SEBRING, Fla. [March 5, 2017] – On his 65th birthday, Cliff Ebben secured his sixth career Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli victory today at Sebring International Raceway, becoming the first TA class winner of the 2017 Trans Am. Ebben was joined in the celebrations by TA3 class winner Mark Boden and TA4 class winner Brian Kleeman; the victories were Boden's career fourth and Kleeman's career first.
Ebben, in the No. 36 Stumpf Ford/ McMahon Group Ford Mustang, began the day in fourth position in the 22-car field, behind the likes of RJ Lopez, Vinnie Allegretta and pole sitter Ernie Francis, Jr. Ebben would maintain his speed over the first 16 laps of the race, remaining consistent as the top three dropped back one-by-one with mechanical issues. Ernie Francis, Jr., would lead those 16 laps building up a lead that spanned over a 12 seconds, before suffering an oil line burst—Francis would shut down the car to avoid damaging the motor.
Ebben would inherit the lead after overtaking Allegretta for second position, a lead he would not relinquish for the remainder of the 100.3-mile, 27-lap race. The victory, his sixth in 54 starts, is Ebben's first at Sebring, and in doing so also becomes the first driver of a Ford Mustang to win the TA class at Sebring since Boris Said in 2001.
"It was a pretty straightforward race for me," said Ebben. "We just kept moving up as the leaders started to drop out, and I inherited the lead! You are better to be lucky than good they say. I would like to thank my car owner Denny and Jan Lamers, Greg, Monty and all the guys on the team, my wife Mary, Competition Specialists, McMahon & Associates and Les Stumpf Ford."
Finishing second in the TA class was Tomy Drissi, in the No. 8 Ghost in The Shell Chevrolet Corvette, finishing on the podium in his 100th career Trans Am start. Drissi began the race in eighth position before dropping back to ninth on the second lap, from there on he would work his way up through the field before joining David Pintaric, in the No. 57 Kryderacing Cadillac CTS-V, in an 18-lap battle as they worked their way up through the field, eventually ending in a fight for second position on the very last lap. Ultimately, Drissi won that battle, securing a second place finish—his 20th career top-three finish.
Drissi's car had suffered heavy damage during the second practice session of the weekend, but the Ave crew worked throughout the day to restore the No. 8 in time for the TA class qualifying session only five hours later. For their efforts Tony Ave Racing was named the PitBoxes.com Crew of the Race and Drissi's Crew Chief Gregory Smyre was awarded the Traq Gear Crew Chief of the Weekend.
David Pintaric would finish third after starting 19th, completing his battle up through the TA field. However, the No. 57 was found to have an illegal wing after the race, as a result Pintaric was excluded from the results.
Vinnie Allegretta, in the No. 41 TA Sights & Sounds Chevrolet Corvette, would be awarded third position after the race, assuming Pintaric's spot. Allegretta would hold second position for the vast majority of the race, struggling to find grip towards the end of the 100-mile race. Stanton Barrett, making his first career Trans Am appearance, in the No. 33 Ojai Energetics Chevrolet Corvette, would finish fourth, while Amy Ruman, in the No. 23 McNichols Company Chevrolet Corvette, would finish fifth— completing a drive up through the field from 22nd position.
The TA class top ten also included Simon Gregg, Henry Gilbert, Richard Grant, Jeff Hinkle and Blaise Csida. This event also marked the debut of the TA class Dodge Challenger, driven by Hinkle.
Ernie Francis, Jr., driver of the No. 98 Breathless Pro Racing/ Beta Tools Ford Mustang, set the fast lap of the race with a time of 2:03.502. Despite the mechanical issues, Francis remained upbeat on his TA class debut this weekend.
"We had a great race going on and lead from very beginning," said Francis. "We started pulling a pretty big gap and the car was running great with no issues with it until a small oil line burst, we think, and that dropped down the oil pressure. We had to shut it off so we wouldn't blow the motor. I can't thank the team enough; they did a great job on the car and everything was working really well. It was a good weekend, and we really showed we can keep the pace with these guys. If we can keep the car together, I think it's going to be a good season."
For intentional contact with the No. 03 of Jim McAleese, Claudio Burtin was excluded from the results by the Chief Steward and placed on probation for six Trans Am events.