Diaz Jr. Smokes Trans-Am Field at Heartland Park TOPEKA, Kan. (Oct. 8, 2006) -- Jorge Diaz Jr., of San Juan, Puerto Rico, overcame a penalty in qualifying to win the second Thunder In the Park Trans-Am race at Heartland Park. Paul Genitilozzi,...
Diaz Jr. Smokes Trans-Am Field at Heartland Park
TOPEKA, Kan. (Oct. 8, 2006) -- Jorge Diaz Jr., of San Juan, Puerto Rico, overcame a penalty in qualifying to win the second Thunder In the Park Trans-Am race at Heartland Park. Paul Genitilozzi, of Lansing, Mich., and Phillip Simms, of Orlando, Fla., completed the all-Jaguar podium.
Although Diaz Jr. beat the track record in Saturday's qualifying, the bodywork on the No. 08 Panasonic Car Audio Jaguar XKR failed post-race inspection. Race stewards issued Diaz Jr. a two-position penalty, putting him fourth on the grid following the Aristocrat Jaguar Fast Five® invert.
Diaz Jr. gained a position on the grid before the green flag was even thrown, when the No. 5 Jaguar XKR of Tommy Drissi pulled into the pits on the warm-up lap with a loose plug wire. When the green flag finally dropped after one wave-off, Diaz rocketed into the lead past the No. 23 McNicholsCo./Safety Today/Cenwal Chevrolet Corvette polesitter of Amy Ruman and the No. 10 Jaguar XKR of Gentilozzi between Turns One and Two and never looked back, resetting the lap record throughout the race.
"The last race we had here we were a little bit frustrated," Diaz said. "Some mechanical things happened, so for this race we came in with the mindset that we really have to do well and everything that my crew changed was a thousand times perfect. There was nothing on my car I could change to make it faster. It was precisely how it had to be from the first lap to the last lap."
Although Gentilozzi and Diaz Jr. exchanged fast laps in the first half of the race, Diaz Jr,'s pace proved too much for Gentilozzi, as the gap between the two continued to open past the halfway mark.
"I thought I had a shot at the start," Gentilozzi said. "At that point, I have a 310 [cubic inch engine], he has a 331, so he's faster on the straight, and you have to be in front at the start to win those kinds of races, so it was difficult. I could catch up at a couple times, he was through the gravel or going over the corners, but I didn't want to take any chance...I thought, well I'll just ride along, cause I knew what the objective was and he had a fast car so he won the race."
With the second-place finish Gentilozzi also wins the brief 2006 Trans-Am Championship with 63 points over the 52 of Diaz Jr.
"I have to count this championship as an asterisk, because it was only two races," Gentilozzi commented. "But it was great fun and I have huge respect for Ray Irwin and the whole Heartland Park staff as well as Jim Julow and everybody at SCCA that allowed me to pull my body out of mothballs."
Finishing out the podium was the No. 18 Jaguar XKR of Phillip Simms, who took delivery of the Jaguar earlier this week and got his first seat time in qualifying.
Completing the top five were Ruman, of Kent, OH, and the No. 76 Sunset Hill Vineyard Chevrolet Corvette of Mike Canney, from Placida, Fla. The pair of Corvettes were originally a trio fighting for fourth, including No. 06 Joey Scarallo of Hauppauge, N.Y., but on lap 22 Scarallo was bitten with a mechanical bug that brought him into the pits and out of the race. Runman and Canney continued the fight in the closing laps. Following a brief caution period, Canney had the run on Runman, but Runman reclaimed the spot on the final lap.
Sports Car Club of America, Inc. and Heartland Park Topeka reached an agreement earlier this year for the track to promote two Trans-Am races in 2006. This marks the 40th anniversary of the series, which is the longest continuously-running road racing series in North America. The previous race, held in September, was won by Gentilozzi.