LAKEVILLE, Conn. – A mid-session strategy switch for the Mike Cope Racing team sent Thomas Merrill straight to a pole-winning run during Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli TA2 powered by AEM qualifying Friday at Lime Rock Park.
Underscoring the nature of TA2 competition, the top-eight times were separated by less than four tenths of a second.
With an initial strategy to find a gap and lay down a fast time in the opening laps, Merrill caught traffic in the tight, fast corners of the 1.53-mile circuit, eventually falling back to mid-pack in the 29-car field. About half way through the session, Merrill’s team called in his No. 26 Mike Cope Race Cars Big Dielhl Racing Skip Barber car to the pits.
With minutes left on the clock and the track clearing out, Mike Cope Racing found the perfect gap for Merrill to open-up his Ford Mustang in an attempt to get a flying lap. On the final lap of the session, Merrill eclipsed the fastest time by just over two tenths of a second to clinch pole position.
“I got to give Mike Cope and the crew huge credit for timing my return to the track perfectly,” said Merrill. “Traffic played a huge factor in the start of qualifying, really foreshadowing what we should expect for tomorrow’s race.”
Watching from pit lane as Merrill’s name shot to the top of the results, was Dillion Machavern, who was fastest in testing, practice and in qualifying for a majority of the session.
Driving the No. 77 Liqui-Molly Prefix Ford Mustang, Machavern got off to a rough start in qualifying, shunting off track in the opening lap. Machavern recovered and started chipping away until he reached the top, only to be beat out by Merrill. With minimal time left on the clock, Machavern had to settle for a front row P2 start.
“This is the most competitive field we’ve had all season,” said Machavern. “Keeping it clean and making no mistakes is going to be the name of the game. We have a really strong car for the race and the Liqui-Molly Prefix Ford Mustang has been fast all weekend. I am really excited for the race tomorrow.”
Returning to TA2 for the first time this season, Tony Ave in the No. 25 BC Race Cars Chevrolet Camaro will start in Row 2 shared by championship leader Marc Miller in the No. 40 Prefix Stevens-Miller Racing Dodge Challenger. Scott Lagasse Jr. in the SLF/Fields Racing/M1Racecars Chevrolet Camaro rounded out the top-five.