2003 Banquet report

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- 2003 Motorock Trans-Am Tour for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup champion Scott Pruett topped the list of honorees at the 2003 Trans-Am Tour banquet, held Monday, Oct. 27, at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan. Pruett, driver of the No.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- 2003 Motorock Trans-Am Tour for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup champion Scott Pruett topped the list of honorees at the 2003 Trans-Am Tour banquet, held Monday, Oct. 27, at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan. Pruett, driver of the No. 7 Motorock/Jaguar R Performance XKR, collected his third Trans-Am title at the banquet, held the evening after a thrilling season finale at the Puerto Rico Grand Prix.

Pruett was honored for his domination of the 2003 Tour, winning eight races in 11 starts, earning nine poles, and only finishing off the podium twice. Pruett, from McMinnville, Ore., finished his season by giving Jaguar's new four-valve, overhead-cam, fuel-injected, stock-block AJ-V8 its first pole in its race debut at the Puerto Rico round.

Pruett also gave Rocketsports its first Team Owners' Championship under the current format, adopted last season. For his efforts in helping Jaguar earn its third Trans-Am Manufacturers' Championship, Pruett won a one-year lease on a Jaguar XK8 road car.

"It's just been a tremendous season," said Pruett, who returned to the Tour this year, after eight years, during which he competed in NASCAR and the Champ Car World Series. "But I couldn't have done this without my Rocketsports team. Every driver knows that it takes a good, determined, and focused group of guys behind you. On the way to this championship, we had exactly zero mechanical failures. The only problem we had was when the driver parked it in the mud at Lime Rock. It was a flawless season.

"(Team owner) Paul Gentilozzi and I had talked about doing something together for a long, long time," added Pruett. "He talked to me about competing on his Champ Car team, and I said 'No way, I've done my time there.' Then he said he was thinking about retiring, and he was serious. Now I'm here.

"I say this from the bottom of my heart: I really believe in Trans-Am," continued Pruett. "I'm here because I want to be here. I also believe in where Jaguar is taking this thing with its new engine. Hopefully, we can open that door for more manufacturers to get involved."

Johnny Miller (No. 64 Eaton Cutler-Hammer Jaguar XKR) was honored for his runner-up effort, his best career finish in the championship. Miller, who made his 100th Trans-Am start at Miami earlier this year, scored eight podium finishes and one top ten, along with two poles, in 10 starts this year.

"A lot of people in the media refer to second place as the first loser, and second is certainly the hardest place to finish," said Miller. "However, I don't think we're losers. We had eight podiums, a win and two poles. We're going to take this and move forward. I came from the back of this field years ago, and I truly see this year as a stepping stone for me to get the championship."

Michael Lewis (No. 12 Westward Tools Available at Grainger Jaguar XKR) also earned a career-best finish in Trans-Am competition, finishing third in the title chase. Lewis, driving one of two fuel-injected entries in the field, earned 10 top-ten and four top-five finishes, including three podiums.

"This has been a long year," said Lewis. "The battle for third was really a knock down, drag out. A lot of guys had a chance, but some good finishes there at the end really helped us. I've been driving for five or six years now, and have a solid group of guys who work on this car full time. The last couple races of the season they really came together, and they gave us our highest finish ever. We'll take that and try to build toward the future."

Puerto Rican hotshoe Jorge Diaz, Jr., claimed the Rookie of the Year title and finished fourth in points, just nine markers behind Lewis. Diaz earned the title after coming out of a season-long battle with Bobby Sak, who finished fifth in points. Diaz, driver of the No. 8 Don Q Jaguar XKR, set the standard for future rookies, finishing on the podium twice--at Lime Rock and at Cleveland--and earning nine top-ten and four top-five finishes in 11 starts.

"This team hasn't changed in five years, and my crew chief, Millo Martinez has been there all along," said the four-time champion of Puerto Rican racing competition in the GTS and GTU classes. "Now we have Rookie of the Year. This is really the guy behind my success."

John Baucom received the BBS Wheels Most Improved Driver Award, as voted by his fellow drivers, for his superior efforts this season. Baucom, driving his family-owned No. 86 MAP Quality Engineering Jaguar XKR prepared by an all-volunteer crew, finished a career-best eighth in points with six top-ten finishes and a career best fourth at Miami. "I'd like to thank all of the drivers, especially considering where this reward is coming from," said Baucom. "But I don't think it's just the most improved driver this year. I definitely improved this season, but my team was right there with me. I took all of us to get here."

Former ASA and Florida stock-car driver Jeff Emery won the GT-1 championship, created this year to recognize the top finishing GT-1 competitor on the Tour. Emery competed in the last two events of the year in the No. 15 TER Motorsports/Emery Scaffolding Chevrolet Corvette and scored one top ten.

Pruett also won the season-ending Flowmaster American Thunder Challenge Award for being the only driver to earn the cash award this year. The Flowmaster American Thunder Challenge Award gives $2,000 to the driver who wins the pole, leads the most laps, sets the fastest race lap and wins the race at each of the Trans-Am Tour's 11 events this season. Pruett won the award six times this year, and was presented with a custom leather jacket from Flowmaster.

Trans-Am Tour veteran Bob Ruman earned the Westward Tools Tough Tools Tough Guy Award for overcoming cancer diagnosed earlier this year to post his best finish this season of fifth at Puerto Rico in the No. 23 McNichols/Cenweld Chevrolet Corvette.

Tomy Drissi (No. 5 Stuck on You, the Movie Jaguar XKR) earned the Westward Tools Tough Tools Tough Times Award for suffering the worst luck this season. Interestingly, Drissi's bad luck obviously hadn't changed. While on stage he dropped his trophy before giving his remarks.

Jaguar North America Vice President George Ayres accepted the Trans-Am Award of Excellence, given to the carmaker and Tour sponsor for its tremendous support of the Motorock Trans-Am Tour.

The Motorock Trans-Am Tour for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup features closed-fendered, production-based, V-8-powered sports cars, competing on permanent road courses, and temporary street and airport circuits throughout North America. The Trans-Am Tour is America's oldest continuously running road racing series and celebrates its 38th anniversary in 2003.

Motorock is the creation of a popular culture brand that blends the enthusiast markets of cars, stars and guitars. It is a yearly series of destination live events that showcases the excitement of motorsports, music and lifestyle while delivering a unique new form of broadcast entertainment programming.

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