Tommy Kendall did everything he could but he could not run Paul Gentilozzi's race. Kendall won the season finale and took all bonus points. For the first time since the 1966 Trans-Am Series, the championship ended in a tie.
"I just had a ball this year," said Rocketsports driver Kendall. "I will re-live the few moments of where I could have gotten a point. I owe a lot of thanks to Paul (Gentilozzi), Rocketsports and Jaguar for letting me come back when and how I wanted. I will savor this last victory."
Gentilozzi took his fourth-career championship by virtue of the most races wins - five wins to Kendall's two. The Rocketsport Racing team owner and driver set out only to give Jaguar the championship, which they wrapped up at Denver.
"It's conflicting," explained Gentilozzi on his feelings about the championship. "The offer I made to Tommy (Kendall) was to make him a champion. I was not going to be in the championship hunt, I even skipped Sears Point."
The season ended at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in fine style with two veterans joining the fun. Boris Said and Ron Fellows had a free weekend and came out to play.
Fellows, driving for Derhaag Motorsports, made the move early on Said before the first turn to take second away from the 2002 champion, a position the Canadian was determined to defend. Said made the move to overtake Fellows and move into second when Fellows went wide into Turn 1. The ASC Mustang then tried to catch Kendall, but to no avail. Fellows finished third, while Kendall just drove away and led flag to flag.
"That was a lot of fun," expressed Fellows on his battle with Said. "I messed up in turn one and Boris (Said) got underneath me. Just did not have enough for Kendall. Thanks to Jim (Derhaag) and all the guys to let me drive these cars again. Sorry I could not get Chevy the victory, it has been a long time."
Said commented on the fun he had racing with Kendall and Fellows. "This was a lot of fun, like the old days with Ron (Fellows) and TK."
"Ron (Fellows) got wide and I took my shot," explained Said on the pass for second. "The Mustang was pretty good, came home in second."
The race winner, Kendall reflected on his first year back in the Trans-Am Series after notching four previous championships. Driving the development engine Jaguar, Kendall knew that it would be a year of testing at each venue. "After Long Beach, I knew I wanted to be there with these guys - racing heads-up for a pole in the dry."
"It does not get much better than this," added Kendall. "My hats off to Paul. The chances are pretty good I will be back next year."
Gentilozzi momentarily lost the fourth starting position in Turn 2 to Randy Ruhlman. He kept the spot even with the final effort by Ruhlman to steal it at the end. The final laps, the two were nose-to-tail as Gentilozzi made his Jaguar as wide as possible with the Corvette driver diving inside and outside on the 2.238-mile road course.
"The goal in the beginning was to give Jaguar and the team the championship," expressed Gentilozzi. "When Tommy had problems and Diaz (Jorge, Jr.) was moving up, we had to make a decision. And I even offered to skip this race, but Tommy and I both realize we needed to let the fans get a race (for the championship) to the end.
"Man, it came really close today. Ruhlman almost caught me as I had no car at the end (brakes). I went off and Randy (Ruhlman) followed me. It is really nice to get in the race car."
Ruhlman finished fifth. Ross Murray clinched the GT-1 championship with his sixth place.
"It is great," said Murray on his championship and the race. "To be up here with the four of the best road racers around. I hope to do some more next year. Absolutely, that is what we will try to go for to be back in the series."
Kendall commented on his plans for the future as did Said and Gentilozzi.
"I will have an announcement within the next week on what my 2005 plans will be," explained Said. "It will be something completely different." Since Said had just ran his first oval in NASCAR, many were jumping to that conclusion. "Let's just say, I will going left a lot!"
Gentilozzi ran only a few races last season, this year, he had plan to do the same so it did not come as a shock when he commented, "I hope to run two or three of my favorite tracks. I will be doing development in the car."
The 2004 season closed out in Monterey, California with many drivers already looking toward the 2005 Trans-Am Series season.