Defending TA2 champion Tony Buffomante captured a flag-to-flag victory in the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli’s Ryan Companies Muscle Car Challenge at Brainerd International Raceway. Buffomante weathered 100-miles of incessant pressure from points leader Gar Robinson to secure the win, Buffomante’s second of the season and ninth of his Trans Am career. Robinson, who remains the TA2 points leader, finished second while his teammate Shane Lewis secured third.
The 100-mile, 40-lap affair was one of two finale races for the 31st Annual PleasureLand RV Show & Go at BIR. The second race, the Ryan Companies Independence Day Classic, featured the TA, TA3 and TA4 classes. The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) was on the road course as well this weekend, while the Muscle Car Series was on the drag strip for three days drag racing.
The weekend marked a touch of redemption for Buffomante and the No. 34 Bestline Superior Lubricants Ford Mustang, fielded by Mike Cope Racing Enterprises, after a disappointing outing in Indianapolis that saw the 34 finish 17th with clutch failure. This weekend Buffomante and the MCRE team unloaded from the trailer at a blistering pace and remained at speed, pacing every practice session, capturing pole in qualifying and leading every lap of the race, all while setting a new track record 1:31.093 lap around the 2.5-mile course.
“We did come into the weekend a little frustrated,” said Buffomante. “We had a couple little things happen in Detroit that pushed us back a little bit and had a clutch issue at Indy — not the way I wanted to coast across the bricks, not under power. The Mike Cope team went back and worked hard. It’s tough out here, the 72 and 74 are a great team, great drivers. We knew we had to bring our A game today. We were fast here last year, but a cut tire set us back. Today I just can’t thank the Mike Cope team enough, Bestline Lubricants, Ilmor power — when you’ve got some ponies under the hood, it doesn’t take a lot to look like a hero when you put your foot down! And the Wilwood brakes held up as well. I just couldn’t be happier — I’ve got my son here this weekend and my dad. It’s a great Fourth of July weekend, and we swept it! So I love it!”
Robinson, in the No. 74 Pura Vida Tequila/74 Ranch Resort Chevrolet Camaro, did not make the task any easier for Buffomante, hounding the No. 34 for the entirety of the race, but Robinson was unable to make a pass for the lead. Still, in finishing second, Robinson easily retained his points lead with 159 points to the 132 of Dillon Machvern, 131 of Shane Lewis and 128 of Buffomante, who is now in the position of chasing his championship defense.
“I think the pressure is gone actually,” said Buffomante. “We missed a round early, and thought that was going to be our mulligan, but then Indy happened. We’re in a deep hole from my standpoint, so we can go out and be super aggressive and just try and win things. Gar did what he needed to do today, second isn’t a bad way to collect points, so we’re just going to go flat out. It’s a nice way to go into the six week break. Mid-Ohio hasn’t been too kind to us lately, but we’ve got a lot of tracks coming up I’m really excited about.”
While Buffomante and Robinson battled back and forth, Shane Lewis, in the No. 72 Robinson Racing Chevrolet Camaro, held third for the entire race as well, bringing home his fifth podium finish of the season.
Lawrence Loshak, in the No. 5 Pennzoil/ ETE Reman Chevrolet Camaro, finished fourth, completing an unexpected charge from the back of the pack— gridding fourth but suffering a spin on the pace lap, sending the No. 5 to the back of the field come green. For retaining his “cool” and his efforts charging from 12th position to fourth, Loshak was awarded the COOLSHIRT Systems Cool Move of the Race.
Cameron Lawrence, in the No. 19 Class Auto Centers Chevrolet Corvette, completed a similar charge, finishing fifth after starting 11th, a consequence of missing qualifying due to his participation in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge at Watkins Glen the day before. Lawrence also competed in the TA class.
The TA2 top 10 also included, in order, Keith Prociuk, Tom Sheehan, Shannon Ivey, Tim Gray and Ray Neveau.
Dillon Machavern, also a Watkins Glen competitor now in the No. 24 Heritage Motorsports Ford Mustang, moved his way up through the field as well running as high as fourth before suffering a mechanical failure on the 22nd lap, ending his day.
For their efforts in preparing the No. 34 of Buffomante, Mike Cope Racing Enterprises was named the Pitboxes.com Crew of the Race, while Travis Cope was named the TraqGear Crew Chief of the Weekend.