SIMO MAKES IT TWO IN-A-ROW WITH HOUSTON NTB TRANS-AM WIN
HOUSTON (October 3, 1998) -- Brian Simo scored his second consecutive and second career NTB Trans-Am Series victory after making a late-race pass on 1998 Drivers' Champion Paul Gentilozzi, cruising to a 27.64-second margin over Bill Saunders at the season finale on the streets of Houston, Texas. Simo, driving the No. 2 Valvoline Ford Mustang Cobra, started the 60-lap, 91.62-mile second and chased Gentilozzi throughout the first half of the 1:28:36.943 contest. After stalking Gentilozzi's No. 3 AutoLink Chevrolet Corvette for 37 laps, Simo made his move as the duo dove into turn nine on the 10-turn, 1.527-mile circuit.
"The back of Paul's (Gentilozzi) car is not unfamiliar to me," said Simo. "When we got into the lead I knew the race wasn't over. I was faster on some parts of the track, and Paul was quicker on others, but he made a bobble and I was able to get by."
Once in the lead, Simo posted a string of fastest race laps (including the race's top fast lap of 1:12.464), only to have Gentilozzi in pursuit nose-to-tail on lap 54. As Simo and Gentilozzi moved to lap Stu Hayner's No. 58 Westward Ho Casino Camaro, Gentilozzi went too deep into turn four and nosed into the tire barrier, giving Simo a commanding lead and allowing Saunders, who had held the third spot for the entire race, to advance to second while Gentilozzi limped his damaged car to a third-place finish in a race slowed by three full-course cautions for minor incidents and intermittent rain.
"In my mirror I saw some tire smoke from Paul and knew something had happened," added Simo. I just kind of muscled him (Hayner) out of the way, but Paul wasn't so lucky."
Behind the leaders a fierce battle was also waged for the fourth through eighth positions, with Ross Thompson ultimately holding off Michael Lewis for fourth, followed by John Miller IV, Leighton Reese, 1998 Rookie-of-the-Year Chris Neville, Randy Ruhlman and Lou Gigliotti.
"When I saw the damage on Paul's car I knew something had happened," said Saunders. "I wanted Paul and I to finish first and second, but our car overheated twice and we were fortunate to finish at all." With the win Simo also earned the DynoMax Turn On the Power Award and advanced to second in the year-end standings with 292 points (behind Gentilozzi at 342), while Saunders' finish moved him to third (283), followed by Neville (281) and Miller IV (263).