2005 TRANS-AM SERIES SEASON IN REVIEW: HISTORY REWRITTEN DURING 40TH SEASON
INDIANAPOLIS (Sept. 2, 2005) -- The Trans-Am Series continued its historic legacy in 2005, and, while celebrating its 40th consecutive season of competition, it welcomed a new legend to its fold, and honored the accomplishments of those who developed its foundation in years past.
Leading the charge this year was Trans-Am newcomer Klaus Graf. Graf (No. 7 Jaguar R Performance XKR) entered the season in competitive fashion, though mechanical issues early in the tour nearly doomed the German rookie's championship hopes. That all changed as the season hit the homestretch, and Graf proved he was up to the challenge. After winning Round 2 in Portland, Graf went on to win the last three races of the season, at Denver, Road America and Montreal. In the end, Graf became the first German national to win the Drivers' Championship and the first rookie to do so since Dorsey Schroeder in 1989. He also won the Rookie of the Year title, also a first for a German driver. Graf backed those honors up by contributing the most points toward Jaguar winning the Manufacturers' Championship, marking the British carmaker's third consecutive and fifth overall title.
"My goal from the beginning was to win this championship," said Graf, who backed up his wins with podium finishes at San Jose and Edmonton. "I was glad to get this spot in the Jaguar factory car, but you never know how a season is going to go. We fought it in the beginning. Even after our Portland victory, we knew we had a long way to go. We knew we had the speed, and once we passed halfway through the season, we started to get more comfortable with the reliability of the car. We had the perfect package this year. It's great winning this championship for Jaguar, for Rocketsports and for myself.
"Coming from NASCAR and Porsche Michelin Supercup last year, running in Trans-Am this year was a change," added Graf. "It was more difficult last year to jump from the Porsche to NASCAR. So, this year was kind of easier, once I adapted. Trans-Am cars are front-engined and they are about as close as you can get to a NASCAR (stock car). It's no secret that I want to break into NASCAR as its first European driver, so Trans-Am was the right direction to go."
Finishing second in the title chase was Randy Ruhlman. Contesting his 15th season of Trans-Am racing, the driver of the No. 49 Preformed Line Products Chevrolet Corvette had his best season on record in 2005, winning two races and leading the points for most of the season. His victories, at Long Beach and a thrilling back-to-front run at Cleveland, nearly cemented the title for Ruhlman. However, a string of bad luck late in the season left Ruhlman just short of Graf. His second-place finish in the final tally was his best on record.
"We completed all but one lap this year, and that illustrates this Derhaag Motorsports team's effort," said Ruhlman. "We kept plugging at it and we gave it our all, but when it came right down to it, the best man won.
"This year has been very encouraging," added Ruhlman, who made his 155th career start this year, at the Montreal closer. "We had a great start to the season. We benefited from the troubles Klaus had early on and we took advantage of that. Then, we ran into some problems of our own in this last few races. But, like I said, the team never gave up. The team is encouraged and the car was fast.
I've never been a great qualifier and now I can run in the top three consistently. That gives us a lot of hope for the coming year. I can only hope that Klaus returns and keeps the pressure on."
1978 Trans-Am Drivers' Champion Greg Pickett made his return to greatness this season, with a monumental effort in the No. 6 Cytomax/Muscle Milk Jaguar XKR. A veteran of 175 Trans-Am starts, Pickett was the model of consistency this year, only finishing off the podium once in eight starts (fourth at Portland), and completing every lap of the races he entered. In fact, a testament to this was the fact that Pickett was still in the hunt for the title during the season finale, despite missing the Cleveland round due to a previous commitment.
But the highlight of Pickett's season was his historic victory at Edmonton. Pickett's 16th career victory made him the first Trans-Am driver to win a race in each of four decades of competition.
"I am very emotional right now," said Pickett, who also sponsored three races this season--Long Beach, Denver and San Jose--through his company's Cytomax Sport Drink brand. "We've had a great season with lots of good, hard racing. I'm delighted to have helped Jaguar win its fifth Manufacturers' Championship, with our win and strong, consistent finishes. Klaus has elevated all of our efforts this year. When you have such a great target to shoot for--this is a guy who very regularly puts seven-tenths of a second on the field--it makes every driver and the Series move up a notch. Congratulations to Klaus on his championship. He's proven himself very worthy of that honor. It's been a true pleasure to race with Randy and him throughout the season--they're fast, fun, and fair.
"As long as I can still perform at a high level, my reaction times are still right up there, and I'm fast enough to be in the mix and maintain the respect of my fellow competitors, I'll stick around--See you all next year," concluded Pickett.
Tomy Drissi (No. 5 Transporter 2 -- The Movie Jaguar XKR) was fourth in the championship, equaling his career-best effort of last year. Drissi amassed three podium finishes this year as well as four top fives. Joey Scarallo finished a career-best fifth in the title chase in the No. 06 Cytomax/Toyo Tires Chevrolet Corvette. Scarallo scored two third-place finishes this year, marking the third-year driver's best effort thus far, as well as five top fives.
Though Paul Gentilozzi's shot at defending his 2004 title evaporated mid-way through the season, the 18-year Trans-Am veteran made history this year in the No. 1 Jaguar R Performance XKR. Gentilozzi's 30th career victory, which he recorded in Round 4 at Toronto, moved him out of a tie with late Trans-Am legend Mark Donohue for the most victories in Trans-Am history. Gentilozzi, who also recorded a runner-up effort at Road America, finished sixth in the final standings.
Boris Said took time away from his busy NASCAR Nextel Cup Series schedule to compete in two races this year. Said just beat Pickett in a photo finish at San Jose, winning by a scant .0147 of a second in the No. 33 ACS Express Ford Mustang, marking easily the most exciting finish of the season.
Moneca Kolvyn's long uphill battle finally paid dividends for the Delta, British Columbia driver as she won the GT-1 Driver Development Program Championship. In its third year of existence, the GT-1 Driver Development Program honors the top finishing GT-1 driver at each race and awards a GT-1 Championship. It features Trans-Am-specification cars, but is reserved for up-and-coming teams from SCCA Club Racing's GT-1 division. Kolvyn (No. 08 Westcoast Hot Rods Chevrolet Monte Carlo) won the GT-1 class once, at San Jose, and competed in all but one race. Paul Fix (No. 77 Stop Flex/Pennzoil Ford Mustang) finished second in GT-1 points, after finishing first in class four times this season.
Tim Barber won Trans-Am's newly created GT America Class Championship. Barber (No. 97 Riverside Motorsports Park Ford Taurus) finished first in class once, at Edmonton, and was 33 points ahead of Steve Kelso (No. 9 Red Line Oil/Ringers Resource Chevrolet Monte Carlo) in final points. Roy Isley (No. 46 Canadian Western Aggregate Chevrolet Monte Carlo) won the GTA Rookie of the Year title.
GTA features V8-powered, tube-framed sedans. Eligible makes and models include Pontiac Grand Prix, Dodge Intrepid, Oldsmobile Cutlass, Ford Thunderbird and Taurus and Chevrolet Monte Carlo.
The 2005 Trans-Am Series season finale is scheduled to air on SPEED Channel on Sunday, Sept. 18 at 1 p.m. EDT.