Thomas Merrill Leads Flag-to-Flag, Wins Second-Consecutive Memorial Day Classic at Lime Rock Park
LAKEVILLE, Conn. (May 27, 2023) ― Thomas Merrill was once again the victor at Lime Rock Park, winning the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli’s Big Machine Vodka SPIKED Coolers TA2 Series Memorial Day Classic for the second-consecutive year. Merrill captured the Motul Pole Award for the event in his No. 26 Bennett/HP Tuners/Mike Cope Race Cars Ford Mustang and, despite challenges from the competitors behind him, went on to lead from flag-to-flag, standing on the top step of the podium for the first time in 2023.
Merrill got a great jump when the green flag waved to start the Memorial Day Classic, initially opening up a 1.2-second gap over second-place Evan Slater in the No. 6 Franklin Road Apparel Chevrolet Camaro. However, once the race found a rhythm, Slater chipped away at the opening between them, and by the time the first double yellow was displayed, he was right on the back of Merrill. This was the theme of the race for Merrill and Slater. Merrill consistently had strong restarts, but Slater was never far behind. Unfortunately for Slater, the final restart of the race would go differently. Mike Skeen in the No. 87 3-Dimensional Services Group Mustang had been a fixture in the top five all day and was scored third before the restart on Lap 63. When the green flag waved, Skeen dove to driver’s left and passed Slater. Slater’s car suffered a fuel injector failure, slowing him down and opening the door for others to get around the Young Gun. Slater ultimately dropped to eighth by the time an accident involving Keith Prociuk required a full-course caution on the following lap. The race would ultimately end under yellow, as the big crash required too much cleanup for the race to finish in the allotted time. Merrill stayed ahead of second-place Skeen before the caution, and earned his victory when the checkered flag was waved on lap 66.
Behind Merrill, Thomas Annunziata in the No. 90 Nitro Motorsports Ford Mustang started third and remained there until he was passed by Skeen on lap 60. Once Skeen made his pass on Slater, Annunziata was also able to drive by Slater, reclaiming the final step on the podium before the race concluded. Connor Zilisch, who won Trans Am’s last outing at Road Atlanta, crossed the finish line fourth in his No. 7 Silver Hare Racing Camaro, followed by Nathan Herne in the No. 29 CUBE 3/Berryman Mustang.
“Mike [Cope] put together a heck of a racecar; it’s never easy to run a flag-to-flag race like that, but that might be the easiest one I’ve ever done because of this great racecar these guys put on the racetrack,” said Merrill in Victory Circle. “Restart timing was critical. I just did my best to be unpredictable, I think that’s all you can do as the leader. I was under a lot of pressure from Evan Slater, but fortunately, I’ve got some experience with that; I had a lot of pressure behind me in 2019 when we won this thing leading flag-to-flag. To be honest, the Cope crew gave me such a good racecar. I had total confidence in my machine to get me to the end, and I knew that if I just put it in the right place and kept it clean, we’d end up right here. Full credit to them for giving me the best racecar. Last year, this race was huge for us, and it started our championship run and played a big role in what we were able to do at the end of the year. I’m hoping to carry that good luck into this year. I love this track; it’s so cool to see all the fans on the hillside when we race here. The support means the world to us.”
Notes of Interest
Merrill’s win at Lime Rock was his first of the season, which was also the case in 2022 when he won the championship.
This was Skeen’s second start and best finish of the 2023 season. Skeen, who is running a partial TA2 schedule this year, returns next weekend for the Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader.
Annunziata scored his first podium of 2023 and the second of his career, matching his best finish of third, which he previously achieved at Circuit of The Americas last November.
2023 has been a battle between the veterans and the newcomers, with the first four races won by two former champions (Merrill, Matos) and two Young Guns (Zilisch and Brent Crews).
TA2 Top Five:
1. Thomas Merrill, No. 26 Bennett/HP Tuners/Mike Cope Race Cars Ford Mustang
2. Mike Skeen, No. 87 3-Dimensional Services Group Ford Mustang
3. Thomas Annunziata, No. 90 Nitro Motorsports Ford Mustang
4. Connor Zilisch, No. 7 Silver Hare Racing Chevrolet Camaro
5. Nathan Herne, No. 29 CUBE 3/Berryman Ford Mustang
TA2 Pro/Am Winner:
Aaron Pettipas, No. 13 DQ/GPX Live Camera/BC Race Cars Chevrolet Camaro
COOLSHIRT Cool Move of the Race:
Robert Noaker, No. 60 Nitro Motorsports Ford Mustang
Omologato Watches Fastest Lap of the Race:
Mike Skeen, No. 87 3-Dimensional Services Group Ford Mustang
Bassett Hard Charger:
Robert Noaker, No. 60 Nitro Motorsports Ford Mustang
Full provisional race results can be found here.
The broadcast of today’s race will air on MAVTV on Thursday, June 1 at 8:00 p.m. ET.
The Big Machine Vodka SPIKED Coolers TA2 Series returns to the track next weekend with a doubleheader event at the Detroit Grand Prix. The 3-Dimensional Services Group Muscle Car Challenge is on Saturday, June 3, and the 3-Dimensional Services Group Motor City Showdown will be contested on Sunday, June 4, and the two races will kick off the 3-Dimensional Services Group Triple Track Tournament.