Cleveland: Race report

Pruett leads the charge in Independence Day battle at Cleveland CLEVELAND -- Two veterans and a young up and comer dominated Friday's Trans-Am on the Tarmac, Round 6 of the 2003 Trans-Am for the BFGoodrich® Tires Cup Championship, at Burke ...

Pruett leads the charge in Independence Day battle at Cleveland

CLEVELAND -- Two veterans and a young up and comer dominated Friday's Trans-Am on the Tarmac, Round 6 of the 2003 Trans-Am for the BFGoodrich® Tires Cup Championship, at Burke Lakefront Airport. At the head of the pack was Scott Pruett, who's dominating performance was only matched by the consistent efforts of runner-up finisher and rookie sensation Jorge Diaz, and veteran Max Lagod.

Paul Gentilozzi, who finished a provisional second, was placed fourth after the race. Gentilozzi, driver of the No. 3 Jaguar R Performance XKR, was penalized two positions for violating Trans-Am Series Rule 1.8.13: "Unjustifiable Risk." The penalty was assessed due to incidents during the race, which involved Michael Lewis (No. 12 Westward Tools/The Crank Jaguar XKR) and Bobby Sak (No. 10 Revolution Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette).

Pruett simply turned in a dominating performance Friday. The driver of the No. 7 Jaguar R Performance XKR lead all 48 laps of the race from the pole, set the fastest race lap (1:13.475), earned his fourth victory of the season, and retained the lead in the Drivers' Championship. In the process, Pruett won the BFGoodrich® Tires Take Control Award for leading the most laps and the $2,000 Flowmaster American Thunder Challenge Award.

Pruett took the lead at the start, and was never seriously challenged in the event. However, his victory was anything but easy, as his team owner, and three-time Trans-Am Series champion Paul Gentilozzi was closing quickly late in the event.

"It's been a great weekend," said Pruett, who also won his fifth Jaguar Pole this season on Thursday. "I've always loved Cleveland. It's a great track. You can be aggressive, challenging, let it all hang out here, you can do some pretty wild moves and the track will give. Here, you don't have to worry about hitting the wall.

"This is a pretty special place because it is the one and only road course where you can come as a fan and watch the whole track," added the two-time Trans-Am Series champion. "For me, it's been just a great weekend. I ran good and hard. Toward the end, I was sliding around a little bit and the car had developed a bit of a miss. I saw Paul coming back there. He was running hard. I'm glad we were able to hold him off."

Diaz's second-place finish is the best of his young career. Interestingly, his best finish prior to this season--11th--came here in his first Trans-Am Series start in 2002.

"Back home, it's always hot, and I'm used to racing in the heat," said Diaz, referring to the hot and humid conditions on race day. "But, my helmet cooler failed five laps into the race. At that point, I couldn't wait for the race to be over.

"It was just a fun race," added Diaz. "It wasn't easy to get around, especially on that last restart. I thought I had the car to beat, and it worked out. I wish all of the tracks we visit were new to me. I like it better when I'm racing it for the first time, because I have no expectations. I was a little bit upset about qualifying, but I'm just happy about the race...and the race is all that counts."

For Lagod, the third-place finish was the second podium of his career. Lagod finished second at Reno in 1997. Lagod is the owner/driver of the No. 83 Hypermax Engineering Chevrolet Camaro. Lagod was the only driver who elected to run BFGoodrich® Tires' harder (75) compound tire.

"I caught up in the first turn, and I didn't think there was a corner on my car that wasn't broken," said Lagod. "But that fired me up and got me going. We worked our way back.

"We've never really had a really good car here," added Lagod. "So, based on my past experience here, we chose to go a different direction with the setup and run the harder compound tires. Harder tires allow you to use up the car, without hurting the tires. On the restarts, it was all we could do to hold position. However, the tires came back in a couple of laps, and gave us a podium finish."

Stu Hayner's fifth-place finish was especially significant, considering he did it without a passenger side door on his No. 2 Trenton Forging/GMAC Commercial Finance Chevrolet Corvette. Hayner had to pit early to fix the damage, recovered from being one lap down and scored the top five.

"It was a pretty physical race," said Hayner. "I'm not sure what happened to the door. We came in, and went a lap down. But the crew had the car dialed in. I really thought we had the best car on the track."

The race ran in one hour, 15 minutes and 44 seconds, at an average speed of 92.274 miles per hour. The race was slowed by the caution flag twice--both times for debris--for a total of five laps.

Notebook:

Scott Pruett's and Johnny Miller's quest for the 2003 Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup Drivers' Championship continued on Thursday at Burke Lakefront Airport as they earned the top-two starting positions for Friday's Trans-Am on the Tarmac race. For Pruett, the one-minute, and 13.145-second effort earned the driver of the No. 7 Jaguar R Performance XKR his fifth pole this season. Miller, driver of the No. 64 Eaton Cutler-Hammer Jaguar XKR, qualified second, his third top-three qualifying performance this season.

Pruett earned the Jaguar Pole Award, a performance-based initiative that rewards drivers who win the pole at each of the Trans-Am Series' events this season. Polesitters will receive a key--regardless of what type of car they race--which, at the culmination of the season, they will use to attempt to open the door to a 2004 Jaguar XK8, during a formal ceremony. The driver whose key opens the vehicle will win a one-year lease on the car.

Stu Hayner (No. 2 Trenton Forging/GMAC Commercial Finance Chevrolet Corvette) was third quickest, ahead of Michael Lewis (No. 12 Westward Tools/The Crank Jaguar XKR) and Paul Gentilozzi (No. 3 Jaguar R Performance XKR).

Pruett's pole on Thursday was his second at Burke Lakefront Airport. Pruett is now tied with Paul Gentilozzi and Tommy Kendall for record poles here. It was also Pruett's 25th career pole, tying him with Scott Sharp for third on the all-time list.

Unfortunately, Hayner's time was disallowed as his team elected to make an engine change after qualifying. Hayner was cited under rule 1.7.10.1 in the Trans-Am Series Rulebook: "...If a driver changes engines after qualifying, the driver must forfeit his starting position and start at the back of the grid. The entire grid moves up, filling the vacant positions..."

Miller was delighted to learn recently that NASCAR Winston Cup team Morgan-McClure Motorsports has invited him back to compete with the team. Miller is scheduled to race at the Winston Cup race at Watkins Glen International Aug. 10 in the No. 4 Kodak Pontiac Grand Prix.

Pruett tried his hand at another career Wednesday night in Lake County, Ohio, about 15 minutes from Cleveland. The two-time Trans-Am Series champion, who has also competed in the Champ Car World Series and in NASCAR, threw out the first pitch for a Lake County Captains game. The Captains are the Single A affiliate for Major League Baseball's Cleveland Indians. Pruett also took warm-ups with the team, and signed autographs.

Michael Lewis (No. 12 Westward Tools/The Crank Jaguar XKR) and Tomy Drissi (No. 5 League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Jaguar XKR) came to Cleveland with plenty of seat time under their belts. The California duo went straight from competing at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma Calif. two weeks ago to Road Atlanta, where the two teamed up to finish 12th overall, and sixth in class in the American Le Mans Series event. They co-drove a Riley & Scott Mk. IIIC Lincoln Le Mans Prototype 900 class car in that event.

Newbury, Ohio native Tom Sloe will compete in his first Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich® Tires Cup event of 2003 tomorrow, during the Trans-Am on the Tarmac at Burke Lakefront Airport. Sloe, who has made four career Trans-Am Series starts, will compete in the No. 56 kidprintID.com/preowned cars.net Chevrolet Corvette. As part of the sponsorship agreement, Total ID Solutions, Inc. will offer free kidprint ID cards, completed with a child's photo and fingerprint. Children can be photographed for the cards at near the Sloe Motorsports transporter in the paddock from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday. Sloe, who was born in Cleveland, regularly competes in SCCA's GT-1 ranks. Sloe most recently placed third in the SCCA Chicago Region June Sprints event at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.

Many teams were burning the midnight oil Thursday night, making final preparations and, in one case, major repairs. John Baucom (No. 86 Bully Dog Technologies Jaguar XKR) and his team were busy repairing damage suffered after contact with Glenn Andrew (No. 9 Tri-American Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro) in yesterday's qualifying session. Meanwhile, rookie Joey Scarallo's team was busy repairing rear-end damage on his No. 06 ROH Wheels Chevrolet Corvette, which was resulted from a failed heim joint on the third-link assembly. Finally, Munroe Falls, Ohio-native Bob Ruman was here late, repairing a failed suspension component.

Scarallo suffered a catastrophic power steering failure during final practice today. The rookie driver was able to get the steering system to operate, but will start the race with no power steering.

Craig Shafer (No. 39 Somerset Door and Column Chevrolet Corvette) continued a streak here. By making his first Trans-Am Series start this year, Shafer continued a string during which he's made at least one Trans-Am start in the last 23 years.

To honor and celebrate Independence Day, the cars of Revolution Motorsports featured a custom Stars & Stripes graphic theme for the Cleveland event. In addition, the No. 2 car (Hayner) carried the Trenton Forging and GMAC Commercial Finance colors while the No. 10 car (Sak) featured PR Machine and GMAC Commercial Finance markings.

Two teams--The No. 75 Cowen Truck Lines Ford Mustang of Tim Cowen and the No. 3 Jaguar XKR of Paul Gentilozzi--took part in the "Trans-Am Revealed" session yesterday afternoon at Burke Lakefront Airport. Through the "Trans-Am Revealed" program, teams selected by Technical Director David King are required to remove all body panels from their cars prior to the race to allow other teams and the Trans-Am Series technical team to inspect the cars' chassis. The object of the program is to remove any secrecy, regarding design as it relates to chassis and hardware configurations.

Max Lagod (No. 83 Hypermax Chevrolet Camaro) was the only driver in Friday's field running BFGoodrich Tires' 75 (hard) compound on his car. Lagod ran the harder compound tires on both rear wheels. Every other team in the field elected to compete on the 200 (medium) compound in Friday's race.

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Series Trans-Am
Drivers Scott Sharp , Scott Pruett , Paul Gentilozzi , Johnny Miller , Max Lagod , Bob Ruman , Michael Lewis , Bobby Sak , Tim Cowen , Craig Shafer , Tom Sloe , John Baucom , Glenn Andrew , Stu Hayner , Tommy Kendall , Jorge Diaz