HOUSTON (October 6, 2001) -- Justin Bell (#40 Justin Bell GT Motorsports Experience Chevy Corvette), the AmeriSuites Rookie of the Year, won his second straight race and the second race of his Trans-Am career today at the Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston Trans-Am. Bell started the race in sixth place and quickly worked his way up to fourth, then eventually third. At lap 56 of 60, Bell passed third place Johnny Miller and take over second. On the second-to-last lap of the race, Bell got by race leader Brian Simo, who had led laps 14 through 58, and went on to take the checkered flag. Bad weather forced the cancellation of qualifying, so the starting order was based on the current points standings.
"I was behind Brian (Simo) thinking, 'he's led almost every lap, and that it would be rude of me to go by him now on the last lap,'" said the 32-year-old London, England, resident. "But then I came around and he got sideways and that was just enough for me to get by. I made a safe pass and Brian backed off. He was commanding the whole race. On every re-start, he just disappeared in front of us."
The 60-lap, 91.62-mile race on the streets of downtown Houston was the 11th and final round of the 2001 Trans-Am Series for BFGoodrich Tires Cup season. Paul Gentilozzi (#3 Johnson Controls/HomeLink-Jaguar XKR) was crowned the Drivers Champion for the third time. Gentilozzi won that honor in 1998 and 1999.
"It's what every competitor dreams about," said Gentilozzi on his 2001 title. "I've been blessed with three championships. The events of the past few weeks really make you appreciate everything and everyone you've got. Our thoughts are and will always be with all of those that weren't as fortunate."
Gentilozzi started the race in first, but mechanical problems (a failing differential) dropped him back. He led the first through 13 laps, but finished in sixth place.
Simo (#88 Tommy Bahama Qvale Mangusta) started the race in third place and took over the lead on the 14th lap. He led the race until Bell's dramatic pass. "I ran a little harder in the beginning," said Simo, "and I didn't see anyone else most of the rest of the day. I kind of got lonely. The track was pretty good today and my tires were phenomenal."
Michael Lewis (#12 AmeriSuites Jaguar XKR) originally finished third, but was penalized for aggressive driving on the last turn of the last lap when he bumped Lou Gigliotti (#28 LG Motorsports/G2 Performance Parts-Chevy Corvette) and he and Tommy Archer (#36 Control Concepts Dodge Viper) slipped by. Upon official review following the race, Lewis received his penalty and dropped to fifth place, allowing Archer to finish third and Gigliotti fourth.
Johnny Miller (#64 AutomationDirect/Cutler-Hammer-Jaguar XKR) ran up in front throughout the race but with two laps to go, he slipped from third to sixth, eventually ran out of gas and finished 10th. "I ran the last two laps with the fuel pressure on zero," he said. "The last lap I think was sheer willpower."
Rounding out the top 10 were: Gentilozzi sixth, Randy Ruhlman seventh, Leighton Reese eighth, Dan Miller ninth and Johnny Miller 10th.