Ernie Francis Jr. knows well the value of patience.
Francis bided his time, maintaining pressure on race leader Boris Said during the early stages of Saturday’s 100-mile Trans Am Championship Presented By Pirelli race at VIRginia International Raceway at Alton, looking for the right opportunity to make a pass.
When an opening came, Francis drove his Ford Mustang up beside the Dodge Challenger wheeled by the defending VIR race winner on the 19th lap, took the lead, and later held off Said and Chris Dyson in a two-lap dash at the end to win the opening race of a doubleheader weekend for the Trans Am competitors. The margin of victory over Said was 2.623 seconds.
Francis’ win was his third victory of the season and the 45th of his career. Saturday’s overall race win tied Francis with Scott Pruett for fourth place on the all-time Trans-Am overall race win list with 22 overall wins. He trails Paul Gentilozzi (31 wins), Mark Donahue (29 wins), and Tommy Kendall (28 wins).
For Francis, a six-time title winner, Saturday’s race was all about patience.
“I got moved back at the start and just had to be patient,” Francis explained.
“These cars are so fast around here. It’s really hard to make a move when you get behind someone. The aero on these cars has a bunch of wash on it and it really makes the cars not handle that good when you’re stuck behind them.
“I just had to wait – had to be patient,” added Francis.
“Once I found a move, I just shot it (the car) in there and hoped it would stick and it did.”
Said, who has won numerous major road races, having competed in IMSA, Sports Car Club of America, Trans-Am and NASCAR, debuted a new car built by Pancho Weaver in Saturday’s race, and came very close to defending his VIR win of last season.
The former two-time 24 Hours of Daytona winner won the pole in Friday’s qualifying session and led the first 18 laps before losing the lead when Francis ducked to the inside on the frontstretch on the 19th lap. After inching in front, Francis cemented the pass coming out of the first turn on the 17-turn, 3.27-mile VIR layout.
“For the first time running this car, it ran great,” Said remarked.
“He (Francis) did a good job getting by me in lapped traffic. I made a few mistakes in traffic, and I got blocked, and he got a run. My car went off a little bit, so his car was a little better at the end.”
Former NASCAR racer Paul Menard was slated to drive the car in Sunday’s 100-mile race.
“We will do a few things to it (the car) and make it better for tomorrow,” Said noted.
It was an up-and-down day for Dyson. He got past Francis at the start of the race and kept pace with Said in the early laps. He dropped two positions in his Ford Mustang after being blocked by a lapped car, battled back and pressured Said another time before finishing third at the end of the two-lap dash to the finish.
Amy Ruman, who entered the race in fifth place in the series standings, finished fourth and Simon Gregg, the 2012 Trans Am TA class champion and a former VIR race winner, finished fifth in a Chevrolet Camaro. Tomy Drissi, a former Trans-Am champion and multi-time IMSA winner, finished sixth in a Chevrolet Camaro.
John Baucom finished seventh in a Ford Mustang and was the final driver to finish on the lead lap. Ryan McManus in a Chevrolet Corvette, Richard Grant in a Chevrolet Corvette and SGT class winner Lee Saunders driving a Dodge Viper rounded out the top 10 finishers.
The race was stopped twice due to on-track incidents. The first stoppage occurred right after the first lap of the race when Jeff Hinkle slid off the track in Turn 6 and damaged the tire barrier. Later, on lap 25, Trans-Am West points leader Matthew Butson spun off of the track and crashed into the tire barrier in the NASCAR turn. Drissi and Humaid Masaood also went off of the track in that incident. As a result of time rapidly running out in the 75-minute race, the race was stopped to allow for a green-flag finish.
Saturday’s race included competitors in four of the five Trans-Am classes, with the TA2 class being featured in a separate race. On Sunday, all five Trans-Am classes were to compete in a 100-mile race to conclude the unique VIR doubleheader weekend.