Photographs by Mike Beckers
Ernie Francis, Jr., and Tony Buffomante earned TA and TA2 class victories to close in the Trans Am Championship presented by Pirelli Finale at Daytona International Raceway. The victory marked his 10th of the season for Francis and his No.98 FramelessShowerDoors.com Ford Mustang. In TA3 Tim Kezman took the honors and Todd Napieralski was TA4 class winner.
Tomy Drissi built an early lead in the No.8 Murder on the Orient Express Chevrolet Corvette. Drissi took to the damp track conditions on rain tires, the only one in the field to do so, but lost that lead when he pitted to change to slick tires when the track began to dry. Francis then took the lead, running in the point for the remaining 17 laps en route.
“It was definitely an interesting race,” said Francis. “First off, I’ve got to thank Frameless Shower Doors, R & B Company and the Buoniconti Fund. I was honestly questioning the strategy at the beginning going out on slicks, those first couple pace laps were very, very slippery. Even the start, it was probably one of the most lack luster starts in TA we’ve ever had, no one really went anywhere. Drissi was out there on wet tires, so we knew he’d be fast. We knew the track would most likely come our way; and after the restart it dried out considerably and we took the lead, and cruised to the finish from there.”
RJ Lopez, in the No.06 Republica Brewing/ Optica Lopez Chevrolet Corvette finished second, capturing his second with Vinnie Allegretta in the No.41 TA Sights & Sounds Chevrolet Corvette taking third.
In TA2 Tony Buffomante in the No.34 Best Line Superior Lubricants Ford Mustang took his fifth win of the season. Cameron Lawrence, in the No.79 Class Auto Centers Chevrolet Camaro was second with third going to Josh Bilicki, in the No. 25 BC Race Cars Chevrolet Camaro.
“We knew the pace would come once the track started to dry out,” said Buffomante. “Frankly, I didn’t want to do anything dumb in the first half of the race. We knew that the No. 34 Mike Cope Ford was super fast, being on the pole with a track record; so we knew we had the pace, but again, we played it safe the first half. I was just listening to my dad on the radio, listening to times and for when to go; and when it was time to go, it was time to go. It feels good; I’ve never won here before. Thanks to Mike Cope, Wilwood and Ilmor; it’s been an up and down year but they just don’t give up and my crew chief Travis Cope just makes it happen. I just can’t thank the Mike Cope team enough; the win here at Daytona is small consolation, but its consolation nonetheless.”
In TA3 Tim Kezman, in the No. 4 Fall-Line Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3, led every lap. Lee Saunders in the No.84 Landsearch LLC Dodge Viper ACR-X, finished second, Tom Herb in the No. 16 Fall-Line Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 Cup finished third.
“It’s been a great season,” said Kezman. “The team is everything. The Fall-Line guys, on the shop, on the road, we couldn’t do this without them. We knew something bad would have to happen to Mark for us to have a shot at the title, but it didn’t. He earned it; congratulations to him on the championship. It’s great to win at Daytona, thanks to Trans Am, to Pirelli tires, and Lemons of Love.”
In a TA4 Todd Napieralski in the No.39 Chevrolet Performance/ Tremec Chevrolet Camaro secured his first win of the 2017 season. Brian Kleeman, in the No.07 DWW Motorsports Ford Mustang was second with Ramin Abdolvahabi, in the No.02 DaVinci Plastic Surgery Aston Martin Vantage GT4 finishing third.
“We took a chance on a full dry setup,” said Napieralski. “We didn’t disconnect any sway bars, and in the beginning it was just survival out there. Once the track started to dry out I was able to find some traction out there, and once it was fully dry Brian (Kleeman) and I had a great battle going— he’s a great driver and congratulations to him on the championship. We were able to manage things and tried to get by him three or so times, and he was just too strong. Then with about three laps to go we got around him and got our first win of the season. Going into the off-season with this momentum is great and winning at Daytona, it’s a bucket list victory— it feels awesome.”
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