Cleveland: Event preview

Pole is place to be as competitors prepare for Trans-Am on the Tarmac. CLEARWATER, Fla. (July 9, 2002) -- If you're handicapping potential winners of Saturday's Trans-Am on the Tarmac Presented by Microchip at Cleveland's Burke Lakefront...

Pole is place to be as competitors prepare for Trans-Am on the Tarmac.

CLEARWATER, Fla. (July 9, 2002) -- If you're handicapping potential winners of Saturday's Trans-Am on the Tarmac Presented by Microchip at Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport, the pole position would likely be the best place to start.

If history holds, Friday's pole sitter will also stand atop the podium on Saturday, when the celebration begins following the fifth round of the Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup. The Trans-Am on the Tarmac Presented by Microchip will be the second of three 2002 Trans-Am Series events to be televised by CBS Sports, which will provide live coverage beginning at 5 p.m. ET.

In eight of 11 previous Trans-Am Series events contested at Burke Lakefront Airport, the fastest qualifier has gone on to win the race. That is somewhat surprising, given the abundant passing opportunities offered by the expansive, 2.106-mile temporary circuit constructed on the Burke airport runways.

It also figures to make championship leader Boris Said even hungrier than usual for his first pole position since the 2001 season opener when qualifying begins at 6:15 p.m. ET Friday. Said (#33 Applied Computer Solutions Panoz Esperante) brings a 120-101 points lead over three-time and defending Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup champion Paul Gentilozzi into the weekend.

Said's last Trans-Am Series pole came in March of 2001 at Sebring. Despite not having earned a pole since, he has been a strong qualifier throughout 2002, with outside poles at Long Beach, Mosport and Mid-Ohio and a third-place start at Lime Rock.

As impressive as he's been in qualifying, Said has been even better on race day, with four podium finishes in as many 2002 starts, highlighted by back-to-back wins at Mosport and Lime Rock. He also finished second at Long Beach and third at Mid-Ohio.

Gentilozzi (#3 Johnson Controls/Microchip/MatrixOne/Futaba Jaguar XKR) is the only driver in this weekend's field with a previous Trans-Am Series victory at Cleveland, and he has claimed the past two, in 2000 and 2001, both from the pole. Gentilozzi also owns a pole position this season, at Long Beach in the season opener. He comes to Cleveland off a runner-up result at Mid-Ohio, his best performance since winning at Long Beach.

Gentilozzi's teammate, Johnny Miller (#64 Automation Direct/Eaton Cutler-Hammer Jaguar XKR) has parlayed an impressively consistent performance into third place in the championship, with 97 points. Miller has finished sixth or better in each of his four 2002 starts, highlighted by podium results of second at Mosport and third at Long Beach, and his string of 16 consecutive top-10 finishes is the longest active streak in the series.

Rookie Butch Leitzinger (#88 Tommy Bahama/Tom Gloy Chevrolet Corvette) has vaulted to fourth place in the championship chase on the strength of back-to-back podium finishes, highlighted by his first career Trans-Am Series victory at Mid-Ohio, in only his fifth career start. Leitzinger, who also finished third at Lime Rock, comes to Cleveland with 87 points.

Another driver who has made an impressive move in the Trans-Am Series standings of late is Tony Ave (#53 Trilithic Panoz Esperante), who holds down fifth in the championship with 76 points. After starting the season with back-to-back finishes outside the top 10, Ave has rallied to finish second at Lime Rock and sixth at Mid-Ohio, becoming a contender for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup in the process.

Other drivers who could contend for victory at Cleveland include Michael Lewis (#12 AmeriSuites Jaguar XKR), Justin Bell (#40 Derhaag Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette), Stuart Hayner (#02 Trenton Forging/Tom Bell Chevrolet Corvette), Tomy Drissi (#5 Rocketsports Racing Jaguar XKR) and Randy Ruhlman (#49 Preformed Line Products Chevrolet Corvette). Lewis is a previous pole winner at Cleveland, in 1998, while Hayner finished as the runner-up to Gentilozzi on the lakefront last year.

Saturday's Trans-Am on the Tarmac Presented by Microchip will feature a significant local flavor, with four of the 24 entrants owning significant ties to the Cleveland area. In addition to Ruhlman, who grew up in Cleveland, other entrants with ties to the Buckeye State include Bob Ruman (#23 Cenweld Corp./McNichols Co. Chevrolet Corvette), from Munroe Falls; Tim Cowen (#75 Cowen Truck Line Ford Mustang), from Ashland; and Tom Sloe (#56 kidprintid.com/Russell Automotive Center/Total ID Solutions Chevrolet Corvette), from Newbury, who will be making his 2002 Trans-Am debut.

Three other drivers are also expected to make their 2002 Trans-Am Series debuts this weekend, including Mike Cronin Jr. (#9 Stoptech/Meguiar's Chevrolet Corvette) of La Verne, Calif.; John Baucom (#86 Bullydog Technologies/Safequip Jaguar XKR) of Charlotte, N.C. and Jorge Diaz, Jr. (#91 Havoline Jaguar XKR) of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The Trans-Am on the Tarmac Presented by Microchip is the first of back-to-back Trans-Am Series events scheduled for the next two weekends. The series continues with the Capital Trans-Am 100, part of the Cadillac Grand Prix in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, July 20, beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET. The event will air live on CBS Sports.

-scca pro racing-

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About this article
Series Trans-Am
Drivers Butch Leitzinger , Boris Said , Tony Ave , Justin Bell , Tomy Drissi , Johnny Miller , Randy Ruhlman , Stuart Hayner , Tim Cowen , Tom Sloe , Mike Cronin , John Baucom , Tom Gloy , Jorge Diaz