SEBRING, Fla. – Large fields filled with deep talent set a highly competitive tone during the first qualifying sessions of the Trans-Am Series presented by Pirelli season on Saturday at Sebring Int’l Raceway.
Eight different teams representing four manufacturers slotted into the top eight positions during the Trans-Am qualifying.
Reigning TA class champion Ernie Francis Jr. captured pole position for the opening Trans-Am race of the campaign, turning a fast lap of 1:59.266 in the No. 98 One South Wealth Advisors Ford Mustang on his Sebring home track.
Bolting to the top of the time sheets early in the session, Francis broke the two-minute barrier at Sebring for the first time in Trans-Am history.
Riding a streak of six-consecutive Trans-Am championships in multiple classes, the Florida-native broke Lawrence Loshak’s year-old mark of 2:00.427.
“I feel really good to get back on track at one of my favorite places that we run all season,” said Francis. “It felt really good around here. We tested here a few weeks ago and clocked in some really quick laps. We knew in yesterday’s practice that we’d rolled off the trailer with a very fast car. This qualifying session showed it, and we were able to set the pace for the race and I think we are going to set the pace for the rest of the season.”
Francis will share the front row with 2015 Sebring pole and race winner Amy Ruman, who ran a fast lap time of 2:03.04 in the No. 23 McNichols Co. Chevrolet Corvette. Adam Andretti qualified third with a time 2:03.259 in the No. 43 ECC/Anchor Bolt & Screw Dodge Challenger that is carrying a tribute livery to the late John Andretti. Joining Andretti on the second row is Simon Gregg, driving the No. 59 Derhaag Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro.
Tomy Drissi, who was second fastest in practice earlier in the day, returned to the pits following just one qualifying lap after experiencing mechanical issues. The Burtin Racing driver will start 11th, sharing the sixth row with 2019 Trans-Am runner-up Chris Dyson. Dyson did not qualify after his No. 20 Plaid Ford Mustang was badly damaged in an incident late in Saturday morning practice. The New Yorker expects to have the car ready for Sunday’s 100-mile race.
The TA2 Powered by AEM class qualified late in the day on Saturday, and as the sun sank into the Florida horizon, it caused visibility issues early in the 15-minute qualifying.
Stevens Miller Racing driver Mike Skeen rose to the occasion, shattering the three-year-old Sebring International Raceway track record with a lap of 2:06.513 to take his first Trans-Am pole. Skeen will lead the field to the green flag at in the class’ season debut behind the wheel of the No. 77 Liqui Moly/Turn 14 Chevrolet Camaro.
“It feels awesome to get the pole,” said Skeen. “We had high hopes when Joe Stevens called me to drive the Liqui-Moly car. It was super competitive, there are a lot of really good guys here so we were not sure where we’d end up. But I’m really excited, and really impressed. The Stevens Miller team put a really good car together and I’m happy to represent them up front here already and hopefully we can do that again tomorrow.”
Making his return to Trans-Am, two-time champion Cameron Lawrence took second in TA2 qualifying with a fast lap of 2:06.809. Sharing the second row in the 100-mile race will be Thomas Merrill and Louis Philippe Montour.
The new Xtreme GT class made its debut at Sebring Int’l Raceway with a first-time Trans-Am Series entrant taking top honors in qualifying. Erich Joiner won the pole, running 2:06.030 in the No. 10 Championship Coffees and Tool Porsche 911 GT3 R. He edged out Ken Thwaits, and Marc Montour.
“I feel pretty good,” said Joiner. “It is my first time here at Sebring and my first time in Trans-Am, so I’m very happy.”
Tim Kezman led the SGT competitors with a lap of 2:10.000 in the No. 44 Lemons of Love Porsche 991 GT3 Cup, but he will have his work cut out for him on Sunday with heavy hitters Lee Sunders and Mark Boden starting behind him.
In his maiden GT qualifying, Tim Horrell broke the GT track record, with a time of 2:15.399 in the No. 45 Breathless Racing Porsche GT4 Clubsport. Steven Davison will start second in class.