down to the wire, it was make or break time on Friday at Virginia Int’l Raceway for the Trans-Am Series presented by Pirelli drivers.
TA class driver Chris Dyson, defending TA2 powered by AEM champion Rafa Matos and SuperGT pilot Tim Kezman seized pole position starts and an extra two points each toward their season-long points race in Friday’s qualifying session.
The top-four times in the TA class were separated by less than seven tenths of a second in one of the most competitive qualifying sessions this season. Veteran driver Boris Said was as fast as his lightning adorned livery, setting the tone early for the TA class. Confident after laying down the fastest lap of the session (1:44.067-seconds) on lap four, Said pulled into the pits to save tires for Saturday’s 100-mile feature.
On the hunt for the pole and raring for the extra championship points, Dyson stayed out on the 3.27-mile roller coaster of a circuit. Getting faster each lap, the CD Racing driver finally eclipsed Said’s time in the closing minutes by two one thousandths of a second, qualifying with a flying lap of 1:44.065-seconds.
“VIR has to absolutely be one of the most exciting roller coaster rides in the world,” said Dyson, who is second in the TA championship. “What a thrilling track and I am so happy to be back racing here. It was a fantastic qualifying duel out there with Boris (Said). We’ve got a lot of series champions in the field, and to go out there against some of the all-time greats to get pole and it be such a close fight, is highly satisfying.”
Said, not happy with the knock-out news, shot out of the pits with two minutes clicking down on the 15-minute session. Determined to pay back Dyson, Said flew around the 17-turn circuit for two laps until the clock expired, but couldn’t squeeze out the extra time to reclaim the pole.
“It was really close between Chris (Dyson) and I,” commented Said. “We were really fast out there and tomorrow, I’m going for broke. I don’t care about the points, just the win.”
Changing up his qualifying strategy and immediately hitting the track as it went hot, TA class championship leader Ernie Francis Jr. turned a fast time of 1:44.278-seconds to start on the inside of row two with Tony Ave on his outside.
“Today it didn’t make much of a difference to wait it out, considering we were the first car out today,” Francis said. “We had a clean track around us, but I think we struggled a little for pace out there this session. We have a decent starting position for tomorrow and I am looking forward to some tight racing up front.”
The TA2 qualifying session was just as intense. Competing for the first time on the VIR circuit, California-native Thomas Merrill held the point for the majority of the 20-minute qualifying with his fast lap time of 1:49.565-seconds.
“Qualifying was really difficult,” Merrill said. “The grip was really poor and the lighting with the sunset coming off a couple of these turns, I couldn’t see anything. Our Skip Barber Mustang was absolutely killer. It came in right away, we set our best lap, I didn’t think we could go any faster, so I came in and we sat on it. Unfortunately, Rafa (Matos) got an even better lap, so congratulations to him.”
However, Matos wasn’t giving up that easily. Second-place in the championship behind Marc Miller, it was crucial for Matos to start on pole in an effort to earn every point possible. With minutes to spare, the Brazilian driver topped Merrill’s time by just more than a tenth of a second (1:49.401-seconds), on his way to his fifth pole start of the season.
“It was a very difficult session because of the track conditions,” Matos said. “I think that it’s also going to be a tough race. I have a lot of great drivers behind me. Thomas (Merrill) is hungry for another win and Marc (Miller) needs the points, and it’s his championship to lose at this point. We just need to keep focused, keep chipping away and hopefully by the end of the year, we’re on top.”
Miller, recovering from the flu, put together a time of 1:49.841-seconds to start on the inside of row two, but it wasn’t without a cost. Miller stayed out on the track the entire qualifying session, only one of five drivers to do so, sacrificing his tires in effort to get a better start.
Driving a new Porsche 991 GT3 Cup after a total loss at Watkins Glen, Kezman was back on top at VIR with a flying lap of 1:52.816-seconds. The effort earned him the SGT class pole over championship leader Mark Boden.
“After our disaster at Watkins Glen, the guys worked to get the new car put together in a quick turn around,” Kezman said. “Qualifying was good and it was a good session. We were able to put a lap down despite everything, and that’s what it’s all about.”