From Last To First For Ernie Francis Jr.

0
210
Ernie Francis Jr. came from the rear of the field to win Sunday's Trans-Am Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Chris Clark Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS – Ernie Francis Jr. captured his third win of the Trans-Am Championship presented by Pirelli Sunday in the Berryman Trans American at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, completing a drive from the back of the TA class field to his second consecutive Trans-Am win in Indianapolis.

Joining Francis in victory lane celebrations was Tim Kezman with a redemptive TA3 class victory and Trans-Am debutant Warren Dexter, who swept all TA4 class sessions on the weekend. Trans-Am’s West Coast Championship also participated in the competition, with Tomy Drissi and Dane Jorgenson-Smith taking class wins.

Other than a single hardship lap, the race was Francis’ first time in the No. 98 Frameless Shower Doors Ford Mustang this weekend. The defending TA class champion took part in his NASCAR K&N East debut Saturday, capturing pole and finishing second at New Jersey Motorsports Park. Francis’ success in New Jersey came at a price, with the No. 98 starting Sunday’s Trans-Am competition at the back of the field in 13th position.

The No. 98 would quickly move up through the field, taking advantage of the battles in front of him securing eighth position in advance of the first full caution four laps in, and third by the second on lap 16. Shortly after the second restart then race leader Lawrence Loshak was forced to pull the No. 2 Pennzoil/ETE/GoShare Chevrolet Corvette off with differential issues, yielding the lead to David Pintaric, in the No. 57 Kryderacing Cadillac CTS-V, who would led for a single lap before being overtaken by Francis.

Francis would lead the caution-free remainder of the race, eventually building up a 34 second lead with four laps remaining before coasting to his second Trans Am win at IMS in as many years.

“First of all, I just want to say Happy Father’s Day to all the racing dads our there; I wouldn’t be doing this without my dad,” said Francis. “Today I was driven mostly by my will to want to go to sleep; I got up at 3:00 AM in New Jersey to fly over here for this race. The race went how we thought it would; we just ran consistent laps and picked off the field one-by-one, trying to keep it as clean as possible and get to the front. It was hot out there; and while behind cars on the draft in the front straight, we had to peak out from time to time to cool back down. Temperatures were spiking up and brakes weren’t liking it too much; getting out in front helped a lot and let us get up to speed.”

Francis was joined on the TA class podium by Amy Ruman, in the No. 23 McNichols Company Chevrolet Corvette, who elected to pit under the second caution to adjust setup and in doing so fell back to 11th place. Ruman would then work her way through the field, capturing third place with five laps remaining and second position on the second-to-last.

Tomy Drissi, in the No. 8 GoShare Chevrolet Camaro, would complete the podium with a third place finish and also secure the top TA class finish in the Trans-Am West Coast Championship. Drissi was served with a drive through penalty while running second with nine laps remaining, falling back to fifth. A last lap pass of Simon Gregg, in the No. 59 Derhaag Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette, would secure Drissi a podium finish.

David Pintaric was also overtaken by Gregg on the final lap, with the two completing the TA class top five. The TA class saw pole sitter Paul Fix and Boris Said also laed laps in a race that saw four lead changes and five different leaders.

Kezman’s TA3 class win in the No. 44 Fall-Line Motorsports Porsche 991 GT3 Cup finally brought him the Indianapolis lead that a flat tire denied him in 2017 with five laps remaining. In addition to the track conditions, Kezman weathered a back and forth battle throughout the early stages of the race, taking the lead from Cindi Lux on the ninth who had overtaken polesitter Mark Boden on the first restart.

From the ninth lap on, Kezman would retain the lead, eventually capturing his first TA3 class win of the season and seventh of his career while finishing fourth overall.

“A win at Indy is big,” said Kezman. “Any race fan, anyone who follows the sport, they know Indy is big. We felt like this place owed us one after last year; we had a big lead last year and had a flat tire with five laps to go. We came back to finish well, but this one is satisfying and we had to work for it. The Fall-Line crew once again came up with the best stuff; and in these track conditions, it was definitely the car to have.”

Mark Boden, who took second position in class on lap 13, would finish second in TA3 and fifth overall, giving the Fall-Line Motorsports team a 1-2 sweep of the podium while extending his own podium streak to his past seven TA3 races.

In TA4, Dexter, in the No. 61 Joe’s Hand Cleaner Ginetta G55, completed a dominate weekend that saw him lead every session, start from pole, lead every lap and capture the class win in his Trans Am debut.

“The facility here is really great,” said Dexter. “We came here without a clue as to what the car would be like, and ended up with a solid car that was really perfect all weekend. We were on top of it and ran a mistake-free weekend. With the heat, I just had to focus, keep hitting my markers, and take care of my brakes; it went smooth.”