Nearly 50 years ago, SCCA’s Trans-American Championship first came to Laguna Seca. On August 24th, 1969 a pair of Camaros took the top spots, with a Mustang rounding of the podium. These cars were piloted by Mark Donohue, Ed Leslie, and Dan Gurney. Five decades have passed, and after a 15-year hiatus, the series has returned in full force to the iconic Central California race track.
As I explained in my preview of the inaugural Trans Am SpeedFest, championship points would be hanging in the balance for the Trans Am, Trans Am 2, and SGT/GT cars. While these modern cars shared the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Circuit tarmac with their historic counterparts courtesy of the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association, I’ll do my best to focus on the modern stuff for now. Say, 2000-ish and up – the cars racing for points.
Although in the top class these cars share very little — essentially nothing — with their road-going counterparts, just seeing the familiar silhouettes and sticker headlights is enough to make them feel very relevant.
I’ve always thought the CTS-V wagon with a 6-speed would be a really cool daily driver, but after seeing these Cadillac-shaped cars on track the coupe seems attractive for the first time. I guess the win on Sunday, sell on Monday thing is true.
Except the Cadillacs didn’t win, and I won’t be buying a new car any time soon, but you get my point. Win or lose, just hearing these cars is enough to pull on your heartstrings.
The simplicity of these cars also amazes me. As the budgets aren’t anything like Formula 1 or even IndyCar, you get a really awesome mix of entrants to the series, especially if you expand to the GT and SGT classes. And, if you include the vintage group, I saw a Corvette from nearly every generation over the weekend. Considering the top class – denoted TA – it’s so cool to me that you see cars like the C6 and and F-body Camaro still being used.
But it wasn’t just fun and games at Laguna Seca the weekend before last.For Glory
Of course, during any proper championship series the cars in the competitive classes are really after one thing: points.
Entering the weekend, Lawrence Loshak in the #3 Burtin Racing Chevrolet Camaro was the obvious favorite for the top spot after starting on pole and winning the races at both Sebring and Road Atlanta.
However, early on in the weekend another driver had plans to end Loshak’s streak of sweeps. Ernie Francis, Jr. in the Breathless Racing Ford Mustang took pole position by nearly a full second with a 1:24.927 lap.
Ultimately Francis went on to take the checkered flag as well, finishing 28 seconds up on Loshak and his golden Camaro. Ernie Jr. also ran the fastest lap of the race, which while not helpful in the points stakes is always nice.
Rounding off the podium was Tomy Drissi, also piloting a Chevy Camaro.
As much as things have changed over the years, they’re surprisingly similar at the same time. Five decades have passed since the first Trans Am race here at Laguna Seca, yet the makes and models of the top three cars are identical; just mixed up a bit.
And no matter what decade the cars (or you) are from, seeing them scream down the Corkscrew will never get old.
A quick note in the spirit of full disclosure: Sara and I weren’t there for the race itself, and as such missed the TA2 cars on track.
It’s a shame, as really the best story of the weekend came when Thomas Merrill passed 25 cars to win the race. Sadly, Merrill was given a 40-second time penalty after an investigation of an overtaking move on lap two, tarnishing his epic comeback. The penalty moved Marc Miller and his Dodge Challenger into first and Merrill into third. However, the second-place finisher ended up disqualified after his Mustang failed post-race tech due to an illegal wing setback, which meant Merrill still managed second. A bit of a nutty result, and I definitely wish we had been able to get photos of the action.
I’ll do my best to make it up to you though, as I have a couple galleries of historic cars coming.
Interestingly, due to the classification and combined run groups on Friday, there were actually modern — but retired — top-class TA cars running with vintage machinery. Seeing these cars from the 2000s racing alongside their historic counterparts was just a bit epic. And the fact that it all went down at a legendary track with a storied history like Laguna Seca was just the icing on the cake.
Additional Photos by Sara Ryan