BOUTSEN WINS 1998 USRRC GT1 CHAMPIONSHIP VISTEON-PANOZ RACING WINS MORE BATTLES, PORSCHE WINS THE WAR
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (September 8, 1998) -- Thierry Boutsen, of Belgium, has been crowned the 1998 GT1 Drivers' Champion by the United States Road Racing Championship, helping to propel Porsche to the Manufacturers' Championship. The Visteon Panoz Racing Team and its talented corp of drivers stopped the clean sweep by Boutsen, Porsche and Champion Racing by taking the Teams' Championship.
Driving the No. 38 Champion/STP/Michelin Porsche 911 GT1, Boutsen capped-off his title run with his first USRRC win at the First Union Six Hours of the Glen with co-driver Ralf Kelleners, of Germany, August 23. Boutsen never finished worse than fourth on the season, including two second-place finishes, one third and one fourth, en route to accumulating 147 points. Andy Wallace, of Great Britain, finished second with 120 points.
"I am very happy to have won this Championship -- both for myself and the Champion team," said Boutsen. "The team had not intended on doing the full season, but after good results at Daytona, Sebring and Homestead, the decision was made to go for the Championship.
"Winning the Manufacturers' Championship was something we had hoped to do for Dave Maraj and his team, but competing with Panoz was difficult all season. They have a 1998 car versus our 1997 car and have the ability to do more. On pure performance, they were better, but we had the edge in drivers and had no mechanicals after the problem at Mid-Ohio. I hope that I can come back to do the American championship next season, and I would love to do it again with the Champion team."
"Thierry is a first-class driver, and we congratulate him, along with Porsche and the Visteon Panoz Racing Team on their Championship seasons," said Alan Wilson, General Manager of the USRRC. "Porsche and Panoz put on one of the most exciting battles anywhere in racing this year, and we salute them for their sportsmanship and high level of competition. We'd like to thank everyone who made this year's GT1 season so successful."
Boutsen started the season off with a strong run with co-drivers Kelleners and Andy Pilgrim at the Rolex 24 At Daytona, running in the top-five in GT1 the entire event and in the top-five overall for six hours, peaking at third with three hours remaining. The team would fall from second in GT1, fourth overall to settle for fourth in GT1 after overheating took them out of competition with less than two hours remaining. The race was won by the pseudo-factory Porsche effort of the No. 01 Rohr Motorsport entry, with drivers Allan McNish, Uve Alzen, Jorg Mueller, Dirk Mueller and Danny Sullivan.
At Homestead, Boutsen and Pierre-Henri Raphanel led the GT1 class for 40 minutes of the two-hour, 15-minute contest, but eventually settled for second -- 25.34 seconds behind the No. 4 Visteon-Elan Natural Waters Panoz GTR of Wallace and Doc Bundy, and fourth overall.
Boutsen became the first GT1 driver to lead a USRRC event overall at the Mid-Ohio U.S. Sports Car Classic, June 14, but a brake problem dropped he and co-driver Bob Wollek to third in GT1, five laps behind the winning No. 4 Panoz of Wallace and David Brabham and three laps behind the No. 5 Panoz of Raul Boesel and Eric Bernard. Boutsen relinquished the Drivers' Championship lead to Wallace, 86 to 85 and Panoz made-up ground on Porsche in the Manufacturers' fight, now trailing 47 to 44.
The Sprint PCS Grand Prix of Minnesota could have spelled disaster for Boutsen and Porsche, as the No. 38 car suffered a serious fire during practice, calling for wholesale replacement parts in the engine compartment. After not turing a time in qualifying, Boutsen started last in the 18-car field for the one-hour, 45-minute race, but quickly moved to fourth overall by lap nine and passed the No. 4 Panoz of Bundy on lap 37 for the GT1 lead. One hour into the race, on lap 44, Boutsen took the overall lead when the first two Can-Am cars pitted -- a position he would maintain before handing the car over to co-driver Wollek seven laps later. Track time lost because of the fire allowed Wollek only two laps in the car prior to the race, and Johnny O'Connell passed for the GT1 lead five laps later -- holding Wollek at bay for the Panoz' third-straight victory. Wallace skipped the Minneapolis round for another commitment in Europe, allowing Boutsen (112 points) and Shane Lewis (89 points) to move into first and second in the Drivers' Championship. Panoz deadlocked the Manufacturers' Championship with Porsche at 59, setting up a winner-take-all scenario at Watkins Glen.
For the first time since the Rolex 24, Boutsen was joined by Kelleners for the First Union Six Hours of the Glen season finale, and Panoz brought its full "A" team of Wallace, Brabham, Boesel and Bernard despite a conflict with the FIA GT round in Japan. Wallace put the No. 4 Panoz on the pole by nearly one-half second over Boutsen, but the Porsche quickly found the lead Panoz, with Brabham driving, and followed until a lap-eight accident between Brabham and a GT3 Porsche destroyed the Panoz -- forcing Wallace to withdraw from the No. 4 and move to the No. 5 entry.
The Panoz and Porsche traded the lead six times throughout the remainder of the event, with Boutsen and Kelleners taking the lead for good on lap 123 and leading the final 49 tours. The winning GT1 car led a total of 24 laps overall, and finished third, one lap ahead of the second-place Panoz, clinching both the Drivers' and Manufacturers' titles in the process.
On the season, Boutsen tallied one win, two seconds, one third, one fourth and one fastest race lap (Watkins Glen). Wallace's other obligations during the Minneapolis weekend hurt his Drivers' Championship chances, as he took two wins (Homestead and Mid-Ohio), one second, one 12th and two poles on the season to total 120 points to Boutsen's 147. Lewis finished third in the No. 2 CRA-Z Soap Mosler Raptor with 117 points -- scoring four top-fives with a best finish of third at Minneapolis. Bernard was fourth (88 points), followed by Kelleners (68 points).
Panoz may have won more races (three -- Homestead, Mid-Ohio and Minneapolis), but Porsche took the Manufacturers' Championship 79 to 76. Porsche won twice (Daytona and Watkins Glen), finished second twice and third once. Mosler was a distant third (38 points), followed by Chevrolet and Oldsmobile (tied with 31).
The Visteon Panoz Racing Team took the Teams' Championship off the strength of three wins (Homestead, Mid-Ohio and Minneapolis) and one second to score 76 points. Champion Motors was second, with 72 points coming from one win (Watkins Glen), two seconds, one third and one fourth, followed by Mosler Automotive (38 points), Rohr Motorsport (25 points) and Labre Competition (22 points).