Michelle Nagai (Trans-Am photo)

Nagai Conquers Sonoma Trans-Am Run

SONOMA, Calif. — With a record turnout of competitors this weekend at the Sonoma SpeedTour, Race 1 for the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli’s Western Championship at Sonoma Raceway was a wild one.

The event started with a multi-car incident on lap one and ending with a timed finish. Michelle Nagai in the No. 72 Nagai Racing/Berkeley Jet Drive Chevrolet Camaro survived the attrition in her class to lead XGT before making a mid-race pass to ultimately win the race overall. Tim Barber in the No. 33 DIG Motorsports Ford Mustang dominated a huge field in the CUBE 3 Architecture TA2 Series, leading every lap in the class and the first 20 circuits overall, with both he and Nagai earning their second victories of 2024.

XGT cars dominated the weekend’s practice and qualifying sessions, claiming the first four starting positions for today’s event. However, trouble hit many of the class’s participants early.

After the wave of the green flag, the top-four XGT competitors battled hard going into turn two. Polesitter Will Rodgers (No. 12 Central Welding Supply Ford Mustang) immediately broke an axle, allowing Xuanqian Wang to take the lead, but Wang got loose on cold tires and lost control of his No. 22 AURALIC North America Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO, crashing into the tire barrier. Dylan Lupton (No. 79 Lupton Excavation Ford Mustang) also sustained damage in Turn 2, suffering a critical parts failure, which took him back to the garage. Michelle Nagai in the No. 72 Nagai Racing/Berkeley Jet Drive Chevrolet Camaro was the only one of the top-four starters to make it through the melee, maintaining the lead for the class but losing the overall point position to TA2’s Tim Barber.

Nagai closely trailed Barber for the next 20 laps before finally taking the overall lead. Once she had clean air in front of her, she was able to open up a solid margin over him. The field closed up due to a full-course caution in the closing laps, but when green-flag racing resumed on lap 31, Nagai had no trouble maintaining her lead and taking the overall victory.

“We’ve got to give it up to the good Lord, we’ll start there,” said Nagai on the podium. “Thank you, God, for this beautiful day, for keeping us safe. We all came out of this pretty darn good. Next is going to be Jefferson Racing and Chris Evans. The reality of it is that the track paving is incredible. The Trans Am Series out on the West Coast is starting to get it. I mean, we are getting it. We had so many cars out here this weekend. So come on, guys. Keep coming out. Step up. Get an XGT car. Let’s do it.”

Tim Barber in the No. 33 DIG Motorsports Ford Mustang took the green flag first in the CUBE 3 Architecture TA2 Series and fifth overall, but after making his way through the kerfuffle in Turn 2 on lap one, he emerged as the overall race leader. He held the point position for the next 20 laps before being overtaken by Nagai for the race lead, but Barber’s position in class never wavered as he held off an enormous field of fast TA2 competitors. For much of the race, Barber was defending against Michael LaPaglia in the No. 31 Papini’s Garage/F.A.S.T. Auto/Howe Ford Mustang, but on lap 23, LaPaglia fell off the pace with a broken upright bolt. Brad McAllister (No. 2 Straumann and Zimbis Ford Mustang) took second from LaPaglia, but he suffered a battery issue one lap later, which took him out of contention. Michele Abbate in the No. 30 GHOST/Nitro Motorsports Ford Mustang then gained control of the second position after running in the top five for the entire race. Barry Boes was next in the No. 32 Accio Data/TRB Autosport Ford Mustang, but he experienced a hard crash into the tire barrier, bringing out the final full-course yellow of the race on lap 25. When green-flag racing resumed, Kyle Kelley in the No. 80 PK+k Properties/UPRacing.com Ford Mustang slid into the third podium spot, which was a tremendous accomplishment after he took the green flag from the 24th position. He was followed by Troy Ermish in the No. 38 Ermish Racing Ford Mustang, who started 27th, and Tim Lynn in the No. 71 RoofOptions Ford Mustang, who started 14th, giving them both well-earned top-five finishes.

As the only TA-class car in today’s race, Steve Goldman in the No. 13 LIG Racing Chevrolet Corvette did not have much difficulty taking the checkered flag, but the fact that he took the green flag was, in itself, an accomplishment. After losing his transmission in testing, Goldman missed practice and qualifying while he and his team worked through the night and morning to be able to start today’s event. Beginning the race in the last position, Goldman worked his way up to 17th overall to claim his second TA win of the season.