Connor Zilisch has been close to victory before in the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli’s Big Machine Vodka SPIKED Coolers TA2 Series, but he finally broke through and scored his first win at the Mission Foods Atlanta SpeedTour. The 16-year-old Young Gun fought his way past two champions and earned the top step on the podium with a winning pass on the penultimate lap in the Bennett/BridgeHaul 100 at Road Atlanta.

Two-time Trans Am champion Rafa Matos in the No. 88 3-Dimensional Services Group Ford Mustang started the race from the pole alongside Evan Slater in the No. 6 Franklin Road Apparel Chevrolet Camaro. The two were immediately challenged by Australian Nathan Herne in the No. 29 CUBE 3/Berryman Ford Mustang, who took over the lead by the completi on of the first lap. Herne’s lead was short-lived though, as he dropped back to fourth on lap three after he went off course in the Bennett/BridgeHaul esses and received front-end damage. Matos and Slater once again paced the field, but the complexion of the race changed on a lap eight restart following a brief caution period.

Thomas Merrill in the No. 26 Bennett/HP Tuners/Mike Cope Race Cars Ford Mustang had a great restart, and by lap 10 he was leading the field. Meanwhile, Herne’s damage forced retirement from the race. Matos and Slater followed Merrill around the 2.54-mile circuit, but Zilisch in the No. 7 Silver Hare Racing Camaro picked off Slater on lap 16, and made his way past Matos on lap 22, just as Brent Crews in the No. 70 Franklin Road Apparel Mustang passed Slater. A double yellow on lap 23 and subsequent black flag tightened up the field for a lap-29 restart. With limited time remaining on the race clock, drivers would only have five more laps of green-flag competition. Merrill was able to hold off Zilisch until the penultimate lap, when the young driver was able to muscle past the reigning champion. Zilisch closed the door on Merrill and crossed the finish line for the win as the skies opened up with rain. Matos, Crews and Slater followed to round out the top five.

“What an awesome race, this is amazing,” said Zilisch in Victory Lane. “We’ve been working at this for over a year now and we’ve been through the ups and downs of this sport, trying to get our first win. We finally got the job done here at Road Atlanta. I’m just so thankful for my crew and everything that they’ve done for me. Thank you to Maurice and Laura (Hull); they’ve taken a chance on me and given me the opportunity to come out here and prove my talent. The first three races of the year, we’ve been really fast. To finally put it all together and get on top of the box is really special to me and to all these guys as well. It’s all paid off, we’re officially winners. I’m thankful and ready for the rest of the season. We’re going to keep working hard and keep getting better.”

This was the first win for Silver Hare Racing since 2020 at Circuit of The Americas with Rafa Matos.

Two of the first three TA2 races of the 2023 season have been won by Young Gun drivers age 16 or younger.

Misha Goikhberg in the No. 10 BC Race Cars Ford Mustang finished sixth, his best finish since his sixth-place finish at Road Atlanta last year.

TA2 Masters Award:
Doug Peterson, No. 87 3-Dimensional Services Group Ford Mustang

TA2 Pro/Am Winner:
Steven Lustig, No. 05 The Autosport Group Chevrolet Camaro

COOLSHIRT Cool Move of the Race:
Connor Zilisch, No. 7 Silver Hare Racing Chevrolet Camaro

Omologato Watches Fastest Lap of the Race:
Connor Zilisch, No. 7 Silver Hare Racing Chevrolet Camaro

Serck Precision Clean Up:
Thomas Merrill, No. 26 Bennett/HP Tuners/Mike Cope Race Cars Ford Mustang

Bassett Hard Charger:
Caleb Bacon, No. 18 Cortex Racing/Bacon Development Ford Mustang

The broadcast of Sunday’s race will air on MAVTV on Thursday, March 30 at 8:00 p.m. ET.

The Big Machine Vodka SPIKED Coolers TA2 Series has a two-month hiatus before returning to the track May 26-29 at Lime Rock Park for the Trans Am Memorial Day Classic.