Merrill rockets from third to first and wins TA2 at Road Atlanta

Thomas Merrill was the class of the field in the CUBE 3 Architecture TA2 Series race at the Mission Foods Road Atlanta SpeedTour, taking the lead on lap eight and dominating for the rest of the day. Early in the race, Merrill battled with Rafa Matos and it appeared that the two would lead the field to the checkered flag, but Matos suffered a late-race tire puncture, giving way for Nitro Motorsports Young Guns Tyler Gonzalez and Thomas Annunziata to score podium finishes in the Bennett/BridgeHaul Classic TA2 race.

With rain resulting in the cancelation of Friday’s qualifying session, the starting grid for Saturday’s event was set by practice speeds, meaning two-time champion Matos’ No. 60 Concord American Flagpole/Nitro Motorsports Ford Mustang would lead the field to green alongside Annunziata’s No. 90 Nitro Motorsports Ford Mustang. When the green flag waved, Matos pulled out front and was followed by Merrill in the No. 26 HP Tuners/Cope Race Cars Ford Mustang, who started third and had an excellent start. It was not long before Matos and Merrill pulled ahead of the field, leaving Annunziata, Gonzalez in the No. 40 Nitro Motorsports Ford Mustang and Connor Mosack in the No. 77 Silver Hare Racing Camaro in their wake.

Mosack faced early trouble, bringing out the first full-course caution of the day on lap three when he suffered an exhaust issue, forcing him to pull off the racing surface. When racing resumed on lap seven, Merrill was all over the back of Matos and promptly took the lead from the two-time champion before circling back for lap eight. Second place was briefly taken by Annunziata, but Matos was able to regain the runner-up position by the following lap. Merrill and Matos pulled ahead of the field, while Young Gun Jake Drew (No. 7 Silver Hare Racing Chevrolet Camaro) took on Josh Hurley (No. 20 Greenlight Simulation/BCR Ford Mustang) in a battle for the fifth position.


Over a long green-flag run, veterans Merrill and Matos opened up an eight-second lead over third, but a double yellow flag bunched the field back up on lap 24. After the green flag on lap 28, Matos had a chance to fight for the lead, but Merrill’s restart was just too good, and the No. 26 pulled open a 1.6s gap in a single lap. It was then that Matos slowed in Turn 1 with a punctured tire, which required multiple visits to pit lane and relegated him to the 23rd position. A caution on lap 31 once again closed up the field, leading to a sprint to the finish when the race went green with two laps to go. Merrill, who never faltered after taking the lead, solidly held the point position until a yellow flag on the final lap ended the competition under caution. The 2022 champion was followed across the finish line by Annunziata, Gonzalez, Drew and Hurley.

“It was a great, great race; I had a lot of fun racing up front with Rafa [Matos] at the beginning,” said Merrill. “Once we got up front, we just set sail. It was such a good racecar that the Cope crew gave me today. Seeing all these Cope chassis up here makes me proud of all the work we’ve done over the last couple years. And obviously, huge congratulations to Keith for his 100-race brick. I’m very happy to put the HP tuners car on the top step. It’s just a great day. It was a pleasure to drive that race car, and I’m looking forward to the next one.”

Saturday also marked the 100th race for Keith Prociuk. He was presented with a commemorative trophy on the podium. While Prociuk initially crossed the finish line second in Pro/Am, he received a post-race penalty for avoidable contact.

“One hundred races is amazing,” said Prociuk. “TA2 is a fantastic series to race in, and Trans Am puts on a good show. It felt great out there. Michele [Abbate] raced from the back, and I was so happy to see her there. Barry [Boes] just dominated our race. For [Thomas] Merrill to win Pro, that’s just fantastic for us, fantastic for HP Tuners and Cope Race Cars.”

The highlight show of Saturday’s race will air on MAVTV on Thursday, March 28 at 8:00 p.m. ET.

The CUBE 3 Architecture TA2 Series next hit the track at the NOLA SpeedTour at NOLA Motorsports Park, April 11-14.


Story originally appeared on Racer