MONTEREY, Calif. – A game of strategy separated the pole winner from the rest of the field Friday in the Trans-Am Series presented by Pirelli TA, SuperGT and GT qualifying session at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Returning to the Monterey circuit with a robust field of competitors as the early storylines of the event developed on the opening day of on-track action.
Waiting to join the 40-minute mixed qualifying session until the halfway mark, reigning TA champion Ernie Francis Jr. found a traffic-free track and set fast time of the session in just five laps.
Roger Eagleton in GT and Dirk Leuenberger in the SGT class also gambled with a shortened qualifying session to preserve tires for Saturday’s 100-mile Trans-Am SpeedFest feature, claiming fast times in their respective classes.
“Since it was a longer qualifying session, we decided to let the other cars go out on track first, especially since we were also qualifying with the slower SGT and GT cars,” said Francis after taking his first pole of the season. “Everyone wants to save on tires so we knew the top guys weren’t going to be out there the entire session. Starting on pole tomorrow is a huge morale boost after having a tough start to the season, and with our experience here, I think we can get our first win tomorrow.”
The opening minutes of qualifying was the Lawrence Loshak/Chris Dyson show, with a battle so close that at one point the pair set fast laps just one thousandth of a second apart, before Loshak utilized slow traffic to open up a .058-second gap.
Accepting at that point what looked like a front-row starting spot, Dyson — whose Plaid-sponsored Ford Mustang was quickest in the morning practice — peeled in after six laps.
“The car is very good,” said Dyson. “We rolled off the truck super competitive and the car was fast in practice. Unfortunately, we got blocked by traffic on our two best laps, which was a bit frustrating. But it’s a long race tomorrow and we are looking to put the No. 20 Plaid Mustang up front to earn some good points toward this championship.”
Thinking he had pole position locked up, Loshak pulled into the pits to preserve his Pirelli tires for the race while the baby blue No. 98 Frameless Shower Doors Ford Mustang of Francis ended Loshak’s pole-start streak with his late session run to the top. With his tires cooled and the clock about to expire, the Burtin Racing team decided not to send Loshak back out to contend for the extra point awarded to pole position.
“It’s tough, of course. I wanted pole, but I had to be patient realizing it was only one point,” said Loshak, the winner of the opening two rounds of 2019. “It would be nice to have three poles in row, but it’s more important to us to have three wins in a row. Chris (Dyson) was really fast in practice and has a lot of time here, so I wanted to roll with him because I really respect his driving. Once we saw that Chris was coming in and I had pole, I also pulled in. While we thought we were playing it smart, there was Ernie playing it even smarter. He enjoyed [an empty track], and his strategy played out for him, but I think we can keep our streak alive tomorrow. I’ve put in over 700 hundred laps on the simulator and with testing, so I’m comfortable with this track.”
Loshak’s Burtin Racing teammate, whose “Godzilla, ‘King of the Monsters’” movie promo paint scheme turned heads all around the track, will start fourth, while Ohio-based David Pintaric’s Kryderacing Cadillac and Simon Gregg’s Derhaag Motorsports Corvette will share the third row.
Amy Ruman, tied with Drissi for third in the TA points after two races, suffered a mechanical issue in testing that carried through to practice and dogged her day.
“We had an ignition problem that started in the morning test,” said Ruman, who will start ninth in the TA feature tomorrow. “We thought we had it fixed for practice, but more problems popped up, so we utilized the rest of practice to get a jump on working out those gremlins before qualifying, which was my first solid time on the track. I was still building up to brake points and learning the track, so my times didn’t reflect what I know my No. 23 McNichols Co. Chevrolet Corvette can do. It’s a long race tomorrow and we’re still going to chase a podium finish.”
The times were tight across all of the classes, as Trans-Am West Coast Championship GT competitor Roger Eagleton edged out fellow California-native Mitch Marvosh by about seven hundredths of a second to claim his first pole of the season. While Eagleton took pole, Marvosh only put two laps on his Pirelli tires compared to the eight Eagleton needed to set fast time.