Corvette domination of the Trans-Am series continued this past weekend at the inaugural Harrah’s Autobahn Grand Prix, at the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, IL. Tony Ave, of Maiden, NC, took the pole position, blasting the track’s old lap record at the same time.
Starting beside Ave was RJ Lopez, of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, despite a best lap time fully 1.7 seconds slower than the leader. Defending series champion Tomy Drissi, of Hollywood, CA, would start from P3, with Amy Ruman, of Kent, OH, beside him. The track at the Autobahn Country Club has a number of road racing layouts. The North Track has 9 turns and is 1.46 miles long. The South Track has 15 turns and is 2.1 miles long, including a 2000 foot straight. The two course layouts combine to provide a 3.56 mile long course with 22 turns.
When the green flag fell, Ave took an easy lead and outpaced the field, but for Lopez, who stayed in contention. Tomy Drissi had managed to jump into second but broke a tie rod end on Lap 2, ending up in the tire barriers. The #5 Jaguar XKR would return to the race, with replacement parts from Lopez’ team, but several laps down.
As the battle between Ave and Lopez continued, the hot and humid weather was doing little to enhance mechanical durability. Both cars were eating through their tires and brakes as the laps accumulated.
“It was a little harder than I was hoping,” Ave said. “RJ and I just had a really good race. It was a bigger gap than you would think for such a tough race. We were both running as hard as we could. I lost my brakes at the end for some weird reason, so he about got me, but I hung on.”
On the last lap of the race, Lopez managed to close up on Ave and hit the afterburners for a the victory at the line. Crossing the line just 0.460 seconds behind Ave, Lopez then slid off course and into the barrier in Turn 1. Neither car nor driver were injured too badly.
“Coming onto that front straight, I got on him and I was right on his bumper. Then I got sideways coming onto the front straight and I pulled up next to him and just drag raced. I’d been pumping my brakes every corner, and I was just so focused on keeping that (throttle) pedal down on the ground that I forgot to pump the brakes,” Lopez explained.
For her third race in a row, Amy Ruman took the third-place trophy with her #23 McNichols/Goodyear/Cenweld Chevrolet Corvette. Ruman’s other podiums came in Toronto, two weeks ago, and in the June race at Road America.
The Trans-Am participants will now take a four-week break before heading to Brainerd International Raceway for the first week of September, for round 8 of the series, the TA Coca-Cola Muscle Car Shootout.