SEBRING, Fla. – A late-race restart proved to be no problem for Lawrence Loshak, who drove to a flag-to-flag victory in the opening race of the Trans-Am Series presented by Pirelli at Sebring Int’l Raceway on Sunday.
Defending champion Ernie Francis Jr. pressured Loshak for the opening six laps before pitting with a transmission issue, costing him 12 laps.
A late caution set the stage for a charge from Chris Dyson in his No. 20 Plaid Ford Mustang, but Loshak prevailed in the five-lap shootout and won his third-career TA class race by 3.047 seconds.
Completing the podium was R.J. Lopez, driving the No. 06 TinaBazucaCraftAle Corvette.
“Finally, I won at Sebring – this place has always been bad luck for me,” said Loshak, driver of Burtin Racing’s No. 3 Pennzoil/GoShare Chevrolet Camaro. “We’ve been fast all weekend, but we’ve been fast here before, only to have some gremlins take us out. To start the season with a win is what the team deserves.”
Loshak remembered his past misfortunes at the historic – but bumpy – 3.74-mile circuit when the full-course caution cost him his advantage.
“It’s always nerve wracking when you build up a lead and go into conserve mode, and have to start all over again,” said Loshak. “Especially with Chris Dyson in second! Who has more laps and experience at Sebring than Chris? I knew he was coming, so it was all about not making mistakes. I made a handful out there, but they were not big ones.
“It was tough for everybody out there today, but we were able to bring the Axalta gold car home for the gold.”
Dyson started fifth but moved to second early on, closing the day out with a podium start to his Trans-Am campaign.
“We struggled with the car until qualifying, to be honest,” Dyson said. “We missed it a little bit in the race, but we kept digging out there. We were starting to make up ground, but those darn yellows came out. They were a bit quicker on the restarts than we were. This shows you that the racing in this series is tremendous, along with the quality of the cars that are coming out. We’re absolutely fighting at it tooth and nail out there.
“We’re looking to keep the No. 20 Plaid car up front all year and hopefully give these guys a fight all the way.”
The race featured three classes in action, with SGT and GT class entries also doing battle on the same stretch of Sebring’s 3.74-mile circuit.
The second of two full-course cautions proved to be the key for Lee Saunders, who scored a come-from-behind victory in the SGT class in the No. 84 V10PWR Racing Dodge Viper.
Pole winner Mark Boden lost his advantage to Saunders at the start, but managed to work the No. 46 Beverage Flavors International Porsche 911 GT3 Cup to the lead by lap 18 – shortly before the caution gave Saunders another opportunity.
“It was a good, clean, amazing race,” Saunders said. “My hat’s off to Mark (Boden). He had a flying car, but we were just a little stronger on the restarts. But on the long runs, he was definitely faster. We probably got a little lucky at the end with the restart. This win is for my crew – they did a heroic rear-end swap just before qualifying.”
Jeff Courtney took a GT victory in the No. 88 Matrix/RecStuff.com/KendraMaserati GT4 over Steven Davison in the No. 22 Davinci Plastic Surgery Aston Martin Vantage.
“Actually, there was more drama out there than I expected,” Courtney said. “I thought Steven jumped the restart after the first caution (on lap 10). Then, on the next caution, he kind of overcooked it in turn 17. Kind of a give-back, but I would rather have raced for it. We were catching him, but I had to go to the dirt to avoid two TA cars. I got a lot of debris on the tires, but then I was able to click off a few good laps.”
Kerry Hitt won the Masters award in the TA class following a 10th-place finish in the No. 19 Advanced Composite Products Inc. Cadillac CTSV.
Milton Grant won the award in SGT, placing fifth in the No. 55 SentrySelfStorage/Fairfield Inn Porsche 991 GT3 Cup.