08 Mar Success at Sebring
The first race of the Trans Am Series 50th Anniversary Season was a great way to start off what is sure to be an amazing year of close racing in a great resurging series! Unfortunately, what was a great weekend from car unload all the way to the last lap of the race, was taken away from Brian Kleeman and the #07 Ford Performance Mustang Boss 302 on the last turn, of the last lap of the race… but we will get to that in a moment.
As the first race of the season, and with successful testing under their belt earlier in the year, the DWW Motorsports team had the #07 Ford Mustang Boss 302 prepped perfectly for the Trans Am TA4 class at Sebring and ready to do battle around a track the team and driver love equally. Having success at the SCCA Majors at Sebring earlier in the year, Brian Kleeman and team were fast out of the trailer in the first official practice and ended up qualified P2 in the #07 Ford Performance Mustang Boss 302. Brian was blistering fast around the 17 turn, 3.74 mile course, even setting a new personal best in the process. The team was ecstatic with how well the #07 was the first two days of the season opener, and with a great strategy in place for raceday; they expected to fight for the win.
The race started out well, with Brian holding position in P2 for the first half of the race while staying very close to the leader, slowly wearing him down, while managing the slower and faster multi-class traffic. As the race went on with great battles and only two brief cautions, Brian and P1 were nose to tail for multiple laps nearing the end of the race, with Brian waiting for the right time to pass, knowing that his tires and car were fresher and pushing faster lap times than the leader. Just as the battle started to heat up there was a caution called with with about 15 minutes left in the race due to a blown engine and lots of oil on the outside of the exit of turn 17, the final turn of the track that leads to the front straight and the finish line. After a brief clean up, and drivers knowing there was still oil on the track in that spot, the track went back green with a few laps to go, and P1, P2 and P3 all nose to tail and charging hard to the finish. What happens next is shown on the video below and through Brian’s own words;
“Three laps to go… I was a little worried that the earlier yellow might have derailed our strategy – wear him down and make him use up his car. We were setup for the long run and the cool-down period that a full-course yellow provides might have left him enough reserve to hold us off. But we’ve been green now for a while and I’ve been pushing and pushing and it’s paying off. I was clearly going deeper into the brake zones and making up time while he was starting to overshoot which was killing his exit speed. Our advantage was the greatest into turn 7 and 17 so I’d likely have to get it done there if the opportunity presented itself cleanly.
Coming through turn 16 – he sets up wide and misses the apex while I get a good run. Good enough that our gap down the back straight is only about 2 lengths and the right-hand turn 17 is coming up fast. We both go heavy on the brakes but he’s left some room on the inside and I’ve got enough momentum to get in there. I ease up on the brake pedal and roll some speed in underneath him. Under the bridge in 17 and we’re both hunting for full throttle to get off the corner – I’m inside door-to-door but he’s got a nose on me as we both find 100% throttle and it’s a drag race across start / finish and down to turn 1. Still side-by-side and setting up for left-hand turn 1, puts me on the outside – definitely not the ideal place to be. But having chased him down most of the race, I’ve seen that I can carry more entry speed here so it’s time to capitalize on that. I brake late and light, roll the speed in and leave some room on the inside between me and the wall just in case he’s still in there. I go full throttle and dance the Boss 302 over the famous bumps of Sebring still not being able to spare any attention to whether or not I’ve cleared him. I glance over to the side mirror as I barrel down to turn 3 and I’ve finally got him. I hold the inside line into the brake zone to make sure he can’t get under me and the pass is finally complete – nearly a mile after it began.
Now it’s time to go. I know his car is used up, the race is winding down and to make things really interesting, P3 is now on his tail having caught up from a drive-through penalty. I open up a slight gap as we complete the next lap and my crew informs me that we’ll see the checkered flag next time by. I remind myself – no mistakes, hit your marks. Go.
He closes the gap a little through a local yellow in turn 7 and while I briefly lose the rear end in 15. We’re now steaming down the back straight again one last time – P1, 2 and 3 all in a line with no more than a few car lengths between us. I plan to stay low through 17 – there’s oil crossing the racing line at track-out so if he makes a move, he’ll have to do it on the outside through the oil. On the brakes I stay low, under the bridge and going for power – I have no idea where he is. My right foot hits the floor with the gas pedal firmly planted beneath it and for one brief moment I think the fight it over… But then I’m suddenly hurled forward, then sideways. I counter steer as fast as I can to catch it but I’m already looking backward through a cloud of tire smoke as P2 goes through the new opening he just created with his front bumper.”
Having raced and executed such a brilliant strategy the entire race, only to have it taken away literally in the last turn of the last lap of an epic battle, Brian and the #07 Ford Performance Mustang Boss 302 was punted from behind in an illegal (and later penalized) move from the car behind, taking his first Trans Am victory away from him just a few hundred feet from the finish line. Luckily and though an impressive feat of focus and sheer will, Brian was able to save the spinning car from the wall and without much delay was right back on throttle following what would have been P3 down the straight and across the finish line in quite possibly the most demoralizing podium finish possible. Needless to say, the crew and obviously Brian, were upset with the incident that literally happened right in front of their pit stall, and it was under immediate review by the officials. (Eventually the results were adjusted, but due to P3 passing Brian after the incident, Brian’s final result was a 2nd place finish).
Despite the final outcome of the race, Brian Kleeman, DWW Motorsports and the #07 Ford Performance Mustang Boss 302 had a great opening weekend at Sebring to start the 50th Anniversary of the historic Trans Am Series, and look forward to getting what was theirs at Road Atlanta for Rd2 in a few weeks. Until then feel free to watch the video of the last few laps (above), video of the final 15 minutes for context (below), or follow the Brian Kleeman Page on Facebook for up to the minute posts and live raceday reporting.