ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Rafa Matos drove like a man on a mission in Saturday morning’s Ryan Companies Muscle Car Challenge at Road America, leading flag to flag to score his third Trans-Am by Pirelli TA2 powered by AEM victory of the season.
Driving the No. 88 3Dimensional Services Group Chevrolet Camaro, Matos beat Marc Miller in the No. 40 Prefix/Stevens-Miller Racing Dodge Challenger to the checkered flag by 6.751 seconds. Misha Goikhberg completed the podium in the No. 10 BC Race Cars Chevrolet Camaro to claim another TA2 podium.
Matos was able to hold off Miller, Goikhberg and Scott Lagasse Jr. in a spirited battle during the early laps of the race on the 4.048-mile circuit. But once his Pirelli tires got up to pressure, Matos was able to pull away for his first triumph since winning the opening two races of the season.
“Today was a great day – our team has battled really hard since early in the year,” Matos said. “The beginning of the race was a bit of a struggle – Marc had a great pace. We sacrificed our performance at the beginning, because we had our tire pressures set for the end of the race. I also had to keep working on the brake bias. As the tire pressure went up, the car kept getting better. I was able to keep him behind and open a gap, and bring it to victory lane. But it was a very mentally tiring race, because we’re going so fast around this place, and the minimal error can cost a lot. It was very difficult, and now I’m definitely looking forward to the final stretch of the season.”
A second-place finish was not the birthday present Miller was looking for, although he managed to retain a comfortable lead in the championship with four races remaining.
“The car was pretty good, but I just didn’t have enough for Rafa,” Miller said. “We were battling it out. I thought I had him on the start, but he might have been toying with me a bit. He drove a great race. Once he had a lead, he controlled the pace. Lagasse and Misha were battling pretty hard and were breathing down my neck. But they got together and that settled that, and I was left to my own devises out there.”
Thomas Merrill took fourth in the No. 81 Big Diehl Racing Ford Mustang, while NASCAR driver Brandon Jones took fifth in the No 26 Mike Cope Racing Cars entry after a spirited battle with the No. 77 Liqui-Moly/Prefix Dodge Challenger of Dillon Machavern.
“It was fun racing, and hopefully it did something for the Xfinity side,” said Jones, who will also run in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity event at the circuit. “Running in the Trans Am teaches you how to pass, teaches you what places to pass at on the track. I learned that driving harder in this car helped me make up time at the end, so hopefully that will work on the Xfinity car as well. I enjoyed running the Trans Am and getting more laps with Mike Cope.”
Jones won the CoolShirt Systems Cool Move of the Race award for his pass on Lap 18.
After challenging early, Lagasse had a spin on lap 13 that dropped him down in the running order, leading to a 12th-place finish in the No. 92 SLR/Fields Racing/M1 Racecars Chevrolet Camaro.
“For a car with no practice, it was a rocket ship,” said Lagasse, who had issues with his primary car in practice and opted to run a new car in the race. “I lost power steering and ended up losing the brakes, and wound up trying to survive from there. I hated that I ran up into the back of Misha, and hated not having the chance to run more with these guys, we’re creeping up on them. We had a good-handling race car, our team put a real good setup under it. The M1 guys are good, and I think we can run with them.”
Doug Peterson won the Masters Cup with a 13th-place finish. He lost ground in the early laps with a pit stop for the No. 87 3Dimensional Services Group Chevrolet Camaro.
“I thought it was either a flat tire or the diff,” Peterson said. “It turned out the rear tires were cold after running behind the pace car, and it got better once it built up pressure.”
NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Justin Haley had an engine misfire from the start of the race and completed only six laps before parking the No. 99 Mike Cope Racing Cars. The upset winner of the recent Monster Energy Cup Series race at Daytona made two pit stops only in an attempt to correct the problem, but the misfire only got worse.
A lap-one incident back in the pack resulted in the damage that led to the retirement of Patrick Utt in the No. 49 RaceQuip Chevrolet Camaro; Barry Boes in the No. 32 AccioData/SampsonRace/HarrisHill Ford Mustang; Keith Prociuk in the No. 9 HP Tuners Chevrolet Camaro; Brian Swank in the No. 12 Berryman Products Chevrolet Camaro; and Lawless Haley in the No. 14 Mike Cope Racing Ford Mustang. Utt attempted to continue but hit the tire barrier in Turn 10, bringing out a full-course caution.