In the inaugural SCCA Pro Racing Trans-Am Series race at Miller Motorsports Park, Tony Ave, of Maiden, N.C., earned his first Trans-Am victory after more than 16 years of trying on a hot and sunny Sunday afternoon.
Driving his No. 4 Tony Ave Racing/Pro Motor Engines Chevrolet Corvette, Ave started from the pole position for the second time in three 2010 Trans-Am races and for the seventh time in his career. In the previous six times he started from the pole, however, Ave was unable to convert that prime starting position into pay dirt in the race.
That wouldn't be the case in Utah. Ave rocketed out into the lead from the drop of the green flag on the 40-lap race around the 2.2-mile Miller East Course and was never seriously challenged on his way to a 3.553-second victory over Tomy Drissi in the No. 5 THE A-TEAM: THERE IS NO PLAN B Jaguar XKR. Ave made his first Trans-Am start on Feb. 27, 1994 in Miami and his triumph today comes in the 42nd start of his career in the series.
"It's awesome," said Ave. "I'm doing this mostly because I like it. I mean, I build and sell cars, so we do it to make some money, but I come and my friends help me with some money and we come and try to have some fun. My buddy, Dave Janz, kept my head on straight. I was so nervous. Every time we're fast, it seems like we find a way to lose. Those guys had to kind of smack me around a little bit this morning, but Jeff Pope, especially, he's 22 years old, he never knew anything about racecars until five years ago and he does the whole thing. It's really down to those guys. I've been able to drive these things fast enough for 15 years, but when you don't have a huge budget and it comes down to how much work these cars are – and we run a lot of used parts – it feels really good.
"It's really for the guys. I mean, they volunteer their time to come and do this except for Jeff. Luke Keller and Jimmy Madsen were here, too. They're just the greatest friends and they work really hard. I've also got to thank the guys at Pro Motor Engines. We couldn't have done this without them."
Ave's victory – coupled with a third-place performance in the season opener at New Jersey and a fourth-place run at Mosport – moved him to the top of the 2010 Trans-Am driver standings. He leads 2009 series champion Drissi by 24 points, 357-333, with three of 10 races now in the books.
Drissi, of Hollywood, Calif., rebounded nicely from a disappointing race two weeks ago at Mosport in which he did not finish due to a mechanical problem. After starting fourth, Drissi quickly moved into third on the opening lap and then stalked second-place running Mike Skeen for several laps before finally gaining the position in the final turn of the 15-turn circuit near the halfway point in the race.
He then set off after Ave and managed to cut into his lead slightly as the laps wound down. However, the veteran Trans-Am racer knew it would be Ave's day today and settled for his second podium result of the season with a second-place performance. He opened the year last month at New Jersey with a victory in his RSR Jaguar.
"I think Ave figured how to have a hundred-mile car now and a hundred-mile driver, so we've got our work cut out for us," Drissi said. "It took a long time for Ave to win a Trans-Am race, and it's not like he ran that many Trans-Am races, but he's been around since '94. If I'm going to be the first loser to a first-time Trans-Am winner in Tony Ave, that's pretty cool. RSR did a great job. We were a little bit late in getting the car together, and the driver also. It's me that's giving the information, but we've got seven races and we're looking good. This is a good championship right now."
Lopez, of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, came into the race as the points leader and had another solid performance in his No. 6 Disco 106/ECR Engines/Goodyear Chevrolet Corvette with a third-place run. It was Lopez's third straight podium result, as he finished second in each of the first two races of the season, and he is now third in the championship standings, just one point behind Drissi and 25 out of the lead.
"The car didn't start out too good, but I was really just taking care of the tires and the brakes at the beginning, but then I guess I started wailing on it a little bit too hard, because our new set of calipers are done for," Lopez said. "I think we may have even been starting to reel them in, but I guess we just lost the brakes. We're happy to finish third with everything that happened."
After starting from the outside of the front row and running second for the first half of the race, Skeen, of Charlotte, N.C., came home fourth in his 2010 Trans-Am Series debut in the No. 81 Baker Manufacturing/Next Table Chevrolet Corvette for Agee Racing. Skeen was able to keep pace with Ave through the early stages of the race, but it appeared that the car might have been suffering from some mechanical difficulties as the race wore on and he was forced to settle for fourth at the checkered flag.
Simon Gregg, of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., took his second straight top-five result with a fifth-place ride in the No. 59 Derhaag Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette after a race-long battle with Daniel Ramoutarsingh, of La Romain, Trinidad, in the No. 8 Trinrico Steel & Wire Products Jaguar XKR. Gregg also finished fifth two weeks ago at Mosport and opened the year with a sixth-place run at New Jersey, and those results have him fifth in the championship standings. He trails fourth-place Ramoutarsingh by just one point, 275-274.
Next up for the 2010 SCCA Pro Racing Trans-Am Series is a visit to the legendary Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., as the Sunday headline event of the NASCAR Nationwide Series Bucyrus 200 weekend on June 18-20.