Ernie Francis Jr. Eyes Eight Consecutive Trans Am Title
SEBRING, FLA. (19 FEBRUARY 2021)- This weekend, the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli will build on a proud tradition of racing at Sebring International Raceway, headlining the Sebring SpeedTour Feb. 19-21 for its 16th showing on the historic venue since the series hosted its inaugural race there in 1966.
With gates open to fans, nearly 50 fire-breathing machines across four classes of competition will bring the thunder during two 100-mile races around the notoriously bumpy circuit on Sunday. (TICKETS) The full SpeedTour event, including Trans Am qualifying sessions, will be live streamed starting Saturday exclusively on the Trans Am by Pirelli Racing App.
“Even with the obstacles that COVID-19 presented last season, Trans Am took a pause on our schedule and then developed a plan to safely return to competition- and our paddock came back to compete in force,” said President of the Trans Am Race Company John Clagett. “So that allowed us to finish the year with momentum, and that momentum continued through a fairly short off-season as we have a number of new series partners, a robust entry list, and a schedule that is competitor friendly starting with our traditional opener at Sebring.”
As the new season is ready to launch, there are a number of key storylines that are set to develop in 2021.
Dodge Makes a Comeback in the TA Class
Powered by a monstrous 850 horsepower V8 emitting that iconic roar found only in Trans Am, the TA class remains a truly unique American category that puts the power in the driver hands, with no electronic driver aids allowed. This season, four different manufacturers will battle for the TA title as the Dodge Challenger makes its full-season return on the class roster with drivers Ken Thwaits, Jeff Hinkle and Adam Andretti.
Andretti will open the 2021 Trans Am season in the same No. 43 ECC /AnchorBolt&Screw Dodge Challenger he debuted last season at Sebring to honor his late brother John Andretti.
The ECC Motorsports prepared Challenger sports the same number and ‘Petty blue’ color scheme that John Andretti carried while driving for Richard Petty in NASCAR and again at the Indianapolis 500, styled with a STP-style red roundel on the hood.
“This year we are again planning to do as many races as possible utilizing the same tribute livery as Sebring last year,” said Andretti. “It’s a wonderful tribute to my brother and great exposure for our #Checkit4Andretti initiative that has since gone live as a charitable organization to urge people to schedule their colonoscopies. John has already saved so many lives with his story and I know how proud his wife Nancy and their kids are to continue this in his memory.”
Following the 2020 Sebring race, Andretti put his race plans on hold last season due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but plans on to make several appearances in the TA category of the next year.
“I am always over the moon to get to race anything and feel very blessed anytime we get to compete in Trans Am,” said Andretti. “Such a fantastic group of people and the Speed Tour weekends are second to none in Motorsports in my humble opinion. Only place you can watch the historic part of our sport and witness the future of the sport all in one action packed event. Huge thank you to Engineered Components Company and the Henriksen family for making it happen again.”
Francis Jr. Targets 8th Championship Drive
After claiming his seventh Trans Am national championship last season, Ernie Francis Jr. returns to the Trans Am lineup, chasing his fifth TA class title behind the wheel of the No. 98 Future Star Ford Mustang. (Watch Francis Jr. unveil the new car)
But, unlike his past seven years in Trans Am, this season will bring more challenges for Francis Jr. who will be pulling double duty, campaigning for three titles. The 23-year-old Florida native was confirmed as the youngest driver to enter the new Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) started by recent Trans Am racer Ray Evernham and NASCAR team owner Tony Stewart.
After being selected as the PMH Powering Diversity Scholarship, Francis Jr. will also compete in single seaters for the first time in the Formula Americas Championship Powered by Honda.
“Starting the new season we feel more ready than ever to hit the track and be fast out of the gate,” Francis Jr. said. “But 2021 will be a busy year with the Trans Am title chase as well as the SRX series I will be competing in, and I welcome the challenge.”
Putting pressure on Francis Jr.’s title bout will be 2020 TA championship runner up Tomy Drissi in the No. 8 Lucas Oil Chevrolet Camaro. Francis Jr. and Drissi fought all the way to the last event for the 2020 title, and Drissi has more close racing in store for Francis Jr. and the rest of the deeply talented TA field.
“I can’t wait to get to Sebring to for the 2021 season and start a new year of racing,” said Drissi. “We had a great 2020 season with the live streaming and we finished strong in the points with second place. With the help of Lucas SlickMist and Burtin Racing, we’ve never been more ready for another championship.”
While Francis Jr. and Drissi are looking to continue their championship duel, there are several contenders looking to join that fight. The high-horsepower field will see 2015 Sebring TA winner and 2016 Trans Am champion Amy Ruman (No. 23 McNichols Co. Chevrolet Corvette), 2012 Trans Am Champion Simon Gregg (No. 59 The Peter Gregg Foundation Chevrolet Camaro) and 2019 TA Vice Champion Chris Dyson (No. 20 Plaid Ford Mustang) all looking for new Crystal Sensations hardware this weekend to launch their 2021 campaigns.
NASCAR Xfinity winner Justin Marks will be running a partial season with Trans Am under the Ave Motorsports banner. Marks finished on the pole in 2017 at Sebring, and has his eyes set at a podium finish this weekend wheeling the red and white No. 99 Coca-Cola Ave Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette.
Thwaits Partners with Weaver for TA Run
Inaugural XtremeGT class champion Thwaits is trading in his championship-winning Audi to run in the TA class at Sebring, teaming up with renowned chassis designer Pancho Weaver to drive the No. 2 FranklinRoad/WeaverRacing/SRI Dodge Challenger.
“I had a great time in Trans Am last year, but the simple fact is that in Trans Am Racing, the TA Class is where it’s at for drivers seeking to race at the top in this Series,” said Thwaits. “It’s fantastic to be working with Pancho, who has found success in this arena across a timespan of decades. Trans Am cars are very different beasts to the GT3 type sportscar fans are used to seeing from Showtime Motorsports.”
Thwaits will pilot the same Challenger that Boris Said set pole and drove to a podium finish twice last season. Said has been coaching Thwaits in the off season to prepare him for his Sebring TA class debut.
“The Dodge is dramatically different to drive compared to the Audi – especially at a track like Sebring,” added Thwaits. “You couldn’t have a better coach than Boris Said. I love a challenge and I can’t wait to get started racing. The car is fantastic, very exciting feel and power.”
Gregg Partners with Burtin Racing
In a newly wrapped Peter Gregg Foundation Camaro that pays tribute to his father Peter Gregg, Simon Gregg will join Burtin Racing as a full-time addition to its roster for the 2021 Trans Am season, which also includes Drissi. In addition to the two Chevy Camaros, Burtin Racing will be adding a separate schedule for Gregg in the Mercedes Benz AMG for the XGT class.
“I’m excited to start the TA season with both Simon Gregg and Tomy Drissi, both are experienced drivers who have a lot to offer. They’re two great guys that I can get behind and I’m proud to have them both under the Burtin Racing tent.” said team owner Claudio Burtin. “We have been slowly expanding the racing effort and we welcome a busy 2021.”
Trans Am ProAm Challenge
Florida-native Hinkle will field the third Dodge on the roster, entering the new Trans Am ProAm Challenge in the No. 9 TRGDataCenters/Netdepot.com Challenger.
Partnering with SCCA, Trans Am launched the crossover program during the off season. Making an easy path for road racing teams to crossover to Trans Am is the primary focus of the new ProAm Challenge, with the 2021 schedule and rules package providing flexibility for teams and drivers to chase both their ProAm Challenge and their SCCA Road Racing goals in the same year.
Dyson on the Rebound
Dyson’s 2020 season started out rough last year at Sebring after taking a hard hit in practice which caused him to miss qualifying. Following incidental contact during the race, Dyson retired his Mustang at the half-way point last year in Sebring. But Dyson recovered from the misfortunate start to finish the season third overall.
“Sebring is always a great way to kick off a season; it is by far one of the most physical tracks on our schedule, and that fact is always a good motivator for training in the off-season,” said Dyson. “We’ve managed to have fast cars there in the past and with some of the steps with our Plaid Mustang that we made at the end of last year, I’m excited to see how that translates to performance at Sebring. Sebring is one of those rare tracks where you simply can’t hide any deficiencies. The bumps at Sebring are dramatic and unavoidable, so you need to have your act together with the setup. The track is an immutable challenge and it’s what makes it so valuable for us to race there every year.”
Dyson’s team took advantage of the shortened off season to prepare for 2021 by upgrading parts to work on reliability issues with the No. 20 Plaid Mustang. Dyson also focused on improving his overall fitness.
“We’ve gone through the car completely and worked hard to eliminate the reliability issues that unfortunately took us out of title contention last year,” Dyson continued. “Personally, I’ve been working hard all winter on my fitness and rehabilitating my body after some wear and tear the past five years took its toll. Honestly, I haven’t felt this good physically coming into a new season in years.”
The Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli will join the SVRA Sebring SpeedTour in a thrilling weekend, mixing great race cars from the past and present.
Each of the four Trans Am classes will have testing sessions on Friday to open on-track activities. Saturday begins with practice at 11:00 a.m. ET, followed by qualifying for each of the classes beginning at 4:10 p.m. Sunday features two 60-minute races with a massive TA2® field taking the green at 11:15 a.m. ET followed by the mixed class of TA/XGT/SGT/GT taking the green at 1:35 p.m. The full weekend will stream on the Trans Am by Pirelli Racing App. (Click to Download)