Tim Barber in the No. 33 DIG Motorsports Ford Mustang competed in the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli for the first time since 2005, scoring a win in the Western Championship’s season-opener at Thunderhill Raceway Park. Barber earned the pole award earlier in the day before leading every lap in the competitive CUBE 3 Architecture TA2 Series.

Starting from the first position, Barber got out to a clean start, but it wasn’t long until he faced competition from Michael LaPaglia in the No. 31 Papini’s Garage/F.A.S.T. Auto Ford Mustang. After starting third, LaPaglia worked his way up to the second spot for the lap-eight restart following a full-course yellow. From there, the two ran nose-to-tail, with less than a tenth of a second separating them at times, but LaPaglia was unable to make the pass for the lead.

Behind them, Troy Ermish in the No. 38 Ermish Racing Ford Mustang battled Bobby Hodges in the No. 54 NATC Ford Mustang and Ken Sutherland in the No. 68 Kallberg Racing/Wyatt Fire Chevrolet Camaro. The three drivers were never far apart, swapping positions, and by lap 14, Barry Boes in the No. 32 Accio Data/TRB Autosport Mustang got in on the action. While Ermish slipped to sixth, Hodges, Sutherland and Boes continued to duke it out. Sutherland made his way into the third position by lap 17, with Hodges, Boes and Ermish close in his wake. Unfortunately, following a restart on lap 21, Hodges spun in Turn 3. While the tightly-packed field was able to avoid contact with Hodges, he dropped out of the top 15, leaving Boes and Ermish to fight for the fourth position. Ultimately, Ermish took over fourth on lap 22, and Boes maintained fifth until the checkered flag waved on lap 29. Barber took the victory, while LaPaglia and Sutherland rounded out the podium.

“Michael kept me honest the whole time,” said Barber. “I felt like we were a little bit better, and the yellows really saved me. On the restarts, I was able to gap a little bit, and then he would slowly gather me back in. I realized after the second yellow that I was just struggling, locking up the rear brakes. The brake bias was walking itself to the back. I finally looked at the bias number and I could see the bar on my foot pedal. So, I started winding that back, and it wasn’t as big of a problem, but Michael was right there. It was a tight race.”

Barber’s only previous win was a National Championship GTA-class victory in the West Edmonton Mall Grand Prix of Edmonton in July of 2005. This is his second win in only seven total Trans Am starts.

The XGT class had an unusual start to the race, with only one of five competitors taking a lap during qualifying due to windy and wet track conditions in the morning. In his Trans Am debut, Rick Wright in the No. 45 AR Motorsports Audi R8 LMS GT3 had a fast car out of the gate, qualifying fourth overall while his XGT competitors started at the very back of the pack. With 2022 TA2 champion Thomas Merrill coaching him, Wright held the lead until lap 11 when he spun off the track, dropping down to the 17th position.

Michelle Nagai in the No. 72 Nagai Racing/Berkeley Jet Drive Camaro took over the class lead from the 11th position, climbing her way up through the field to finish sixth overall. Nagai had been followed closely her car builder, Chris Evans in the No. 92 Central Welding Supply Ford Mustang, but the 2022 SGT champion had a mechanical issue that took him out of the race on lap 17. Evans joined teammate Rob Gordon (No. 79 Chris Evans Race Cars Ford Mustang), who went off course on lap two, in the garage, with the two finishing fourth and fifth in class, respectively. Wright was able to recover from his early issues, working his way up to second in class, and was followed across the finish line by Tim Rankin in the No. 5 TCR IT Solutions Ford Mustang.

“Chris Evans and Jeff Jefferson built an incredible ride; it’s a beast,” said Nagai. “I’ve got to give it up to the good Lord. I’ve got to give it up to my crew, my husband, my friends. My competitors, I thank you all so much. Tomorrow’s another day. Let’s better this. Let’s take it apart. Let’s make it happen.”

Starting ninth overall, Greg Pickett had a fast No. 6 Pickett Racing Ford Mustang, which he showed by quickly climbing the leaderboard, moving into the top five on lap 10 and t aking the overall lead by lap 12. Unfortunately, he went off the track one lap later, which dropped him down to the 19th position. Steve Goldman in the No. 13 LIG Racing Chevrolet Corvette, who started 19th after not taking a lap in qualifying, moved up five positions, finishing 14th overall, while Pickett managed a 16th-place finish.

“Well, I’m happy I brought it home in one piece,” said Goldman with a laugh. “I owe a big debt of gratitude to Greg here for spinning so that I can stand here. So, thank you very much, I appreciate that. I really want to thank Connor and Tim and John who make all of this happen. It was challenging. I’ve been battling my transmission all weekend; it’s been popping out of gear. So, that’s been a big distraction.”

As the only driver in the GT class, David Hampton cruised to victory in his No. 14 AR Motorsports Porsche Cayman GT4 CS MR. Hampton started 17th overall and mixed it up with cars of every class before finishing 13th.

“I’ll tell you what, those guys have so much power and make so much noise, it’s just intimidating as all get out, but I really respect the drivers,” said Hampton of his TA, TA2 and XGT competitors. “Everybody did a wonderful job. I’m just trying to hold my line and go as fast as I can and not get in their way. It was just a whole bunch of fun today. My crew did such a wonderful job; AR Motorsports and my coach, they’re just pushing me as hard as I can. So, this is really fun. We got a brand-new car. Hopefully, I can get a little quicker and stay ahead of those guys tomorrow.”

Race two of the Thunderhill SpeedTour is Sunday at 12:40 p.m. PT. Teams will have the opportunity to practice from 9:00-9:25 a.m. PT and the starting grid will be set by fastest times in race one, putting TA’s Pickett in the point position, starting side-by-side with Sutherland in TA2. Evans has withdrawn his No. 92 car from the race, replacing it with the No. 2 Chris Evans Race Cars Ford Mustang to be driven by last year’s XGT champion, Will Rodgers.