MONTEREY, Calif. – Ernie Francis Jr. stole the show during Saturday’s Trans-Am Series event at WeatherTech Raceway Laguan Seca.
Francis drove to a dominant 28.854-second win over the Burtin Racing duo of Lawrence Loshak and Tomy Drissi. After 66 Trans-Am races, 48 podiums and 38 race wins, newly turned 21-year-old Francis finally got to sip the victory champagne in a glorious moment on the top step of the podium.
“It was a great weekend for us as a team here at WeatherTech Raceway,” said Francis. “To sweep the weekend by winning qualifying and leading every lap of the race, it really builds morale for the team. We had a so many small gremlins that kept us from the podium this season, and to come all this way and finish where we did gives us hope to contend for the championship again.”
Starting from the dirty side of the track on pole, Francis’ wheels spun and allowed points leader Loshak to get the jump on the young Floridian driver going into turn one. Francis quickly recovered to reclaim his first-place position before crossing the stripe, commanding the race from green to checkered for his first win of the season and breaking Loshak’s two-race winning streak.
“The start of the race was incredible,” said Loshak. “We had a great start and we took first. I thought it would be like Sebring and then I turned, and the car didn’t. I fell back, losing position but as gas fell off I started to gain speed and the steering came back. We definitely had bullseyes on our back this weekend. I am surprised at the pace the all the guys brought this weekend. It’s hard to be on top and it’s even harder to stay there. We just didn’t have a lot for Ernie this weekend, but while we didn’t win the race we won the weekend, still on top of the championship.”
Losing momentum, Loshak dropped to fourth as Chris Dyson and Drissi passed him. Meanwhile, Dyson, who built a 10-second gap between himself and third-place Drissi, started experiencing mechanical issues after he set his fastest lap of the race. The mechanical gremlins caused Dyson to pit, forcing him to give up his second place position. The CD Racing squad worked to get Dyson back on track, but the setback cost Dyson a possible podium as he was six laps down.
“We had a tough day today,” said Dyson. “It’s a shame when mechanical things take you out of contention but that’s the difference between racing and other sports, you win as team and you lose as a team. The car was absolutely flying today. We had the speed to challenge Ernie but didn’t get the chance because a belt came off the water pump drive. We are going to be working our tails off leading up to Lime Rock. We’ve proven to have the speed to contend up front, as we’ve done all season, so we’re going to shake this race off and come back strong next round.”
With Dyson out, Drissi and Loshak diced for second and third. Racing door-to-door entering the Kink at the top of the notorious Corkscrew turn, Loshak overtook Drissi for second. Loshak then wheeled his gold No. 3 Penzoil/Elavon/GoShare Chevrolet Camaro into a healthy lead over his teammate, and ultimately finished where he started the race in second.
Drissi’s blue Godzilla: King of Monsters Chevrolet Camaro crossed the line in third, his second podium of the 2019 season.
“I love this track. It’s an absolute blast to drive,” said Drissi. “I had some good battles with Lawrence but just didn’t have enough in the end to contend up front.”
In the first of two integrated events with the National Championship, the Trans-Am West Coast Championship also competed on the 11-turn, 2.28-mile WeatherTech Raceway circuit. TA class points-leader Simon Gregg clicked off another victory after also winning last weekend’s TA West Coast race at Auto Club Speedway, chalking his win tally to two. Michael Fine took second with California-native Michelle Nagai taking third.
“I’m so proud of the team,” said Gregg. “I felt like I had a good race and we had dramatic finish, finishing the race on a flat tire. The Derhaag Motorsports group have worked so hard to give me a good car for this trip to the west coast.”
Dirk Leuenberger in the Lux Performance Doge Viper drove a near perfect race to take the checkered in the SGT West Coast class.
“It was great to be part of Trans-Am history here at WeatherTech Raceway,” commented Leuenberger. “After 50 years of Trans-Am racing here, I can say I won at Laguna, and on my first visit to the track at that.”
After three years of grinding, Mitch Marvosh in the Wolf Entertainment Chevrolet Corvette, claimed his first Trans-Am career win in the West Coast GT class. Roger Eagleton took second in the FiveStarPropMgmt/EnergyRealEst Ford Mustang with Beau Border in the APEX Race Parts CorteX Racing Ford Mustang finishing third.
“It’s about time I won something in Trans-Am,” said Marvosh. “I feel great to pick one up for the team. We’ve been at it for a few years and finally got a win. We took first on the start and never looked back.”