Rafa Matos celebrates his victory during Sunday’s Trans-Am Series TA2 event at Sebring International Raceway.
SEBRING, Fla. — Two-time Trans-Am TA2 Series champion Rafa Matos rode a dominant race at Sebring International Raceway on Sunday, leading 25 of 27 laps in the TA2 season-opening event.
Matos faced a late challenge from teammate and 2020 champion Mike Skeen, but regained the lead in the closing laps to take the win.
Matos started today’s feature race with the #88 3Dimensional Services Group Ford Mustang on pole position after setting the pace with a record time of 2:05.717 in yesterday’s qualifying session. . Taking the green flag alongside teammate Adam Andretti, Matos took the lead of the pack, followed by Misha Goikhberg’s #10 BC Race Cars Mustang and Connor Zilisch’s Silver Hare Racing Chevrolet Camaro. Skeen, who started ninth due to a slipping clutch in qualifying, quickly moved his #89 3Dimensional Services Group machine to the front of the field, taking third on lap five and moving up to second on lap 14. .
A violent crash between Michele Abbate’s #30 GHOST Energy Mustang and Roberto Sabato’s #43 6th Gear Garage Mustang on lap 14 knocked out the pair, with Abbate expressing his grief.
“I had a great car today,” said Abbate. “It’s the last thing I wanted for my team; we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was a very hard blow, one of the hardest I have ever had, but these cars are a guarantee of safety. It was heartbreaking for me; it was really important for me to pass the checkered flag, and unfortunately we didn’t do it today.
Two laps later there was another dramatic crash, this time between Goikhberg and Gene Sigal’s #07 SigalSport Camaro. The incident brought out the red flag, stopping competitors on pit road for an extended cleanup. When it came time to re-ignite the engines, Skeen’s No. 89 did not fire initially and required a push start after the rest of the field pulled away. With success on his way, Skeen brought his Mustang back to second place.
At the wave of the green flag, Skeen leapt to take the lead. He and his teammate Matos fought a tough battle before Matos could regain the lead two laps later. Matos held off his teammate and the rest of the field in the final four laps to take the checkered flag. Thomas Merrill, driving the car of his teammate Al Prieto who died in the offseason, brought the No. 2 BridgeHaul/HP Tuners Mustang back to third place.
“I couldn’t feel better,” an excited Matos said. “It’s not easy to hold off Mike Skeen when he’s in the same kit as you, and it’s even harder to pass him with only five laps to go. I made a small mistake on the last restart that cost me the race lead, and he took advantage of it, but hats off to the team at 3Dimensional Services Group for providing us with some amazing cars. Today was a testament to this team’s hard work and quality, so I’m really happy with today’s result.
“I’m really happy to be on the podium after qualifying yesterday, where we had a slipping clutch,” Skeen said after the race. “It was a bit of a shame to start from the bottom of the top 10, but I managed to come back quite easily. After the red flag, I had a really good restart and started in the lead. It wasn’t not quite enough, but it was a good day for the 3Dimensional Services Group team.
Merrill, third, had an emotional moment on the podium.
“To be on the podium on a day like today, running in honor of Al Prieto, it’s amazing,” Merrill said. It’s all about his name above the door, and I can’t believe I did this for Al. I’m also so grateful to BridgeHaul. They jumped on board with us this year, and they are a huge supporter of HP Tuners and the entire Mike Cope Racing group.