The starting grid for this Friday’s 100-mile Trans Am race at Sebring International Raceway will be comfortably familiar for those who followed the season last year, with just a minor twist.

Defending SCCA Pro Racing Trans-Am Series champion Tony Ave, of Maiden, N.C., picked up where he left off last season in Wednesday’s opening practice session by posting the quickest time for the day. Ave logged a best lap at 2:03.046 (108.252 mph) in the #4 Lamers Racing Corvette to head a list of 18 competitors.

However, when the checkered flag fell on today’s qualifying session, it was Ave’s season long nemesis, 2010 championship runner-up RJ Lopez, of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, who will lead the pack tomorrow. Ave will join him on the front row in P2. Qualifying times improved significantly, with Lopez posting a best lap of 2:00:587 in his in his silver and red #6 Corvette, more than a full second ahead of Ave’s best at 2:01.646.

An expanded field, with the addition of the new Trans-Am 2 (TA2) class will make things look substantially different this year beginning with the season opener on Friday morning. Tony Amico will lead that division into tomorrow’s competition after posting a best qualifying time of 2:15.056. The St. Petersburg, FL, native should be easy to find in the crowd, running his #78 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Starting beside Amico will be Greg Rodgers, from Southlake, TX, who set a time of 2:17.686 in his #40 Chevrolet Camaro.

Lap time differences between the two clases are bound to change the face of this year’s racing significantly. Differences in vehicle weights and equipment could easily lead to closing speeds from 12 to 25 mph in tighter parts of the course. The spacious Sebring circuit should help to minimize any negative fallout from this, but in the first race of the new season, it will take drivers some time to adjust to the new realities. Future races may tell a different story, however.

Friday’s race is scheduled for 28 laps (103.6 miles) of the 3.7 mile, 17 turn course and will start at 9:10 a.m. ET.