Last season’s runner up, RJ Lopez from the Dominican Republic, pulled off a trifecta in the season-opening SCCA Trans Am race at Sebring International Raceway. In his #6 Chevrolet Corvette, Lopez swept the event by taking pole, recording fastest lap during the race, and leading every lap from start to finish. This win was his third career Trans-Am victory.
“It was pretty cool,” Lopez said. “We were able to dominate. We put down a really good lap time in qualifying and in the race, it was basically two races, it was a race to the yellow and the race after it. My mission was just to conserve the car. Nobody kept up with me, so I pulled away a little bit but I really was just conserving. The car was just awesome. After the yellow, I just took off. For a few laps there I ran real hard, then I backed off it again and I settled in a comfortable pace.”
Cliff Ebben, from Appleton, Wisconsin, followed Lopez by 13.484 seconds at the end of the 28-lap (103.6-mile) race. Starting from third place in the #36 Ford Mustang, Ebben reeled in defending series champion, Tony Ave, on the third lap. Of his best finish since a 2009 win at Road America, Ebben said. “It feels real good. Tony (Ave) had a few problems, so it was my advantage. I just kind of stayed there. I was pretty sure I couldn’t catch RJ, so I just kind of ran at a comfortable pace, kept everything together and took what I got.”
Finishing on the last podium step, Tony Ave had been fast earlier in the weekend during practice, but Lopez bumped up the game, qualifying a full second ahead of Ave, who had already improved on his best practice time by around 90 seconds. At one point, Ave fell back to P4, but recovered the position later in the race.
The win was particularly for Lopez. “It feels really great to win here. Sebring has always drawn a big Latin crowd, a lot of people from the Latin community. My dad used to race here in the ’80s and a lot of other people from the Dominican Republic, so to get a win here especially in my first time here, is really, really awesome.”
Round 2 of the 2011 Trans Am series will run at Miller Motorsports Park, in Tooele, Utah, on April 30 and May 1.
The SCCA Trans-Am Series dates back to its first season in 1966. In its 41 seasons, the series has held 446 separate races. For additional information and the series schedule, check out the Trans Am web site.