LEXINGTON, Ohio – Close battles at the top of the fields for the Trans-Am Series presented by Pirelli highlighted qualifying for the FirstEnergy Muscle Car Challenge and the FirstEnergy Mid-Ohio 100 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Friday.
With Trans-Am season reaching the midway point of the season with an active schedule of iconic tracks, the championship races are beginning to emerge as drivers weigh risk and reward at every corner. A hallmark of the TA2 powered by AEM has always been close, hard, exciting action. Friday’s qualifying session was no exception, with the top spots changing on every lap late in the session.
When the dust settled, Rafa Matos had placed his No. 88 3-Dimensional Services Group Chevrolet Camaro on the pole position of the 30-car field for the second time this season, with a lap of 1:24.938 seconds. Matos will have no relief at the start of the 45-lap, 100-mile race on Saturday, as championship-leader Marc Miller and his No. 40 Prefix/Stevens-Miller Racing Dodge Challenger will start alongside, a mere .074 seconds back.
NASCAR Xfinity Series regular Ty Gibbs held the top spot for one lap midway through the session, as did Detroit race winner Misha Goikhberg and two-time winner Thomas Merrill.
The 20-minute session was abbreviated due to an incident for No. 29 Mitch Marvosh, who found the wall in turn five just as the field completed two qualifying laps. By the time the green flag flew again, only 10 minutes remained – albeit 10 minutes of wild, nonstop action at the top of the speed charts.
Scott Lagasse Jr. will start third, with Goikhberg fourth, Merrill fifth and NASCAR Xfinity regulars Justin Haley and Gibbs sixth and seventh.
“There are 30 plus cars here so to get a clean lap is a big struggle,” said Matos. “We focused on getting a clean lap, but the red flag messed up our plans. But we were able to get into a groove and find that clean lap and get the pole position. Hopefully it will be like last year and we can win the race! The 3-Dimensional Services crew has worked so hard on the car to ensure that it’s reliable and working well. But we’re playing catch-up a bit here, we’ve got some points to recover to Marc, he’s our benchmark. We’ll keep plugging away.”
The TA class shot out of the gate with current championship leader Chris Dyson exchanging the top spot with last year’s Mid-Ohio winner – and second place in the title chase – Ernie Francis Jr. But the session was stopped before the midway point when third-place runner Doug Peterson landed his No. 3 Elavon/Burtin Racing Chevrolet Camaro into the sand in turn four. The green came back out with mere minutes remaining in the session as Dyson and Francis re-engaged the fight.
“It was pretty stressful out there,” said Francis. “Chris Dyson was really close behind and putting down some pretty good laps. It was a close battle and we only got him by 5/100s of a second. It was fun and awesome, and I think the race tomorrow is going to be great. We’ve always been good here at Mid-Ohio: the track is very technical, and you don’t need a whole lot of horsepower to really get around this place, and that helped us out there. We’re going for the win tomorrow and maximizes our points so we can get on the road to this championship.”
When the checkered flag flew, Francis Jr. had placed his No. 98 Frameless Shower Doors Ford Mustang into the pole position for the second time this season with a lap at 1:22.287-seconds, a mere .054 seconds ahead of Dyson and his No. 20 Thetford/Norcold Ford Mustang.
The SGT and GT qualifying session conducted its 20-minute session completely under green but with a similar duel for the pole, as Mark Boden and Ken Thwaits swapped the position throughout the session. In the end, it was Boden taking his third pole of the season with a quick lap time of 1:26.560-seconds.
“The Fall Line Porsche has been fast all weekend,” said Boden. “We made a few adjustments for qualifying and I was able to lay down a good lap on the third lap. It was happily uneventful! It should be a fun race; we’ve got four or five fast cars that will be up front.”
Ohio native Larry Funk in the No. 64 Business Advisory Services Ford Mustang is the single entry in the GT class and set his fastest time on Lap 5 with a time of 1:33.588-seconds.