Gar Robinson begins TA2 title defense with victory at Sebring

Defending Champion Gar Robinson, driver of the No. 74 74 Ranch Resort Chevrolet Camaro, captured the first victory of Trans Am’s 50th Anniversary Season, outlasting the likes of Adam Andretti, Tony Buffomante and Tommy Archer for the win in the TA2, powered by AEM, excusive race at Sebring International Raceway.  

Robinson was joined on the podium by Adam Andretti, in the No. 44 ECC/ Anchor Bolt and Screw Dodge Challenger, and Tony Buffomante, driver of the No. 34 Mike Cope Racing Ford Mustang, who finished second and third, respectively, in the 35-car TA2 field.  Both Andretti and Buffomante also joined Robinson on the podium to close out 2015 in Daytona, a race that saw Robinson secure the 2015 TA2 Championship.  

“This is a bit of déjà vu,” said Robinson.  “We have the same three drivers on the podium and the race came down to the wire, just like at Daytona. These guys put on a heck of a show; I’m just thankful to be part of this great team, this Series, and to race with these competitors.” 

For Robinson the victory marked his fourth career Trans Am win and the first step in what will be a year long title defense.    

“These guys put up an incredible fight,” said Robinson.  “It was a great, clean race.  We’ve worked so hard throughout the offseason, pretty much 24/7 to get these cars up and running.  It shows that you can never stop; you just have to keep pushing. We’ve just got to keep doing the same thing we did last year.  We’ve got to keep our head on straight and think long term, never go checker or wrecker and just keep in it. I think we’ll have a good shot at defending the Championship.”

While Robinson began the race in pole position, a surprising first for the defending champ, the race would be far from a simple flag-to-flag victory.  

In the early stages of the race, Robinson was faced with strong challenges from Dillon Machavern, driver of the No. 24 Heritage Motorsports Ford Mustang, who started the race alongside Robinson, as well as a top five that seemed in a constant state of flux with Buffomante, Andretti, and Robinson’s teammate, Shane Lewis, in the No. 72 74 Ranch Resort Chevrolet Camaro, all vying for position.  

However, with only three laps complete, the 3.74-mile road course went under a full course yellow to retrieve the No. 10 Antigua Pro Racing Ford Mustang of Carlo Falcone, stranded in turn three after impact.  

The field restarted quickly, with Robinson leading Machavern, Andretti, Lewis, and Buffomante in the top five.  While the race leaders were holding steady in position, Tommy Archer, in the No. 54 Koolmat/Kolar Chevrolet Camaro, worked his way through the field.  

Originally slated to start fourth, Archer and the No. 54 started from pit lane after missing the grid cut off.  Having jumped ten positions on the first lap of the race, Archer replicated the feat on the first restart, moving up to ninth by the fifth lap.  

Once more the field went under yellow with the No. 52 of George Lutich and the turn one tirewall sustaining heavy damage, forcing a four-lap full course caution.  During that period, the No. 24 of Machavern was also forced to enter the pits, leaving teammate Tony Buffomante to inherit second position.  

On the second restart, Buffomante took full advantage, overtaking Robinson for the lead on lap 12.  The two race leaders battled nose-to-tail, while Tommy Archer continued his stunning drive, capitalizing on the compact restart once more and moving into fifth place. 

Unfortunately, the race was forced under yellow, and then red, with only 16 laps remaining as the No. 62 Cobra Automotive Chevrolet Camaro of Curt Vogt impacted in turn seven.  In order to make sufficient repairs to the tire wall, the track needed to be completely blocked, requiring the full TA2 field to enter the pits.  

While now a timed race, the field was able to restart with 10 laps of racing remaining, fortunately with yellow flags now a thing of the past.  

Both Robinson and Andretti managed to pass Buffomante on the 15th lap of the race, as the top five continued in close quarters with Robinson leading the way, followed by Andretti, Buffomante, the charging Tommy Archer, and Lewis.

Both Robinson and Archer began to pick up speed, with Robinson creating space at the front of the field and Archer powering the No. 54 up into second place, now within striking distance of Robinson and the No. 74 with only three laps remaining in the timed race.  

Unfortunately for Archer a final lap showdown with Robinson was not meant to be, as the No. 54 suffered driveline failure with only a lap remaining—ending his charge from the very rear of the field.  With Archer falling back, Robinson continued to open up several car lengths on the competition, taking the checkered flag in relative comfort with 23 laps complete, capturing the first win of the 2016 Trans Am Season.  

Andretti and Buffomante followed suit and were joined in the top five by Shane Lewis and Trans Am debutant Louis-Philippe Montour, in the No. 77 Universal Technical Institute Dodge Challenger, who finished fourth and fifth respectively.  Tommy Archer would finish 11th, still managing to bring the hampered No. 54 around the track and past the checkered flag.  

In his efforts Robinson also set a new track record, turning a 2:10.429 lap around the Sebring course, cutting two seconds off the previous race record in the class’ first independent race at Sebring. 

Also of note, TA2 debutant Robert Mesmer and Scott Lagasse Racing were awarded the Crew of the race after last minute heroics to field the No. 7 Scott Lagasse Racing Chevrolet Camaro, despite having missed every previous session as the crew raced to finish prep on the TA2 machine. 

Trans Am will hold one more race today, Saturday, March 5th, with the TA, TA3, TA4 and TA5 class taking to Sebring in their own 100.98 mile, 27 lap race at 4:50 pm ET as the Trans Am Series continues the opening weekend of its 50th Anniversary Season.   

TA2 will return to the track for Round 2 of the 2016 Trans Am Championship at Road Atlanta on Sunday, April 10th.  

Results are provisional until posted final.

Adam Sinclair