Surprise entrant Rodgers storms through to win Trans Am overall at Thunderhill

By | March 4, 2024

Will Rodgers was a surprise entrant in race two at Thunderhill Raceway Park, where his No. 2 Chris Evans Race Cars Ford Mustang was entered after race one, forcing him to start last in the field. However, it took Rodgers little time to navigate his XGT car to the front of the field and check out, winning race two of the Trans Am Series presented by the Pirelli Western Championship season opener.

Michael LaPaglia in the No. 31 Papini’s Garage/FAST Auto Ford Mustang had a great points weekend, winning today’s CUBE 3 Architecture TA2 Series race after finishing second on Saturday, leaving Thunderhill with the points lead. After winning on Saturday, both Michelle Nagai in XGT and Tim Barber in TA2 suffered early problems, forcing them to retire and finish in the last two positions respectively.

After dealing with mechanical issues during the first Saturday, team owner Chris Evans withdrew his No. 92 Central Welding Supply Ford Mustang from Sunday’s event. However, he had his team’s driver-coach Will Rodgers on hand to pilot a reserve entry, which was given a 22nd-place starting spot. Rodgers took the green flag from the last position and set lap times that eclipsed his competitors, moving up to seventh overall and first in the XGT class before being issued a full-course caution on lap three . After the restart on lap seven, it took just one lap for Rodgers to take the overall lead. With the race remaining green to the finish, Rodgers pulled away from the rest of the field and dominated until taking the checkered flag with a commanding lead over second place.

That second-place competitor was Rick Wright in the No. 45 AR Motorsports Audi R8 LMS GT3, who started first in class and ninth overall. With 2022 TA2 champion Thomas Merrill once again coaching him in his ear, Wright also powered his way through the field at impressive speed, moving into second place overall on lap 17. He handily fended off all competitors and maintained his position for the remainder of the race. race. Rob Gordon in the No. 79 Chris Evans Race Cars Ford Mustang finished third in class and eighth overall, while Tim Rankin in the No. 5 TCR IT Solutions Ford Mustang finished fourth.

Michelle Nagai in the No. 72 Nagai Racing/Berkeley Jet Drive Chevrolet Camaro, which won Saturday’s race and started Sunday second in the XGT class, went off course on the second lap with a flat tire after a multi-car collision at the front of the field during the opening lap. Forced to retire, she finished last in the class.

“That incident in the first corner, that was quite hairy; I don’t know what the hell happened there,” Rodgers said. “I’m really disappointed for our teammate, Michelle [Nagai]. I really wish she was here on stage with us. Maybe we’ll get Rick [Wright] in a [Chris Evans] XGT car later in the year. We can have a team XGT podium. Hats off to Chris Evans Racing, Jeff Jefferson, everyone on this team. It’s the only reason I’m here. I feel very fortunate to be the exclusive coach of Chris Evans Racing and represent them behind the wheel, so thank you, Chris. We had a good race. We’re going to Sonoma and hopefully we’ll do it again.”

The CUBE 3 Architecture TA2 Series competitors had a challenging race, with several hopefuls experiencing issues during the 35-lap event. Saturday’s race winner and fourth-place Tim Barber in the No. 33 DIG Motorsports Ford Mustang suffered a mechanical issue before waving the green flag, pulling into the garage and finishing last in the field.

With the fastest times in the first race on the grid, Ken Sutherland in the No. 68 Kallberg Racing/Wyatt Fire Chevrolet Camaro started the race from the points position and held the lead for most of the first ten laps, only ahead a short challenge. by Bobby Hodges in the No. 54 NATC Ford Mustang. Unfortunately, Sutherland and Michael LaPaglia in the Papini’s Garage/FAST Auto No. 31 Ford Mustang made side-by-side contact while LaPaglia was attempting to make a pass, resulting in Sutherland going off course. The driver of the No. 68 was able to resume his race, but had dropped to eighth position.

LaPaglia took the class lead and quickly built a gap between his car and second-place Hodges. Behind them, Barry Boes in the No. 32 Accio Data/TRB Autosport Ford Mustang, Tim Lynn in the No. 17 RoofOptions Ford Mustang and Troy Ermish in the No. 38 Ermish Racing Ford Mustang battled for positions in the top five. Ermish made his way into third place, followed by Lynn and Boes. The top five remained the same until lap 24, when Hodges spun and dropped to fifth in class. As Ermish and Lynn finished second and third respectively, they maintained their position for the remaining eleven laps.

On lap 30, Sutherland fought his way back into the top five, passing Hodges to take over fifth place. In the closing laps, Sutherland was unable to get past Boes, who defended fourth position until the end of the race. LaPaglia, who never looked back after taking the lead early in the race, crossed the finish line to take his first win of 2024.

“I couldn’t be happier when I finished second yesterday and was able to take the win today under some pretty tough conditions,” said LaPaglia. “This marks my one-year anniversary as a TA2 racer, so I’m happy with the progress we’ve made, happy with everything we’ve learned. It was fun. It’s a great group of guys we’re racing with, a great organization. I’m so happy to be here. I want to thank my parents, my father and mother. Mom couldn’t be there, but Dad is with me every step of the way, so thank you, Dad. And my father-in-law, Colin, my grandfather is helping us here, my uncle Scott is here. And then of course Robert and Richard Papini from Papini’s Garage. They prepared the car and made sure everything happens so I can get on track and do what I can do. It’s nice to have some family and friends here. It just makes it more fun and special for this win. So, cheers and thank you to everyone.”

Both TA entries encountered problems in the second race. Winner Greg Pickett in the No. 6 Pickett Racing Ford Mustang was forced to start at the back of the field after being unable to maintain his position during the pace laps, but went off course on lap four, requiring a tow. However, five laps later he returned to the track and managed to reach the checkered flag. Steve Goldman in the No. 13 LIG Racing Chevrolet Corvette inherited the lead when Pickett went to the paddock, but spun on lap 19 and had to retire early with exhaust damage.

“Well, listen, that was a tough question,” Pickett said. “In the beginning we had some electrical problems. I made a pit stop and we put it back together. Then things went pretty fast; it kind of came to life. We got through it, but I’ve had more fun in a race car before. For my team, you are the best. I mean it. Stevie Dicks and all the boys. This means a lot to me at this old age; these are memories I will not forget. Thanks to my family, you are the best. My daughter is here with two of my little grandsons [awesome] carters. Just watch – one of these days you’ll hear about those guys.

As the only GT competitor, David Hampton shared it with the other classes in his No. 14 AR Motorsports Porsche Cayman GT4 CS. After starting 21st overall, Hampton finished 15th and scored his second win in the Thunderhill doubleheader.

“The race was quite entertaining,” said Hampton on the podium. “I got a little salad in the front there, so I looked for meat on the bone. We went out for a bit; it got slippery, but I just kept pushing and pushing and pushing. I tried to slide the car a bit, trying to get used to the new car. I really appreciate the fast drivers who pay attention to me. I tried to pay attention to them and just stay where I needed to be. I have to thank God for this. This was a great weekend. We came back with the car in one piece and I am very happy with it. Thank you so much.”

The Western Championship returns to the Sonoma Raceway track for the Sonoma SpeedTour, April 18-21.


The story originally appeared on Racer

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