WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. - With championship runs on the line and more than 40 cars sharing a 3.4-mile course, drama was sure to follow in the Trans-Am Series presented by Pirelli all-class race at Watkins Glen Int’l on Saturday afternoon.
In an action-packed 100-mile showdown, Tomy Drissi crossed the line first, but it was Chris Dyson who claimed the victory after the post-race review showed that Drissi passed the No. 20 ALTWELL CBD Ford Mustang under yellow conditions.
Rafa Matos extended his TA2 points lead, driving the No. 88 3 Dimensional Services Ford Mustang to his third consecutive win at The Glen. Erich Joiner and Justin Oakes also won from the pole in their respective classes.
”I am over the moon, celebrating my 20th anniversary of professional racing at Watkins Glen with a win,” said Dyson. “It’s always a thrill to put No. 20 ALTWELL CBD on top of the standings. We are happy now, but we are very much still focused on the race tomorrow. We want to close the weekend out in style as we go for another race win on Sunday.”
The all-class sprint started with just as much intensity as the finish. The opening lap saw the first full-course caution after local driver Paul Fix, TA2 Wilwood Rookie of the Year points leader Rhett Barkau, Trans-Am ProAm TA leader Oscar Teran and West Coast reigning TA2 champion Jim Gallauger came together in a multi-car melee in the Boot.
Polesitter Ernie Francis Jr. fended off Dyson on the restart to lead all but the last four laps of the race. After controlling the pace and pulling away from the field, Francis’s No. 98 Future Star Racing/Wings & Wheels Ford Mustang engine seized, forcing him to immediately stop on the circuit to bring out the final full- course caution. Francis suffered a similar fate at Road America after charging through the field from a near last-place start to first before mechanical issues took him out of the race.
Though he did not get his desired result today, Francis will have another chance tomorrow as he will start on pole after setting the fastest lap in Saturday’s race.
“I’m not sure what happened, we had something let go in the engine,” Francis said. “We’re climbing into it now to see what we can fix and get it ready for the next race. It’s pretty frustrating, a rough year with a lot of endings like this to races we should have won. We have the speed, we just don’t have the luck; we need to keep it together. I’m really frustrated right now, but our guys will get on it and see what we can do to try to make it up tomorrow.”
Trying to capitalize on Francis’s misfortune, Drissi challenged second-place Dyson for the point, overtaking him as Dyson slowed for the yellow. Drissi, who is second in the TA championship, was penalized 40 seconds following a review by the race stewards for passing under yellow and making avoidable contact with another driver.
“I saw Ernie go off, and that motivated me,” said Drissi. “We started out pacing (Chris) Dyson. He was good, but we were better on the long run, we just didn’t get many of those laps. I put my head down, I did not see the yellow, so Dyson and I went into the Bus Stop, I don’t see a yellow there, I don’t see a yellow at Turn 1, I don’t see a yellow going up the hill or braking in Turn 3. I would have given it back if I saw the yellow going into the Bus Stop. I’ll race with Dyson any day, I’m proud to be part of Trans Am.”
In only his second time behind the wheel of a TA machine, Dyson’s teammate Guy Smith made it a one-two finish for CD Racing, wheeling the No. 21 Amamos LaVida Tequila Ford Mustang.
‘“It was definitely a very exciting race,” Smith said. “Unfortunately for me, I got hit from behind on the first lap, trying to avoid the chaos in the Boot, so my race for first was pretty much over at that point. But I’ve got the best team in the house. It was a great race. I had the best seat in the house, seeing these two guys (Dyson and Drissi) going at it over the last few laps was pretty exciting. I think tomorrow will be a lot more fun.”
Dyson added, “I was thrilled to be joined on the podium with Guy (Smith) for our first team one-two result of the season. He’s been my teammate for many years, and he’s been a terrific help to the team for the championship.”
Two-time champion Amy Ruman fought mechanical issues on Friday but recovered on Saturday to finish fourth in the No. 23 Chevrolet Corvette. After penalties were assessed, Ruman earned her first podium result of the season.