Split seconds make a difference in wild Sonoma Trans Am West qualifying

Split seconds make a difference in wild Sonoma Trans Am West qualifying

16.06.2019: Local ace Michelle Nagai trumps veteran Simon Gregg in TA; Teenage sensation Derek Kraus shocks the TA2 field; and other stories from a dense-packed late-afternoon Trans Am qualifying at Sonoma Raceway Round 4 of Trans Am Presented by Pirell

Local ace Michelle Nagai trumps veteran Simon Gregg in TA; Teenage sensation Derek Kraus shocks the TA2 field; and other stories from a dense-packed late-afternoon Trans Am qualifying at Sonoma Raceway

Round 4 of Trans Am Presented by Pirelli West Coast Championship Series started out somewhat leisurely, with a pair of hour-long Friday test sessions; two Saturday practices; and then … wham!

A split qualifying, just 10 minutes for the TA/SGT/GT group, another 10 minutes for TA2 Powered by AEM — intense, dramatic and dizzying for all in one of the largest-ever West series Trans Am fields.

As if the 2.52-mile, 12-turn Sonoma road course featuring some 160 feet in elevation changes every lap is not challenging enough, the TA/TA2/SGT/GT runners had the clock to battle as well.

Driving the family-prepped No. 72 Berkeley Jet Drive-backed ex-Frank Emmett Chevrolet Corvette in the flagship TA class, Michelle Nagai of Loomis, California, snatched the pole away from veteran Simon Gregg (Derhaag Motorsports Corvette), with her 1:38.583-seconds lap narrowly edging Floridian Gregg’s time of 1:38.713.

“He (Gregg) was so gracious, shook my hand, congratulated me,”  said a jubilant Nagai whose husband Steve preps the immaculate Corvette parked in the family’s local marine jet drive manufacturing facility. “Everything ran so well today — I was so determined to get this."

Fastest in one of Friday’s test sessions and in with a real shot at the TA pole today, Michael Fine of West Sacramento, California, will start Sunday’s race from the back after the differential housing in his No. 66 Architectural Glass Systems Chevrolet Camaro suffered a massive crack in Saturday morning practice.

If TA qualifying can be described as a focused duel between two Corvette drivers, then TA2 is best labeled a free-for-all, as  the unexpected was happening almost everywhere on track.

Shockwave Marine Suspension Seating owner David Smith brought four cars to Sonoma, one for 17-year-old soon-to-be high school senior Derek Kraus, who is one of the fast-rising stars in the hard-fought NASCAR K&N Pro Series. Kraus has tested at Sonoma but Sunday’s race will be his first in a TA2 car, and he wasted no time in displaying his talent - in two different Shockwave Chevrolet Camaros.

The engine in his No. 5 blew up in spectacular fashion in the 20-minute practice session right before qualifying. Team owner Smith stepped out of his No. 11 and turned it over to the Stratford, Wisconsin, teen. The crew tracked down all the seat padding they could find and Kraus jumped in confidently, wasting no time in reeling off a 1:38.183 — good enough for the overall pole — in an already short session made even shorter by a full-course yellow to retrieve a stranded car.

“I’m so grateful to David [Smith] and his Shockwave crew for giving me this chance to run here this weekend,” said Kraus. “Seat time at the track is always the biggest thing. [The 11 car] was maybe a little bit different, maybe rolled a little bit more, but other than that — it was fine."

The yellow flags caught out driver coach Chris Cook, on his hot lap and forced to slow. The thoughtful and experienced Scottsdale, Arizona, resident, wheeling the third of Smith’s four Shockwave Camaros and providing plenty of coaching through the weekend, had to settle for second in TA2 with a still-warming-up 1:39.507-seconds lap.

Fastest in morning practice, TA2 West points leader Anthony Honeywell (No. 76 Honeywell Competition / TFB Performance Chevrolet Camaro) was also ready to battle for the pole, but the Tulsa, Oklahoma, CPA was also caught out by the yellows, never able to regain momentum, ending up third with a time of 1:39.189-seconds.

The back of the grid will be crowded with frontrunners looking to move up quickly tomorrow as several other TA2 contenders were sidelined with a wide assortment of mechanical woes: No. 22w AutoParkIT/Mike Cope Ford Mustang National Trans Am Series runner of Lawless Alan (in the fourth Shockwave Camaro for this one-off West Championship appearance) was stranded with an electrical failure; Thunderhill and Laguna Seca TA2 winner Brad McAllister ( Innovations Mustang) burned plug wires; and Michele Abbate (No. 30 Grr Racing Camaro) experienced a broken throttle linkage.

Sadly, Fontana winner Nicholas Rosseno lost an engine on Friday and had no spare. Rosseno’s fate echoed the setback faced by Trans Am legend Greg Picket, who was forced to miss out on the Sonoma round after having had a very fast start to his 2019 West Coast championship campaign.

Like the West Coast Championship in general, the SGT and GT classes are growing thanks to the promotional efforts of friends and rivals Roger Eagleton ( No. 21 Five Star Property Management/Energy Real Estate Mustang) and Beau Borders (No. 7 APEX Race Parts/CorteX Racing Mustang) who will start third and fourth in GT. San Jose, California’ s Clark Nunes (No. 79 Premier Homes Camaro) won the GT pole with 1:45.084, while Arvada, Colorado’s Joe Bogetich (No. 65 Westover Controls Camaro), was second quick, 1:46.777.

Oli Thordarson (No. 22 Alvaka Networks Corvette), 1:46.306, was the only qualifier in SGT.

Sunday’s 40-lap, 100-mile (or 70 minutes, whichever comes first) mixed-class feature race, headlining the huge NASA weekend which has packed the Sonoma Raceway paddock on a glorious early-summer weekend, rolls off at 12:45 p.m. PT.


- Sunday Group Management, photos TransAm


16.06.2019 / MaP

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