Tony Ave extended his win streak at Brainerd International Raceway to four Saturday, only to have Amy Ruman end it for him Sunday during a double-race weekend for Sports Car Club of America Pro Racing’s Trans Am Series.
Last year, Ave clinched the series championship at BIR by winning both races and was able to cruise through the final two races of the season at Road Atlanta.
This year has been a different story for the Wisconsin native. His season’s been riddled with car problems, which left him in fourth place in the point standings. But that changed Saturday when he earned the pole position and kept the lead for the entire 40 laps on BIR’s 2.5-mile Competition Road Course.
“We were just fine out there, we had a great setup, and I grew up racing here, and I did a lot of ice racing as a kid, which is kind of like this,” the two-time defending champion Ave said. “You really have to be tender with the steering and the throttle, you can’t try and force anything.
“The team did a great job — PME Engines and Denny Lamers and everyone who helps us out — it was another good day!”
Ave’s teammate, Doug Peterson, took second after a lengthy battle with Simon Gregg in the later half of the race. Gregg, the points leader, moved between second and third throughout the entire race, mainly battling back and forth with Ruman, who placed fourth after succumbing to tire wear.
Ruman came back strong Sunday, withstanding a duel with Ave in the first half of the race and a challenge from Gregg in the final two laps to win the race.
Ruman started in fourth position and passed Gregg and Peterson on the first lap. She then caught up to and followed Ave for the first 20 laps.
On the 21st lap, Ave began to loose air in his front left tire and developed a flat spot. Ruman capitalized on the opportunity and surged past Ave to claim the lead and set the pace for the rest of the race.
Ave still set a track record Sunday by breaking his previous record of 1:31.116 with a lap time of 1:30.881.
“I owe this one to the guys and my dad for getting the car together,” Ruman said. “Tony seemed to be having the same problem I was having (Saturday) so we were content staying behind him for a while.
“My plan was to get up front and just try and maintain position. Luckily my tires held up and we got the victory (Sunday). We almost pulled it off last year and it feels great to bring home one of the wins this weekend.
“While it hurt us (Saturday) that we didn’t land on the podium in terms of the championship hunt, we were just focused on the tires (Sunday). And luckily it worked out and we were No. 1.”
By the end of the weekend, Gregg still held the lead in series points with Ruman second.
The Trans-Am 2 Series was on the track with the Trans Am Series, featuring 10 additional cars. In Saturday’s race, Pete Halsmer followed Bob Stretch for 40 minutes of the hour-long race, then passed the defending champ and never gave up the lead.
“We raced hard and the team did great work,” Halsmer said. “Bob (Stretch) really wore me out. He’s a great driver and a did a fantastic job out there, too.”
Things got worse for Stretch. Cameron Lawrence made up an 18-second deficit to pass Stretch in the 38th lap to claim second place. Stretch ended up third but held on to the points lead.
Stretch rebounded Sunday, passing Lawrence and pole-setter Halsmer on the first lap and held on to the lead for the rest of the race. Halsmer finished second with rookie Michael Wilson third.