Crews crowned youngest TA2 champion as Annunziata takes maiden win at COTA

At 15 years, seven months and six days old, Brent Crews became the youngest champion in the history of the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli following a fourth-place finish in the Big Machine Vodka SPIKED Coolers TA2 Series race at Circuit of The Americas. The wild, caution-filled race ended with Thomas Annunziata scoring his first victory the National Championship, while Michael LaPaglia drove from 44th to 11th overall to earn his very first win in the Western Championship. With a third-place finish, Brody Goble wrapped up the Western Championship title, edging out LaPaglia in a tight points race.

2022 champion Thomas Merrill (No. 26 Bennett/HP Tuners/Cope Race Cars Ford Mustang) started the race on the pole, poised to once again come from behind and earn his second-consecutive title. Unfortunately, his race did not go as smoothly as it did in 2022. Merrill lost the lead early, first to Nathan Herne (No.29 CUBE 3/Berryman Ford Mustang) on lap one, then to Connor Zilisch (No. 7 Silver Hare Racing Chevrolet Camaro) on lap four. The three battled back and forth for dominance but were all eventually struck by misfortune. Zilisch was forced to retire when he lost a wheel on lap nine. Herne and Merrill were battling for the lead on lap 22 when the two made contact, causing damage to both vehicles and taking them out of contention for the victory and Merrill out of the championship hunt.

Cameron Lawrence (No. 8 Nacarato TC/Averitt Express/SLR-M1 Chevrolet Camaro) first made his way through the melee to take over the lead, but then lost it to Annunziata (No. 90 Nitro Motorsports Ford Mustang) one lap later. Annunziata controlled the race until a full-course yellow with just three minutes remaining ended the race under caution conditions. Annunziata and Lawrence led the field across the line, followed by Austin Green (No. 89 3-Dimensional Services Group Ford Mustang), Crews (No. 70 Franklin Road/Mobil 1/Nitro Motorsports Ford Mustang) and Adam Andretti (No. 41 Ultimate Headers Chevrolet Camaro). Crews’ fourth-place finish was enough to secure him the 2023 Big Machine Vodka SPIKED Coolers TA2 Series championship, making him the youngest champion in Trans Am history.


“It’s amazing; it’s been a long time coming,” said Annunziata after the race. “We’ve had speed all year, but luck hasn’t been with us. We started fifth and stayed fifth for a little while, but the guys in front of me were starting to burn their tires. Herne was also looking for his first win, so he was definitely aggressive and that made it interesting. There was a wreck at the end, and then me and Cameron [Lawrence] ended up racing for the win. I just barely hung onto it, but I’m so thankful. To be one-two with Cameron, the guy I was calling at the end of last year for advice, is really special. Thank you to everyone at Nitro Motorsports for doing this for me and giving me this opportunity. We’ve been looking for this for a while, and we’ve been so close so many times. I’m happy to get the monkey off my back and take my first victory at the end of the season. I can’t wait for 2024.”

“It feels great to win the championship,” said Crews. “The team worked hard all year. In my rookie year, we were able to come in third in the points, so this year, I knew what I needed to do from my perspective and how to get the car set up to make sure we ran well every race. Being able to finish every race, I think, is the main way to be a champion. That’s what I learned last year.

“Now, to be the youngest champion, I think that’s the highest bar. That’s a plus of being able to work with Nitro Motorsports and Nick Tucker. I grew up with him, working with him from five years old and on, racing go karts with him, winning championships. Coming into this professional series to race against the best drivers and best teams and to have been able to have success here, win races and win championships, that’s really special.”

The Western Championship endured just as much craziness as the National competitors, and with a championship on the line, every point and position mattered. Coming into the race with the points lead, Goble (No. 69 Brown Bros. Ford/Cortex Racing Ford Mustang) took the green flag from the pole position, while his championship rival LaPaglia (No. 31 Papini’s Garage/F.A.S.T. Auto Ford Mustang) started 44th following a penalty for missing the driver meeting. After the start, Kyle Kelley (No. 180 Chevrolet Camaro) quickly took the point position from Goble, leading the first five laps. Goble made the pass on Kelley on lap six, but was then overtaken by Roy Fulmer IV (No. 86 Fulmer’s Auto Body/CaukLok Chevrolet Camaro) on lap 14.

On lap 18, when the field was returning to green following a full-course caution, Goble was forced to visit pit road for a restart violation. Dropping to the rear of the class, Goble had a lot of work ahead of him to hang onto the championship lead. Meanwhile, LaPaglia had worked his way up to 16th overall and took over the lead for the class. LaPaglia held his ground, while Goble slowly picked his way back through his TA2 competition. By the time the final yellow flag waved that would bring the field to the checkers, LaPaglia had advanced all the way to 11th to take the win for the class. Tim Carroll (No. 46 Carroll Racing Development Dodge Challenger) was second, and Goble had clawed his way back up to third to round out the podium. Tim Lynn (No. 71 RoofOptions Ford Mustang) and Fulmer closed out the top five. Goble’s third-place finish was enough to narrowly earn him the 2023 TA2 Western Championship title.

“You know, I just I started 44th and I really just had nothing to lose,” said LaPaglia. “It was as simple as that. I didn’t want to tear the car up. I wanted to bring it home in one piece and avoid the carnage and make as many passes as I could. But my little guy told me to ‘sneak through the window,’ as I like to say. So that’s all I did. I just tried to take advantage of every opportunity and every pass. I still definitely left a couple spots on the table, surprisingly, but it was a great race. Super happy to finish 11th overall and take the win here in West Coast. It’s my first win in the Western Championship series, and I’m so stoked to get here. COTA is an awesome track and awesome facility. I’d like to thank everyone that helps us out. The Papini brothers take care of the cars; they do everything for me and just take care of it, make sure the cars are race ready. I really appreciate that. And of course, I have to thank my family, and everybody that comes out and supports us.”

“That was awesome,” said Goble after claiming his title. “The Brown Bros. Racing team has been working hard all year. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make the first race of the year, and coming back from that kind of points deficit was tough. It’s tough to make up that many points, but we chipped away all season long and always made it to the finish. I want to thank Jim Brown and Shelly, my wife Grace and my dad. We’re a privateer team, so to come out here and cap it off on a National weekend is great. It was a big team effort and a weight off our shoulders to get it done.”

The re-broadcast of Sunday’s race will air on MAVTV on Thursday, November 9 at 8:00 p.m. ET.

The Big Machine Vodka SPIKED Coolers TA2 Series returns to the track next season at Sebring International Raceway, February 22-25, 2024.


Story originally appeared on Racer