South Florida Phenom Ernie Francis Jr. Celebrates First Trans Am Win - South Dade News Leader: Sports

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South Florida Phenom Ernie Francis Jr. Celebrates First Trans Am Win

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Posted: Friday, April 14, 2017 11:16 am

As the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli visited Homestead-Miami for Round 2 of the 2017 Trans Am Championship, Ernie Francis, Jr., and Gar Robinson secured victories in their respective 102.15-mile races. Likewise, Randy Kinsland would secure a win in TA3, while Brian Kleeman grabbed his second consecutive victory in TA4.

The win marked the first in the TA class for Ernie Francis, Jr., in the No. 98 Buoniconti Fund/ Beta Tools Ford Mustang, after stepping up from the TA4 class where he won three consecutive championships. Francis had seemed destined to secure his first win last round at Sebring after leading much of the race before having his hopes dashed by a simple oil filter O-ring. Today, at his home track of Homestead-Miami, Francis was able to put together the complete performance in front of friends and family—shooting out into the lead on the first turn of the race and never looking back.

"This couldn't be more special," said Francis. "Winning our first TA race, on our home track, in the brand new car—I can't even explain it. The car ran perfectly every lap out there; we were able to pull a gap out front over everyone else. When the restarts came, we still had plenty of car underneath us. The Pirelli tires were good the entire race; we had the pace in the car

the entire time. When we needed it, we had the speed; and that helped us win the race."

Over the first half of the race, Francis built nearly an 8-second lead on second position, turning a new track record 1:17.496 lap in doing so. However, Francis would also have to manage traffic, two full-course yellows and a last gasp charge by fellow Miami-area local RJ Lopez, in the No. 06 Republica Brewing/ ACP Chevrolet Corvette.

"It took some extra work to manage the traffic," said Francis. "There were plenty of lapped cars, and some weren't giving as much room as I would have liked around the track. You just had to be safe with it; it's not worth risking the car— you make decisive passes and those are the ones that help you build up a lead out there. But we had the power and consistency from start to finish; these Pirelli tires let you turn in qualifying-like times early on and still help you over the last few laps."

The win is the 24th in Trans Am, across all classes, for Francis, who is still only 19-years old. While Francis held the lead for the entirety of the race, minus the start, the top five behind him was in constant flux with Lopez, Stanton Barrett, in the No. 33 Ojai Energetics Ford Mustang, Amy Ruman, in the No. 23 McNichols Company Chevrolet Corvette, Cliff Ebben, in the No. 36 Stumpf Ford/ McMahon Group Ford Mustang, and Daniel Urrutia, Jr., in the No. 13 Ferrea Racing Components Chevrolet Corvette, all featuring.

RJ Lopez would comfortably finish second, while Urrutia would outlast Cliff Ebben for the final spot on the podium, completing a Miami-area sweep of the podium. Ebben would finish fourth, while Amy Ruman would complete the top five.

The TA class top ten also included, in order, Vinnie Allegretta, Tomy Drissi, Kerry Hitt, Steve Burns and Henry Gilbert.

For more information on the Trans Am Series, please visit www.gotransam.com.

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