Cleveland: Round six preview

Fireworks are Sure to Fly as the Trans-Am Series Hits the Tarmac CLEVELAND -- This Fourth of July the rumble won't just be coming from the fireworks, as the Burke Lakefront Airport will be alive with the roar of the V-8 racing engines of the ...

Fireworks are Sure to Fly as the Trans-Am Series Hits the Tarmac

CLEVELAND -- This Fourth of July the rumble won't just be coming from the fireworks, as the Burke Lakefront Airport will be alive with the roar of the V-8 racing engines of the Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich® Tires Cup. The Trans-Am on the Tarmac, Round 6 of this year's championship, is scheduled for Friday, July 4.

The Trans-Am Series has a long history at Cleveland's 2.106-mile, 10-turn course, set up on the runways and taxiways of Cleveland's lakefront commercial airport. The Series has competed here 12 times since 1988. This year, America's oldest continuously running road racing tour will continue the Cleveland legend, as part of the U.S. Bank Presents Cleveland Grand Prix. The list of Cleveland winners comprises an elite group of drivers, who have made history in the Trans-Am Series and elsewhere. Three-time champion Paul Gentilozzi has won here twice. Two-time titlist Scott Pruett won here in 1994, en route to one of his two championships. Other drivers who have celebrated in Cleveland's victory lane include Hans Stuck, Irv Hoerr, Darin Brassfield, Ron Fellows, Bill Saunders and Boris Said. The winningest competitor here is Tommy Kendall, who has won here three times, including two straight in 1996 and 1997.

Johnny Miller looks to continue his breakout 2003 season at Cleveland. The driver of the No. 64 Eaton Cutler-Hammer Jaguar XKR has made six starts here, and he celebrated his best Cleveland finish of second in 2000. Miller, who finished in the top three in the first three races of the season, finally climbed up to the top step of the podium after winning rainy Round 4 at Lime Rock Park, taking the lead in the Drivers' Championship in the process. Although Miller lost the points lead after finishing 12th during Round 5 at Infineon Raceway, the points race is far from over.

Miller said Cleveland poses some unique challenges for drivers and crews, alike.

"The combination of 10 lanes to one lane wide makes for a challenging race track," said Miller of the changing width of the racing surface. "You have to deal with that and being able to know where to pass people and where not pass people.

"The surface is also somewhat of an issue," Miller continued. "The track is flat in some places and slightly crowned in others, so not only are there no reference points, you can't even see across the track in some spots. You have to run up and over the crown on the runways. The track is challenging because the landmarks and the references are not very well defined. Last year, they patched a lot of the corners--they put concrete in all of the apexes--which made it even more challenging."

Miller will be racing in front of his sponsor Eaton Cutler-Hammer's home crowd. "Eaton's corporate headquarters overlooks the track," said Miller. "They're going to be there in both a hospitality and a charity capacity, so we really want to do well there."

Miller looks forward to racing on Cleveland's unique circuit.

"I think it's a great event because it is one of the few races we go to during the year where the crowd can see the whole track," said Miller. "Traditionally, I run really well here. I've been on the podium quite a bit. I like the track and I like the town. I lived in nearby Sandusky, Ohio when I was in college. It's a neat race track with lots of good fans."

Considering his success this year, especially after he earned his second career victory, Miller is now setting his sights on the Trans-Am Series Drivers' Championship.

"We had to win at Lime Rock; we just had to win" said Miller. "I think this is my year. I also have one of the most formidable competitors in Scott Pruett, but I think we proved it can swing either way. We have a legitimate shot at the championship and we're going to try really hard to get there."

Although Pruett has only made two starts at Cleveland, in 1988 and 1994, he won in his second try. Pruett, who won the drivers' title in 1987 and 1994, has won this year at St. Petersburg, Mosport, and Infineon, and finished second at Long Beach. Pruett made his return to the Trans-Am Series this year, after an eight-year hiatus, during which he raced in Champ Car World Series and NASCAR Winston Cup competition. Pruett would like to continue his streak of success this season.

"When I look back on my racing career, it's come full circle," said Pruett, who has won 16 Trans-Am Series races, scored 34 top-five finishes, and earned 23 pole positions. "Road racing is where it all started. It's an exciting time to rejoin Rocketsports, as well as the Trans-Am Series. I want to win races and the championship. Winning is everything."

Meanwhile, the only active driver with more than one Cleveland victory, Gentilozzi, seeks to give everyone a run for their money. Gentilozzi won two-straight races at Cleveland in 2000 and 2001, and has competed in all 12 races held here. The three-time Trans-Am Series champion--who ranks first in top-three, top-five and top-ten finishes; "Fast-Five" starts, laps led, fastest race laps, lead-lap finishes and total winnings--needs to win just six more races to sit atop the all-time victory column with 30 first-place finishes.

Gentilozzi ended a Series record 183-consecutive-race-start streak earlier this year at Lime Rock Park by surrendering his ride to 2000 Trans-Am Series champion Brian Simo. Gentilozzi is tentatively scheduled to return to competition at Cleveland, still hungry for his first victory this year.

Another key player this season is Stu Hayner, who returns to the No. 2 Trenton Forging/GMAC Finance Corvette and will put the skills he's honed during his 10-year Trans-Am Series career to good use. Hayner best finish in three starts here is second in 2001. He finished third in last year's race.

"I always look forward to Cleveland," said Hayner. "We have a strong Midwest fan base there so it's a lot of fun. We'll be entertaining guests from (sponsors) Trenton Forging and GMAC Commercial Finance at the event and we're excited about that.

"Our success streak of two podium finishes in 2001 and 2002 suddenly gets everyone enthused about being here," added Hayner. "We like the track for the amount of room and passing ability you have, and getting through turn one is always fun. Once the race is under way, it's a good track with a lot of position changes and room for slower traffic to move out of the way.

"I also like the surface changes," continued Hayner. "Going over the tarmac tends to suit my driving style, because it is a track where you have to take care of the car and the tires."

Another driver with a local connection is Randy Ruhlman. The driver of the No. 49 Preformed Line Products/COYOTE Closures Chevrolet Corvette grew up in Cleveland, and attended the University School for college. Ruhlman's brother and parents still call Cleveland home. Ruhlman's primary sponsor, Preformed Line Products, has a local connection, as its headquarters is located just outside Cleveland in Mayfield Heights.

Finally, this year's rookie crop, which includes Hayner's Revolution Motorsports teammate Bobby Sak, Jorge Diaz, Jr. and Joey Scarallo, are seeking to etch their names into the Trans-Am Series legacy. All have made starts here in the past, and Sak ran second for several laps in last year's race before finishing seventh. Winning this season would be a fitting boost to each of these young drivers' Trans-Am Series careers.

In addition, Series veterans Michael Lewis, Tomy Drissi, Simon Gregg, John Baucom, and Max Lagod will return this year. Also look for Buckeye State natives Bob Ruman and defending SCCA National Champion Tim Cowen to make a good showing at their home race.

Cleveland is a special place for the Trans-Am Series and those who have won here are all seeking to repeat, while those who haven't are continuing to seek their own taste of victory. With returning champions, a host of seasoned veterans, and a talented rookie crop, all racing on Cleveland's challenging airport circuit, this year's race will definitely be one to watch.

The Trans-Am on the Tarmac, part of the U.S. Bank Presents Cleveland Grand Prix, is scheduled to start at 5:40 p.m., prior to Champ Car World Series practice on Friday, July 4. The race will air on a tape-delayed basis on SPEED Channel, on Sunday, July 6 at 3:30 p.m. The Trans-Am Series is America's oldest continuously running road racing series and is celebrating its 38th anniversary this year.

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Series Trans-Am
Drivers Boris Said , Scott Pruett , Brian Simo , Tomy Drissi , Paul Gentilozzi , Johnny Miller , Randy Ruhlman , Max Lagod , Bob Ruman , Michael Lewis , Simon Gregg , Bobby Sak , Tim Cowen , John Baucom , Darin Brassfield , Stu Hayner , Tommy Kendall , Jorge Diaz