The 12-event 2015 Trans Am championship began in a record-setting fashion with the running of the Foametix Trans Am 100 at Sebring International Raceway. It seems only fitting that the series starts their season at the site of the first-ever Trans Am race – held back in March of 1966, some 49 years ago.
When we fast forward to the start of the 2015 Trans Am championship season, it’s very obvious the Trans Am Race Company, LLC (the organization who bought the series from SCCA in 2011) has made great strides forward and are well on the way to realizing their goal of returning the series to the place of prominence it so rightly deserves. There are a number of reasons one could point to as the basis for the success the series has enjoyed in just two complete seasons since the Trans Am Race Company took control. However, one of the primary factors involved has to be the relationship the company has established with the racers.
At the opening round of the 2015 Trans Am Championship season, the entry list boasted a record-setting 75 entries. Very few, if any, professional touring series can match this level of participation. When the load-in was completed, 73 race teams filled the paddock of Sebring International Raceway. With this type of commitment from competitors, it’s safe to assume the series is doing something right.
The race weekend kicked off the start of the 2015 Trans Am championship under dark and cloudy skies. A series of fast-moving cold fronts raced down the Florida peninsula bringing with them cool temperatures, rain showers, and gusty winds. Although the weather was not the normal blue sky and sunshine one expects to find in Florida, it did not deter the excitement or enthusiasm of the race teams.
After clearing tech inspection, teams took to the track for the first official test sessions of the 2015 season. Many exercised caution as the sessions were run under wet conditions due to the on-again, off-again rain showers sweeping through the Sebring area. At the end of the day, there were no major incidents and teams began to prepare for Friday’s qualifying sessions with the hopes of better weather and dry track conditions.
As Sebring came to life Friday morning, Mother Nature again refused to release her grip on the old iconic raceway, and the rain showers continued throughout most of the day. With qualifying scheduled for late afternoon, series officials were keeping a close watch on the skies, and hoping the rains would subside and allow the chance to run under dry conditions. A late morning practice session took place without incident as teams prepared their cars for what would surely be a wet qualifying. As time for the qualifying neared, series officials deemed conditions unfavorable and postponed the qualifying. After reviewing the weather forecast, it was decided to move the qualifying session to Saturday as the rain chances were predicted to drop substantially.
Saturday morning dawned under a very dark, ominous looking sky. In fact, the dark, rolling clouds appeared to be low enough that you could reach up and touch them – but, it was not raining. Throughout the morning a steady northeast breeze helped to dry the raceway, and as the day progressed the rain stayed away, and the track remained dry. Qualifying took place on a dry track. The gamble series officials made to reschedule the qualifying session had paid off.
“We’re excited to start the season with a pole,” Ruman stated. “The guys have been working hard to get the car ready, and the McNichols Corvette was fast today.”
TA2 saw defending champion, Cameron Lawrence, record a time of 2:10.711 in the #1 MOPAR Dodge Challenger to obtain the pole for the 33-car field. Tony Buffomante, in the #34 Bestline Superior Lubricants Ford Mustang, would start in the second position after laying down a respectable 2:11.961. The #84 Landsearch Dodge Viper of Lee Saunders registered a lap of 2:15.196 to take the pole for the international division of TA3, and Ernie Francis Jr., in the #8 Breathless Racing Camaro, took the pole in American Muscle division of TA3, with a lap of 2:16.009. In all, 73 cars in three divisions recorded qualifying times, setting the grid for the largest starting field in series history.
Sunday morning – race day – Mother Nature finally released her grip on Sebring. The dark clouds and rain that had dominated the weekend were replaced with warm temperatures, blue skies, plenty of Florida sunshine, and those white, fluffy cotton ball clouds, featured in all of the tourism pamphlets. The drastic weather change had teams scrambling to make changes to their race cars in anticipation of a slick, hot racing surface. The teams had a 20 minute warm up session to see if the adjustments they made matched the track conditions.
The field sat on the front straight while fans cheered as the address announcer ran through the starting lineup. The National Anthem echoed over the raceway, and the expectation of the command to start the engines created an electricity in the air that you could feel. Finally, the command was given and 69 high-performance racing engines came to life.
As the field circulated behind the pace car, race fans around the 3.740 mile Sebring International Raceway waved and saluted the drivers as they passed by. When the green flag was displayed Ruman’s beautiful red Corvette lead the field into turn one. Ruman, Lopez, and Doug Peterson, all piloting Corvettes, separated themselves from the rest of the field. TA2 saw Tony Buffomante, starting from the second position outside of pole-sitting Cameron Lawrence, power ahead at the start to take an early lead. After review, officials determined Buffomante had jumped the start and issued the #34 Bestline Lubricants Ford Mustang a drive-through penalty, ending his chances of finishing up front.
Due to multiple incidents on the track, the yellow came out before the first lap was complete. The most severe incident was for #07 BC Race Cars Camaro, driven by Steve Kent, who experienced a tire failure entering turn 11 and deposited his Camaro firmly in the tire wall, ending his day. Once the track was cleared, the race resumed and Ruman retained her lead over Lopez, while Paul Fix, in the Stopflex Corvette moved into third. Several laps later, the #91 Turnkey Camaro of Joe Napoleon got into the wall in turn 17 and stopped on course, bringing out another full course caution.
On the ensuing restart, Ruman, Lopez, and Fix, drove into the first turn three-wide, with Ruman maintaining her lead. Ruman held off all challengers for the duration of the 100 mile race and scored her sixth career victory. Ruman was followed across the finish line by Peterson and Fix rounding out the top three respectively. Cameron Lawrence led from start to finish in TA2, with rookies Gar Robinson, and Lawrence Loshak filling the second and third positions on the podium. The TA3 victory went to Lee Saunders in the #84 Landsearch Viper, and the American Muscle division was claimed by Todd Napieralski, in the #39 Tremec SKF Camaro.
When the sun set and the cars were rolled back in the haulers, it was pretty obvious that this series is back. And, with the continued hard work and dedication of the Trans Am Race Company, there is every reason to believe they will be the series of choice very soon.
For complete race results and additional information about the Series and the Trans Am Race Company visit www.gotransam.com.
The next stop on the 2015 Trans Am Championship Series is Homestead-Miami Speedway April 10th-12th.