Trans Am, SVRA Drivers Add Intrigue to this Weekend’s Trans Am SpeedFest at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca
Exclusive Q&A with two-time Trans Am champion Amy Ruman
The cars are certainly the stars when the rumbling V8s of the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli and the historically significant racing machines of the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) take to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for this weekend’s Trans Am SpeedFest May 3-5. However, the drivers behind the controls bring added dimension to the highly anticipated event.
The Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli offers numerous storylines within its four categories during a return to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca following a 15-year absence. The first of two 70-minute feature races takes place on Saturday at 12:50-2 p.m. with the Camaros, Mustangs, Corvettes, Vipers, and Cadillacs of the top category – TA – sharing the track with their sporty counterparts in the GT and SuperGT classes.
TA points leader Lawrence Loshak enters the event going for a hat trick after winning from the pole at Sebring and Road Atlanta. The Milwaukee native and Burtin Racing Camaro teammate Tomy Drissi, an advertising executive in Hollywood, have formidable challengers standing in their wake.
Amy Ruman is a favorite to shake up the early Camaro domination in her McNichols Corvette. The Ohio native became the first woman in the series’ history to win a race, accomplishing the historic feat at the 2011 season finale. In 2015, she would become the first woman to win a Trans Am Series Championship which she pronounced with eight wins in 12 races. She successfully defended her title in 2016.
Reigning two-time TA champion Ernie Francis Jr., driver of the Breathless Racing/Frameless Shower Doors Ford Mustang, has been nothing short of sensational in his young career. The 21-year-old Floridian has won five titles across three categories and also has a burgeoning stock car career as a driver in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.
Other notable characters in TA include returning veteran Greg Pickett, who holds the distinction of being the only driver to win a race in four decades of Trans-Am competition, and Simon Gregg, a successful Trans Am driver who is the son of late sports car legend Peter. Both drivers competed in the Trans Am West Coast Championship event in Fontana last weekend with Gregg collecting the victory.
Twenty-seven TA2 drivers are entered in the popular category that will compete in the 70-minute feature on Sunday at 12:50-2 p.m. Six California racers will be attempting to win on their home turf.
With over 240 racers across the 12 SVRA categories, there are countless stories among the drivers and families who choose to race cars from different eras that, in many cases, belong on display in a museum. From the rare and significant Lotus Elevens in Group 4 to Travis Engen’s thundering 2005 Audi R8 LMP in Group 11, there is something for everyone who enjoys speed, beauty or historical significance in the automotive racing world.
Ruman, who is competing at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for only the second time and the first time in Trans Am, can be counted among those who can’t wait until the start of Trans Am SpeedFest. She took the time to answer a few questions on her way to the event.
Q: Having begun your Trans Am driving career one year after the series’ most recent appearance at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in 2004, what is your experience at the Monterey County-owned race track?
A: I have been here before once when I raced in the Women’s Global GT Series in 1999, but I got taken out on the first lap so I didn’t get much of a race in. I was there with my dad for the Trans Am race in 2001, but I haven’t been back since then, so it’s been a long time.
Q: What are you looking forward to about coming back this weekend?
A: It’s an iconic track, and I’m looking forward to getting the chance to drive our No. 23 McNichols Corvette around there. I’m excited to take it through the Corkscrew and see what that’s all about. It’s going to be a good race. I think it will take us a little bit to get up to speed, but I think we can get there fairly quickly.
Q: For those coming to watch the race, what can they expect from the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli?
A: You can expect some ground-pounding, awesome race cars. It’s going to be interesting because back when my dad ran there, they we only allowed to run 3.10 gears as opposed to our 3.58s, so I think our times will be quicker than they were in the past. You’re definitely going to have an exciting race. The top contenders who are running in the championship are coming, so everyone is trying to vie for some good points and good finishes. It is early in the season yet, but I think everyone is trying to get out and be really aggressive to gain some valuable points this weekend. I think the fans will really enjoy it. Trans Am is unique, because it is a 100-mile race with no pit stops. It is a sprint for 100 miles.
Q: Is there anything you are looking forward to this weekend away from the race?
A: Yeah. I’m looking forward to hanging out in Monterey for an extra day or two to explore a little bit and take in some sunshine. We haven’t had much sunshine in Ohio lately, just lots of rain. I’m excited to get back in the California sun and take advantage of being on the West Coast.
Q: What keeps you motivated to succeed in the series following back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016?
A: We always knew we had it in us and finally did it in 2015. To back it up with a second championship was even more exciting. In any racing, you have ups and downs. The last couple years weren’t our greatest, but the years before that were. Racing just sucks you in and holds you there. Our competitive nature keeps us going. The series is exciting and fun, and it’s kind of our home. We love it there. We are all a family, yet we run hard against one another. It’s exciting that they have added tracks to the schedule, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca being one of them. Running the premier road courses throughout the U.S. provides a really good platform for the fans to see us. That’s what we enjoy doing. Heading to Monterey will be fun for us.
Q: How has the response been to Trans Am and SVRA racing at the same events?
A: We are paired with SVRA at several of our venues throughout the year, and the fans really enjoy it because it gives you the flavor of yesterday’s race cars to today’s. It creates a really great fan experience. We do the Fan Walk where people come up close to the cars, meet us and get autographs. It creates a very fan-friendly experience.
Q: Tell us about the dynamic of racing with family on your team.
A: We are a family-based team and have been throughout our whole history. My dad is the data engineer and setup guy. My brother-in-law is my crew chief. A couple of the guys on our team have been with us for 20-plus years, so we’re all a big family. My mom runs the team as far as travel arrangements, food and getting everybody what they need. We are very close-knit. I definitely couldn’t do it without them. My niece and nephew come often.
Tickets and information for Trans Am SpeedFest are available here or by calling 831-242-8200.