BRAINERD, Minn. – There was plenty of passing in Sunday’s Trans-Am Series presented by Pirelli combined feature race at Brainerd Int’l Raceway.
Ernie Francis Jr. drove from the back of the grid to take the overall victory in the Ryan Companies US presents the Jed Copham Tribute Weekend, while Rafa Matos rebounded from an incident to capture the TA2 triumph.
Francis started 24th in the No. 98 Future Star Racing Ford Mustang. He quickly moved through traffic, needing only six laps to take third. From that point, he bided his time through a pair of restarts and passed Chris Dyson on the inside on Lap 19 to take the overall and TA lead.
“We really had a dominant car out there today,” said the 23-year-old seven-time champion. “The car was dominant all weekend. The car felt like it was on rails the whole race. We got up to the leaders and worked our way by them. I was able to run a nice, steady pace and pull away from them. Hopefully, we can take the momentum to the next one at Watkins Glen.”
Incredibly, it was Francis’ first victory of the season in seven attempts. That upped his career total to 24 wins in TA – and his 47th including his 23 class triumphs.
“It’s been so tough – we’ve been waiting so long for this win,” Francis said. “We’ve been struggling all year long. We had so many opportunities earlier in the season, but it just didn’t go our way. I’m so happy we could go from the back to win this. It’s been a great weekend so far. I finished off the SRX season last night and got second in the championship.”
Fast qualifier Tomy Drissi led the opening 17 laps in the No. 8 Lucas Oil Chevrolet before being passed on a restart by Dyson and Francis. Drissi held on to take second, 19.219 seconds behind Francis.
“It was a great race,” said Drissi. “It was an unusual day, we set up our car to come in sooner. Ernie (Francis Jr). was just the class of the field today. It was a lot of work to gain just two points on (Chris) Dyson.”
Dyson passed Drissi to lead a lap before losing the position to Francis. He was running second in the No. 20 ALTWELL CBD Ford Mustang directly behind Francis when he spun off on lap 24, dropping to 15th in the combined field. Dyson then worked his way back to finish third overall, 53.585 seconds behind Francis.
“Ernie (Francis Jr.) had a better car today,” said Dyson. “I thought I could have kept Tomy (Drissi) at bay, but I kind of just handed it to him today. We have some problems we need to work on with the car, and hopefully get it right for the upcoming races. But, at the end of the day the responsibility lies with me. We paid the penalty for not racing here last year, so we were just playing catch up all weekend. I am happy to salvage a third-place result and more points toward the championship.”
In TA2, Matos pulled away to lead the early laps in the No. 88 3-Dimensional Services Group Ford Mustang. But while Francis was challenging Dyson for the TA lead, Matos slipped from first to sixth in TA2 after contact from Michael Self on a Lap 18 restart. The Brazilian needed nine laps to come back, passing Thomas Merrill in Turn 6 to regain the class lead – with his pass earning ChillOut honors.
The victory marked Matos’ third of the season – and 13th of his career – while expanding his lead in the TA2 points race.
“Man, it was a hot one,” Matos said. “I thought we were done for a moment after I got hit from Michael Self – he made a mistake on the restart, missed his braking point and hit my door. That was pretty bad, but luckily the car wasn’t damaged. I thought I had some damage for a lap or two. The car started overheating, but somehow, the temperature started getting lower and it was back to normal. Just an amazing day for us. I had high expectations for this weekend. Again, the 3-Dimensional Services guys did an awesome job. Extending the points lead, this couldn’t be a better weekend for us.”
Doug Peterson earned TA2 Masters honors by placing ninth in the No. 87 3-Dimensional Services Group Chevrolet Camaro.