With only four rounds remaining in the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli season, it’s make-or-break time for numerous competitors and teams vying for their chance at 2021 titles. For the first time in series and track history, Watkins Glen International will set the stage for an all-class Trans Am 100-mile double feature with more than 40 TA, TA2, XtremeGT and SuperGT cars slated for the Watkins Glen SpeedTour event September 10-12.
Trans Am Heavy Hitters
It’s been a long eight-week summer break for the TA class. Though their Pirelli tires have had some time to cool, the battle for the championship title is still just as heated. While 10 of the 20 drivers entered in the TA championship are still mathematically viable, three drivers have been at the top of their class throughout the season.
Chris Dyson leads the TA standings with 201 points, securing four wins and a pole position in the last seven rounds. Driving the No. 20 ALTWELL CBD Ford Mustang, Dyson started his fourth Trans Am season with a victory at Sebring and followed it up with three consecutive wins at Lime Rock, Mid-Ohio and Road America, before Ernie Francis Jr. broke his streak at Brainerd. Dyson finished third on the Minnesota road course, working his way back from a spin off course to finish third overall.
This weekend will mark a special milestone for Dyson, as he celebrates his 20th pro racing anniversary at the same track where the New York native’s career began.
“Watkins Glen has always meant a lot to me,” Dyson said. “It’s the track where my dreams about racing really started to take hold. I remember being here in 1987 and watching my Dad win the big IMSA GTP event here, and Dyson Racing had a lot of success as a team here in the ’90s and into the 2000s. I did the bulk of my early regional and national racing here, too. I won the Watkins Glen Six Hours overall with James Weaver in my rookie season and that was a dream come true. It’s always a great track in just about any car. The Trans Am cars in particular are an absolute thrill to race around this circuit. And it’s technically my ‘home’ track, being in New York and only a few hours away from home. We’re ready to race this weekend and we’ve done everything we could to ensure a strong result.”
The remaining three rounds have been won by Boris Said (Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta), Tomy Drissi (WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca) and Francis Jr. (Brainerd), all of whom are entered for Watkins Glen.
Drissi’s consistent driving all season has led to one of his best overall career performances. Driving the No. 8 Lucas Oil Slick Mist Chevrolet Camaro, Drissi has captured extra points in four of the seven rounds by securing the Motul Pole Position. Unlike Dyson, Drissi has won at Watkins Glen, claiming the checkered over pole-starter Said in 2018. The ‘Rockin’ Moroccan’ trails Dyson by 20 points in the campaign for his second National championship.
Seven-time champion Francis Jr. has had a very quiet season (for him) so far. Juggling three full-time race series this year (Trans Am, FR Americas and SRX), the 23-year-old started to look more like the driver Trans Am fans have been accustomed to seeing after his come-from-behind win at Brainerd. Prior to his triumphant victory, Francis Jr.’s last podium visits were at the beginning of the season at Sebring and Road Atlanta where he placed second in both rounds. The No. 98 Future Star/Breathless Racing driver also secured pole position starts at Sebring and Lime Rock.
Francis Jr. set a new track record for Watkins Glen (1:45.201-seconds) during the series last visit to the Northern New York circuit in 2019, beating Said’s previous record set in 2018. That same year, Francis Jr. went on to take the win from pole on his way to claiming the championship later that season. Francis Jr. also holds the all-time record for most career poles in Trans Am at 49 (a record formerly held by Tommy Kendall with 46). This weekend, Francis Jr. could become the first Trans Am driver in history to reach 50 pole position starts.
“Looking ahead to WGI has us feeling optimistic,” said Francis Jr. “It’s a track we have won at before and feel we have a good shot of getting back to the front of the championship standings. Our goals going into the next four rounds are the same as they always have been – consistent finishes up front and keeping the car clean. We are excited to see where it all shakes out at the end of the season!”
Road Atlanta winner Said (No. 2 WeaverRacingTechnique/SRI Dodge Challenger) will also be thrown into the mix this weekend, looking to steal valuable championship points away from his Trans Am rivals. Two-time TA champion Amy Ruman was victorious at Watkins Glen in 2016 and will be looking for her first class win of the season this weekend in the No. 23 McNicholsCo/CornertechCNCSolut Chevrolet Corvette. Charlotte Motor Speedway winner Oscar Teran (No. 27 Oscar Teran Ford Mustang) will also return to the lineup, piloting the same Breathless Racing prepared Ford Mustang that he dominated in on the famous Roval.
After a successful Trans Am debut at Road America, the 2003 Le Mans 24-Hour winner and 2011 IMSA American Le Mans Series champion Guy Smith will return to the No. 21 Amamos La Vida Tequila Ford Mustang cockpit for CD Racing.
TA2 close competition continues
Nine drivers out of 65 can still make a title-run in TA2, respectively, though four, Rafa Matos, Mike Skeen, Thomas Merrill and Connor Mosack, have pulled away from the pack.
In the last round on the streets of Nashville, Matos started back in 18th following power steering issues in qualifying, Matos slowly worked his way through the pack on the difficult street circuit. He managed to take the point before falling down the order after his power steering issues returned with 20 laps remaining in the race. Matos held on without power steering to finish seventh, earning enough points to keep the championship lead over reigning class champion Skeen (226 vs. 208).
Following a tumultuous outcome in Nashville, Matos is chasing a rebound at Watkins Glen, a track where he’s experienced quite a bit of success driving the No. 88 3 Dimensional Services Group Ford Mustang. The 2018 champion is on the hunt for his third consecutive win at Watkins Glen. He took the checkered there in 2018 and 2019, setting a new track record for TA2 during the series last visit (1:51.197-seconds).
“Winning at WGI the last two years gives myself and the whole Peterson Racing a big boost,” said Matos. “WGI is a proper road race track with incredible history, and to make it three in a row would be a great achievement for us. The championship is getting close to an end but we still need to keep improving our game and performance every session, qualifying and race. The goal is obviously to try to increase our points lead, and I have the equipment and team to do it.”
In his first full season with Trans Am, Skeen took the track by storm to claim the championship in 2020. This season, the No. 1 Liqui-Moly/Turn14Distribution Chevrolet Camaro driver has earned the best qualifying record of the season, starting from pole in half of the rounds (four of eight). The reigning champion went on to win two races from pole.
This weekend will be Skeen’s first appearance at the Glen in a Trans Am car, though he’s driven the course several times in other series, including IMSA.
Merrill and Mosack are more than 70 points (75 and 78) behind Matos, but there’s still a chance for either to claim the championship with 140 total points still on the table.
Merrill’s second full season in Trans Am got off to a great start, as the HPTuners/MikeCopeRaceCars Ford Mustang driver wheeled from pole position to take the win in the opening round at Sebring. Since then, Merrill has faced mechanical gremlins among other on-track incidents that have kept him from revisiting the top step. He’s earned two third-place finishes (Road Atlanta and Laguna Seca) and recovered to finish second after an incident left his No. 81 car damaged at Nashville. Merrill will sport a new number, No. 26, for Watkins Glen as his No. 81 Ford Mustang is still in repair.
While Merrill trails Matos by 75 points, he’s shown in the past that he’s a top contender who makes every drive count.
Driving consistently all season, Mosack finally broke through to the podium in Nashville with a third-place finish. Coached by Scott Lagasse Jr., Mosack is fourth in points (148) and is the leading scorer for TeamSLR in the No. 28 NicTailor/IFS M1-SLR/Fields Chevrolet Camaro. While claiming the championship might be a stretch in his first full season of TA2, Mosack is quite capable of snagging wins and the points that go with it away from Matos, Skeen and Merrill.
Other TA2 drivers to watch this weekend are teammates Doug Peterson (No. 87 3 Dimensional Services Group Chevrolet Camaro), who won at WGI in 2015, and Adam Andretti (No. 86 3 Dimensional Services Group Ford Mustang). The pair have worked together since mid-season at Mid-Ohio to help Matos defend his championship lead and his position on track.
Returning after three-year hiatus is 6th Gear Inc. founder and president Robert Sabato (No. 43 6th Gear Garage Ford Mustang). Sabato won the IMSA prototype lites championship in 2011, having made a handful of TA2 races in the meantime ahead of this weekends outing.
XGT class set to make WGI debut
The XGT class will make its debut this weekend on the Grand Prix Watkins Glen course. The last time Trans Am visited Watkins Glen was in 2019, before the inception of the newest Trans Am class. Erich Joiner in the No. 10 Good Boy Bob Coffee Roasters Porsche 991 GT3 R and Randy Hale in the No. 31 Hale Propeller Chevrolet Corvette will be pitted against each other, both trying to set the track record and make history as the first XGT winner at The Glen.
Natalie Decker returns to the lineup, putting pressure on SGT class rookie and points leader Justin Marks in an Ave Motorsports prepared Audi R8 (No. 29 NI29 Technologies LLC Audi R8). In March, the NASCAR Xfinity driver took second at Charlotte Motor Speedway after starting on the pole. This will be Decker’s first attempt at The Glen.
“Racing with Ave Motorsports in the Trans Am Series is amazing and I continually am learning from the best,” said Decker. “This will be my first time at Watkins Glen and I have been preparing for the race by iRacing, watching videos and we did a test day at VIR (Virginia International Raceway).”
XGT/SGT/GT FULL CLASS STANDINGS
Trans Am drivers have the option to test on Thursday before official practice starts on Friday at 11:45 a.m. Eastern. Drivers will qualify in their separate classes in 15 minute intervals on Friday evening, starting at 5:15 p.m. Eastern with TA2, followed by TA, then the production classes (XGT/SGT/GT). The first of two 100-mile races will be held on Saturday at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, and the weekend will culminate on Sunday with all drivers taking the green at 11:35 a.m. Eastern. Prior to racing on Saturday, the track will host a fan walk with Trans Am drivers and cars from 12:20-12:50 p.m. Eastern. For the full timetable click here.