Francis, Taurino Enjoy Victory in Second Sebring Super Trofeo Race

By Mark Robinson

IMSA Wire Service

A quick loss of power by his main competitor opened the door for Ernie Francis Jr. to capture his maiden Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America victory in his debut weekend.

Francis, who took over the No. 88 TR3 Racing Lamborghini Miami Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo Evo2 from co-driver Giano Taurino for the closing stint of Friday’s race, swept past the stricken No. 4 Ansa Motorsports Lamborghini Broward Huracán driven by Nico Jamin and into the lead with 15 minutes left in the 50-minute race. Francis went on to win by 3.874 seconds over the No. 30 Ansa Huracán shared by Loris Cabirou and Bryson Morris, with the No. 4 Ansa Huracán regaining power and finishing third for Jamin and co-driver Kiko Porto, who won Thursday’s season-opening race.

“It was the first weekend out there, just trying to figure it out,” said Francis, a seven-time Trans Am 2 champion who raced last season in Indy NXT. “They race really aggressive out here, it’s go time from the drop of the green flag, so I had to figure it out.

“My co-driver Giano with a crazy first stint got us to P2. I really couldn’t do it without him. Just super happy with this weekend.”

Taurino, now a nine-time Super Trofeo class race winner, credited an entire team effort for the victory.

“Just our hunger to win was there,” he said. “Our car was perfect, our team was perfect and no mistakes. Consistency was the key. This is a good start to the season.”

Veteran drivers Tim Pappas and Jeroen Bleekemolen – teammates in other IMSA series through the years – have come back together this year in Lamborghini Super Trofeo and earned their first win on Friday in the ProAm class. Bleekemolen bolted through and away from the field after taking over the No. 54 Flying Lizard Motorsports Lamborghini Newport Beach Huracán from Pappas. The No. 54 cruised across the finish line 18.240 seconds ahead of the No. 72 Forte Racing Lamborghini Beverly Hills Huracán driven by Patrick Liddy and Blake McDonald.

“We’ve done it a few times before together,” Pappas said of the return to victory lane with his friend, “so it’s always good fun.”

“I think we did everything right this race,” Bleekemolen added. “It was a green race which proves that the pace is there – there were no safety cars to interfere. We had a clean run, great run from Tim in the beginning, clean pit stop and, yeah, good run at the end. There’s a lot of different drivers out there, so sometimes it’s very busy in traffic. Sometimes you’re on your own and then it’s nice and then you can push, but in traffic you’ve got to be really careful.”

Ken Dobson was the only repeat winner of the Super Trofeo weekend. Dobson bided his time Friday in the No. 27 Forte Racing Lamborghini Beverly Hills Huracán, moving from fifth in class to first after the mandatory pit stop cycle. He finished 9.001 seconds up on Rob Walker in the No. 45 Precision Performance Motorsports Lamborghini Palm Beach Huracán.

“Two in a row at Sebring; I love Sebring, obviously,” Dobson said. “It’s a great, challenging place. I was told by the boys on the box to run a clean pace, keep my gap and put my head down. Our strategy going in was to pit early and then go like hell. I trusted those guys and it worked.

“I couldn’t have been any more happy to see that checkered flag today. I was exhausted.”

The LB Cup class saw a first-time winner in Naveen Rao, solo driver of the No. 32 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Lamborghini Palm Beach Huracán. Rao started second in class but took the lead on Lap 3 and never surrendered it, taking the victory by 14.901 seconds over Ofir Levy in the No. 13 Forte Racing Lamborghini Rancho Mirage Huracán.

Rao was unable to celebrate the triumph on the Super Trofeo podium, however. He had to rush back to pit lane to compete in the Porsche Carrera Cup North America race that followed.

A recap of the Lamborghini Super Trofeo weekend airs at 1 p.m. Sunday, March 24 on CNBC. The series returns to action May 10-12 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

Speedway Digest Staff
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