ALTON, Va. [September 23, 2017] – Ernie Francis, Jr., made it win number seven in 2017 for the No. 98 Buoniconti Fund Ford Mustang today in Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli action at Virginia International Raceway, bolstering his TA class championship aspirations. Cindi Lux would secure her second career TA3 class win, while Steven Davison captured the first TA4 class win of his Trans Am career.
Francis began the race on pole with Paul Fix, in the No. 4 StopFlex/ ClassicTube/ CarCoach Chevrolet Corvette, alongside. While Fix was able to keep the No. 98 close through the first few laps, Francis was able to build a solid gap entering the first full caution of the race on lap five of the slated 31.
Following the restart Francis again began building a lead on the rest of the field, turning consistent lap times while working through the multi-class traffic—his best, a 1:48.132, stood as the fast lap of the race and a new track record for the TA class. Come the end of the race, Francis comfortably passed the checkered flag with a 19.3 second gap on the rest of the TA field.
The win edges Francis, who made the jump to the TA class this year after three consecutive TA4 class championships, closer to yet another Trans Am championship to his name. While the championship remains Francis' primary goal, the win also brings him to a total of 30 series victories across all classes—now sitting second behind Paul Gentilozzi.
"This was a race we knew we needed to get some points in," said Francis. "Vinnie (Allegretta) was starting in the back, so we knew there was a good chance we could build on our lead in the championship. We went out there and Paul Fix put some pressure on us in the beginning and got into the back of us a bit; but once that happened, we just checked out and pulled away from him—we turned some good laps out there, just doing what we had to do."
Francis entered the weekend on the back of a disappointing round at Watkins Glen International where the No. 98 suffered a mechanical failure while in the lead; however, at VIR Francis seemed strong as ever.
"We couldn't have won today without help from EMCO Gears and Mark Meissen. our chassis builder," said Francis. "They both worked really hard to figure out a gear pack that could handle the abuse and show speed out there—they worked magic and got the car back together and it worked perfectly for the entire race."
Paul Fix would bring the No. 4 home in second position, also with a considerable gap on the rest of the field, for his fourth consecutive podium finish at VIR, following up class victories in 2014, 2015 and 2017.
Finishing third was Shane Lewis, making his TA class debut in the No. 6 Derhaag Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette, after a back and forth battle with defending TA class champion Amy Ruman. Lewis, a full-time TA2 competitor, stepped in to fill the seat of the No. 6 after its originally slated driver Cameron Lawrence was forced to sit the race out following evaluation as the result of a heavy hit in TA2 practice, in which Lawrence was also participating.
Amy Ruman and the No. 23 McNichols Company Chevrolet Corvette would finish fourth by a comfortable margin; while Simon Gregg, in the No. 59 Derhaag Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette, completed the top five while giving Derhaag Motorsports two top-five finishes.