1997 SPORTSCAR CHAMPIONS CROWNED IN MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA 30 October, 1997 TAMPA, Fla. (October 30, 1997) -- Champions were crowned and awards were handed out at the 1997 Exxon World SportsCar Championship and Exxon Supreme GT Series presented...
1997 SPORTSCAR CHAMPIONS CROWNED IN MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA
30 October, 1997
TAMPA, Fla. (October 30, 1997) -- Champions were crowned and awards were handed out at the 1997 Exxon World SportsCar Championship and Exxon Supreme GT Series presented by Virgin Interactive season-ending awards banquet at the Hyatt Regency in Monterey, California on Monday night.
Butch Leitzinger was crowned the 1997 Exxon World SportsCar Champion following a season that saw the State College, Penn. native win five races, finish runner-up three times and outpoint his Dyson Racing teammate Elliott Forbes-Robinson, 231-213.
Leitzinger's five wins came at Daytona, Road Atlanta, Watkins Glen, Las Vegas, and the season finale at Laguna Seca. The five wins bring his Exxon World SportsCar Championship career victory total to nine, tying him with teammate James Weaver for most wins in the series.
Leitzinger also holds the distinction of being the only driver this season to lead at least one lap in each of the 11 Exxon World SportsCar Championship races.
Leitzinger's SportsCar career began at the age of 18 at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1988. Since then he has competed in 74 races, earned eight pole positions and won a total of 20 races.
This year's Exxon World SportsCar title is Leitzinger's second SportsCar championship, having won the 1993 Exxon Supreme GTU title. (His father, Bob Leitzinger, also won the GTU crown in 1989.)
The race for the manufacturer's title in the 1997 Exxon World SportsCar Championship was a season-long two-marque battle pitting Ford against Ferrari. The pair entered the final race of the season with Ford leading by only two points. The Laguna Seca win by Leitzinger and co-driver John Paul, Jr. clinched the title for Ford, it's first in the series.
Dyson Racing crew chief Pat Smith took Technician of the Year honors as he guided the two-car team to six wins and Dyson drivers to the top three positions in the final point standings. Smith had previously won the title in 1995 and 1986, all while leading the Dyson Racing effort.
The first non-Ford driver in the final point standings is Ferrari driver Rob Morgan, winner of the 1997 Exxon World SportsCar Championship's Most Improved Driver award. Morgan drove the #43 Ferrari to fourth place in the Championship and a win at Mosport with co-driver Ron Fellows. Morgan has now won a race in each of the previous three seasons. Morgan was the Exxon Supreme GT Series Most Improved Driver in 1995.
Andrea Montermini earned five pole positions aboard the #30 Ferrari, the most of any driver in the Exxon World SportsCar Championship, to win the 1997 season's Make-A-Wish Foundation Pole Award.
Team MSI, the entrant for the #88 Make-A-Wish/Ryder/Winchester Chevrolet R&S Mk III, won the Excellence in Marketing award for the team's presentation both on and off the track.
Championships and awards were also distributed to Exxon Supreme GT Series presented by Virgin Interactive competitors.
Andy Pilgrim of Cooper City, Fla. was crowned the Exxon Supreme GTS-1 driver champion. Pilgrim's championship season featured five wins, including the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona and a late season four-race win streak at Mosport, Las Vegas, Pikes Peak and Sebring Octoberfest. Pilgrim drove for the Rohr Motorsport team, which began the season with a Porsche 911 GT2 Evo, before switching to the newer Porsche 911 GT1 at round seven at Mosport.
Pilgrim has recorded 37 career wins in six different series and has finished a remarkable 106 events in a row. His last DNF was the Watkins Glen 24 Hours in June 1992, -- 433.5 hours of racing ago.
Pilgrim and the Rohr Motorsport team also helped Porsche win the Exxon Supreme GTS-1 manufacturer's championship, its first title in SportsCar's top GT class since 1983. Porsche beat newcomer Panoz, 231 - 219.
Rohr Motorsport crew chief Brad Kettler received the Exxon Supreme GTS-1 Technician of the Year award, while Jason Priestley, who had six top four finishes and ended the season sixth in the point standings, won the GTS-1 Most Improved Driver award.
Larry Schumacher of Cincinnati, Ohio won the 1997 Exxon Supreme GTS-2 driver's title, his second consecutive SportsCar driver's championship, having won last season's GTS-2 (now known as GTS-3) crown. Schumacher drove his Schumacher Racing-prepared Porsche 911 Turbo with two different co-drivers - John O'Steen and Price Cobb, to win four races this season - Road Atlanta, Lime Rock, Las Vegas and Sebring, where he was also the fastest qualifier.
Porsche won every race in the Exxon Supreme GTS-2 class thus earning the division's manufacturer championship. Franz Konrad claimed six of the 11 GTS-2 wins for Porsche and finished second in the final point standings, earning the GTS-2 Most Improved Driver award. John Wright, crew chief for Schumacher Racing, which also won five GTS-2 races for Porsche, was named Technician of the Year in the class.
The Exxon Supreme GTS-3 championship was a Teutonic battle between BMW and Porsche and their respective drivers. Prototype Technology Group BMW driver Bill Auberlen of Redondo Beach, California claimed the GTS-3 driver's championship after a season-long battle with PTG BMW teammate Javier Quiros and Porsche driver David Murry. Auberlen won five races and earned six pole positions this season. Among his victories were the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring at the beginning of the season, as well as scoring wins at Sears Point, Pikes Peak and Sebring Octoberfest.
At Sears Point in July, in addition to winning the race, Auberlen was the fastest qualifier and recorded the fastest race lap, establishing track records in both instances. He was also fastest qualifier at Watkins Glen and Sebring, where he combined with Tom Hessert, Javier Quiros and Derek Hill to drive the First Union Yokohama BMW M3 to first place in the GTS-3 class and ninth place overall.
BMW earned the Exxon Supreme GTS-3 manufacturer's title on the strength of nine wins. Tom Milner's Prototype Technology Group won eight races (Daytona, Sebring, Lime Rock, Sears Point, Mosport, Pikes Peak, Sebring Octoberfest and Laguna Seca), while Mattco Racing and drivers Pete Halsmer and John Morton won the First Union Six Hours of the Glen.
Mattco Racing crew chief David Lapham earned the GTS-3 Technician of the Year award, while Jim Matthews, who teamed with David Murry to win at Road Atlanta and Las Vegas, won the Most Improved Driver award in the class.