Defending SCCA Pro Racing Trans-Am Series champion Tomy Drissi couldn't have opened his title defense any better in the first race of 2010, as the racer from Hollywood, Calif., kicked off the season at New Jersey Motorsports Park by taking the third victory of his Trans-Am career.
Driving RSR's No. 5 Marmaduke – June 4 Jaguar XKR, Drissi stalked polesitter Tony Ave for the first 13 laps of the 40-lap race before pouncing on an opportunity in traffic heading down the front straightaway to take the lead heading into Turn 1. Once clear of Ave, Drissi managed to build a comfortable lead until a full-course caution for debris came out on lap 25.
On the ensuing restart, Drissi managed to withstand significant pressure from Ave for a few laps before again pulling away over the remainder of the race. He went on to win by 4.652sec over RJ Lopez.
"On the initial lap, the car just worked really well, but then Tony got his tires warm," Drissi said. "Once he started going, his first couple laps were pretty quick. I saw the little distance that he got, and then I put my head down on the third and fourth laps and I got to a comfortable distance from him. Then we started working on it and working on it. It looked like his car was a little bit hoppy in some of the slower braking areas, and that's where I could catch him. He had good speed down the straightaway. Just little by little, I kept working him and working him. Then, there was some traffic on the front straightaway and I just split them.
"Once I did that, it put me in such a mind frame for the first race of the year. I said, 'Let's go click 'em off,' and I didn't look up for another 10 laps. Then that full-course yellow came out and that was weird, because it takes a while to get your tires hot again. (Ave) was there. For a couple laps, he was only a couple car lengths behind me, but then I put my head down again and kept going. Lopez did a good job, also, and all the guys did a good job today. I mean, what a race, man! Somebody was asking me, 'Hey, how was the wind? How was the track?' You know what, everything is fine today. We won."
While Drissi celebrated his first Trans-Am victory since Portland last season, Lopez, of Bal Harbour, Fla., also had reason to celebrate. He predicted after qualifying that his No. 6 WabashPower.com/Mobil 1/Goodyear Chevrolet Corvette would be one to beat after 10 laps in the race, and that prediction held true.
While Drissi pressured Ave, Lopez made it a three-car battle. A few laps after Drissi claimed the lead, Lopez found his way past Ave and settled into second place. Ave took advantage of the full-course yellow, however, and found his way past Lopez for a time, but Lopez managed to reel Ave in and take second away in the closing laps. His runner-up result was the best of his Trans-Am career to date, eclipsing a previous best run of eighth last year at Mid-Ohio.
"It really was quite a battle," Lopez said. "Tony apparently had a couple issues going on, but at the restart, I had a problem with my sway bar. I tried to soften my rear sway bar, and I guess it over-clocked. I actually really put it full stiff even though I put it back to soft and the car was undriveable. I mean I went over the hump on the back straight sideways. I almost wrecked the car, and that's when Tony got around me. I finally put it back stiff, which was really soft, and we caught Tony again and we passed him. If there were 15 more laps, I think we could have had something for Drissi."
After qualifying on pole, Ave, of Maiden, N.C., went into the race looking for his first Trans-Am victory. However, it became clear fairly early on in the race that the cars behind him were a fair bit faster and he fought valiantly to keep them in his mirrors. He managed to do it successfully for 13 laps, but he eventually gave way and came home with the final spot on the podium in third place.
"It just got really loose," Ave explained. "From the first lap, the thing was really loose. We tried a different differential and we only put it in for qualifying. I just don't think I spent enough time with it. It was so loose under braking and turning in, so I just went really slow at first, hoping everybody else didn't know what their pace would be. Once I got heat in the tires, I could barely keep it on the racetrack, so I just had to run a pace where I could keep it on the road. Then, when we got a restart, I tried to cool everything way down and make a blast at it and see if we could just get in front. I got close, but then it got hot again and went backward. It was all right. We got to the end. We just have a ways to go on race distance runs. We'll work on that."
Daniel Ramoutarsingh, of Trinidad, drove the No. 8 TRINRICO Steel & Wire Products Jaguar XKR to a fourth-place finish. It was the sixth top-five result in eight Trans-Am races for the 2009 Rookie of the Year.
Amy Ruman completed the top five in the No. 23 McNichols/Goodyear/Cenweld Chevrolet Corvette for Ruman Racing. She and Joey Scarallo in the No. 06 Group A Racing Chevrolet Corvette had a close battle going for fifth in the middle stages of the race before Scarallo, of Hauppage, N.Y., retired due to a mechanical problem. It was the fifth top-five result of Ruman's Trans-Am career.
Outside of the full-course caution for debris, which lasted from lap 25 to 27, the race was run without incident.