Trans Am Series Western Championship event preview: Sonoma
The Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli Western Championship is back in action this weekend for Round 2 of the 2023 season with the Mission Foods Sonoma SpeedTour at Sonoma Raceway. Sunday’s race kicks off back-to-back California weekends for the Western Championship. With 28 cars currently on the entry list, the field is sure to be packed with tough competition and tight battles.
23 of the cars in this weekend’s race are Big Machine Vodka SPIKED Coolers TA2 Series entries, setting a new record for the most cars in that class in a single Western Championship event. The previous record of 20 was established at Sonoma in 2021. To show how much growth TA2 has seen on the West Coast, 23 is the total number of Big Machine Vodka SPIKED Coolers TA2 Series participants entered the entire first season of Western Championship competition in 2017.
Golden Gate Challenge
This weekend at Sonoma Raceway kicks off the inaugural Golden Gate Challenge, a two-event points race in which the competitor who tallies the most points will be awarded a special custom trophy. The challenge will conclude next weekend following the checkered flag at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
A few drivers typically competing in the National Championship have made the trek west to compete in the challenge, including Jack Wood (No. 8 SLR-M1 Race Cars Chevrolet Camaro), Brad McAllister (No. 24 Straumann and Zimbis Ford Mustang), and Barry Boes (No. 32 Accio Data Ford Mustang), as well as the entire TeamSLR fleet.
TeamSLR crossing the country
One team which does not typically compete in the Western Championship is TeamSLR, but the St. Augustine, Florida-based organization owned by Scott Lagasse Sr. and Scott Lagasse Jr. is bringing three cars across the country to field Sammy Smith, Sean Hingorani and Jack Wood.
18-year-old Smith, who has competed in nine NASCAR Xfinity Series races in 2023, got his first-career NASCAR win at Phoenix Raceway in March. Smith has made two previous Trans Am starts with a best finish of second, which he scored at Road America last year.
Sean Hingorani, who is 16 years old, is making his Trans Am debut this weekend.
22-year-old Wood has made seven Trans Am starts since 2021, and has one start at Sonoma Raceway, where he finished 16th last year.
Wine Country winners
Only two drivers in this Sunday’s field have previous Western Championship victories at Sonoma Raceway, and neither of those drivers have won in the same class as they are competing in this weekend.
Joe Bogetich, No. 65 Westover Controls Chevrolet Camaro (GT, 2020)
Chris Evans, No. 92 Central Welding Supply Ford Mustang (SGT, 2022)
California drivers dominate entry list
Exactly half of the drivers entered in this weekend’s race are from the state of California. Tim Lynn’s hometown of Kentfield, California is the closest to the 2.52-mile track in wine country, just 45 minutes away from Sonoma. Jack Wood, Greg Tolson, Bob Accardo Jr., Michael Fine and Roy Fulmer IV are all from within two hours of the track.
In addition to those below, Michelle Nagai in the No. 72 Nagai Racing/Berkeley Jet Drive Chevrolet Camaro considers Havasu City, Arizona to be her hometown, but grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, attending high school in San Rafael, just 15 minutes from Sonoma Raceway. In those days, Nagai was a pro Jet Ski racer and trained under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz, making the Golden Gate Challenge particularly close to her heart. Nagai was the Western Championship TA Rookie of the Year in 2019 and is competing full-time for the first time since that season.
JC Meynet, No. 28 Killer Shrimp Racing Chevrolet Corvette (Woodland Hills)
Kevin Michaels, No. 98 Killer Shrimp Restaurant Chevrolet Corvette (Malibu)
Sean Hingorani, No. 7 SLR-M1 Race Cars Chevrolet Camaro (Newport Beach)
Jack Wood, No. 8 SLR-M1 Race Cars Chevrolet Camaro (Loomis)
Tim Lynn, No. 17 RoofOptions Ford Mustang (Kentfield)
Mitch Marvosh, No. 29 Wolf Entertainment RAWsport Motors Mustang (Santa Barbara)
Michael LaPaglia, No. 31 Papini’s Garage/F.A.S.T. Auto Ford Mustang (Murrieta)
Greg Tolson, No. 38 GT Auto Lounge Chevrolet Camaro (Rancho Cordova)
Bob Accardo Jr., No. 39 Accurate Arms/Race Marketing Chevrolet Camaro (Livermore)
Tim Carroll, No. 46 Carroll Racing Development Dodge Challenger (Santa Ana)
Michael Fine, No. 66 Architectural Glass Systems Inc. Chevrolet Camaro (Orangevale)
Kyle Kelley, No. 80 UPR.com/PK&K Chevrolet Camaro (Huntington Beach)
Roy Fulmer IV, No. 86 Fulmer’s Auto Body/Caulk Lok Chevrolet Camaro (Placerville)
Ricky Leigh, No. 09 1909 Gastropub Temecula CA Chevrolet Camaro (Murrieta)
News & notes
Two drivers will be making their Trans Am Series debuts this weekend at Sonoma Raceway: Sean Hingorani in No. 7 SLR-M1 Race Cars Chevrolet Camaro in the TA2 class, and Will Rodgers in the No. 42 Central Welding Supply Ford Mustang in the XGT class.
A few drivers are also returning to the series for the first time this year, including Tom Klauer in the No. 25 I Pull U Pull/Garage Row Racing Mustang, past IndyCar winner Jim Guthrie in the No. 27 Guthrie’s Garage Mustang, Bob Accardo Jr. in the No. 39 Accurate Arms/Race Marketing Camaro, 2022 TA2 Western Championship runner up Ken Sutherland in the No. 68 Kallberg Racing Camaro, two-time 2022 Western Championship race winner Brody Goble in the No. 69 Brown Bros. Ford/Cortex Performance Mustang and Kyle Kelley in the No. 80 UPR.com/PK&K Camaro. 2022 SGT Western Champion Chris Evans in the No. 92 Central Welding Supply Mustang will also be making his first Western Championship start of the season, but has already competed in two races on the National circuit.
Past Sonoma winner Joe Bogetich in the No. 65 Westover Controls Chevrolet Camaro has been working with 2022 Big Machine Vodka Spiked Coolers TA2 Series Champion Thomas Merrill to prep for this weekend’s race, testing at the track this week. Merrill has also been working with Ricky Leigh in the No. 09 1909 Gastropub Temecula CA Chevrolet Camaro.
Previous race recap
The 2023 season opener for the Western Championship was an exciting and surprising way to kick off the series’ seventh season of competition.
In the Big Machine Vodka SPIKED Coolers TA2 Series, it appeared that Roy Fulmer IV had the car to beat at Thunderhill Raceway Park, as he dominated the first 23 laps much like he had the year before when he claimed the victory in his series debut. However, a mechanical issue caused Fulmer to fade, allowing a steadfast Greg Tolson, who finished second to Fulmer at Thunderhill last year, to take over the lead and claim his first-career victory.
JC Meynet, who was the top GT qualifier in his No. 28 Killer Shrimp Racing Corvette, was challenged early by Xuanqian Wang. With Wang in the lead, Meynet came to pit road during a rainy extended caution period for additional fuel, putting him last of the GT competitors at the back of the pack for the restart. After the field went green, Wang made contact with another car that spun on the restart, damaging his car’s splitter. Meanwhile, Meynet showed notable speed as he drove through the field and took over the lead on lap 21, holding onto it through the final laps and claiming the class victory.
Steve Goldman, the only competitor in the TA class, drove up from a 13th-place starting position to finish ninth and capture the class victory.