SAUNDERS SCORES HIS FIRST NTB TRANS-AM WIN WITH SIXTH-TO-FIRST DRIVE AT CLEVELAND CLEVELAND, Ohio (July 11, 1998) -- With a late-race charge, Bill Saunders passed runner-up Brian Simo with two laps to go and held on to the checkered flag to...
SAUNDERS SCORES HIS FIRST NTB TRANS-AM WIN WITH SIXTH-TO-FIRST DRIVE AT CLEVELAND
CLEVELAND, Ohio (July 11, 1998) -- With a late-race charge, Bill Saunders passed runner-up Brian Simo with two laps to go and held on to the checkered flag to earn his first career NTB Trans-Am win at the Speedvision NTB Trans-Am Grand Prix, part of the Medic Drug Grand Prix of Cleveland.
Saunders, of Dallas, Texas, started the 42-lap, 88.452-mile race sixth and steadily advanced to the front, moving to third with nine laps to go, behind leaders Paul Gentilozzi and Simo. Three laps later, Gentilozzi's motor let go and Simo fell under attack from Saunders as the pair swapped the lead position three times before Saunders put his No. 8 AutoLink Chevrolet Corvette in front for good with two laps to go, posting a 0.193-second margin for the win and earning the DynoMax Turn On The Power Award for turning in the best drive of the race.
"We decided to pace ourselves and see how the race unfolded, and try to let it come to us," said Saunders. "We tried to stay smooth in the middle portion and conserve tires – we lucked out and it worked. After I got by Brian (Simo) the first time I got off line and got some junk on my tires. Then Brian got a great run at me and we swapped positions a couple of times. As I came through the chicane the last time, I knew if I didn't miss a shift the checkered flag and the win were mine."
Finishing third after starting of the pole was Michael Lewis, in the No. 12 Red Line Oil Ford Mustang Cobra, followed by Chris Neville and Randy Ruhlman. Lewis, of San Diego, Calif., held a short-lived lead after the green flag flew, surrendering the top position on lap two to Simo's No. 2 Valvoline Mustang Cobra. One lap later Lewis fell to third as Gentilozzi made his move, and for the next 32 laps Simo and Gentilozzi were locked in at nose-to-tail battle, exchanging passes for the lead no fewer than seven times until Gentilozzi dropped out on lap 36.
"I knew going into the race we probably didn't have enough car to go the distance against these guys," said Lewis. "We're looking to build and improve, but you've got to walk before you can run, and we're getting there."
Behind the lead pack a tough battle raged on for the fourth through sixth, with Neville, Bruce Qvale and Randy Ruhlman vying for position. With two laps to go a tire on Qvale's No. 44 Huffaker/Qvale Motorsports Mustang Cobra lost air and he dropped from fifth to his eight-place finish, while Ruhlman advanced to score his third career top-five finish.
After seven races Gentilozzi leads the Drivers' Championship standings with 193 points, followed by John Miller IV, 152; Simo, 148; Saunders, 143; Neville, 139; Qvale, 124; Ross Thompson, 120; Lewis, 101; Ruhlman, 97; and Leighton Reese, 92.