Laguna Seca: Round nine preview

Closest Points Battle in Trans-Am History Will Come Down to the Wire at Laguna Seca MONTEREY, Calif. (Sept. 7, 2004) -- The closest points battle in recent Motorock Trans-Am history will be decided as the Series prepares for its season finale ...

Closest Points Battle in Trans-Am History Will Come Down to the Wire at Laguna Seca

MONTEREY, Calif. (Sept. 7, 2004) -- The closest points battle in recent Motorock Trans-Am history will be decided as the Series prepares for its season finale Sept. 10-11 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The Trans-Am 100, Round 9 of this year's title chase, will complete the 2004 tour with the cancellation of the Puerto Rico Grand Prix.

Leading the charge in the points battle is three-time Trans-Am champion Paul Gentilozzi (No. 3 Jaguar R Performance XKR). He comes into the Laguna Seca just 11 points ahead of four-time titleholder Tommy Kendall. Gentilozzi needs to finish third or better to clinch the title here.

Though the duo are both out of the Rocketsports Racing stable, teamwork will likely take a backseat here as both are seeking to further their place in Trans-Am's 39-year history--Kendall seeking an unprecedented fifth championship and Gentilozzi seeking a record-tying fourth title.

"We've managed to put together the tightest points battle I've seen," said Kendall, who will drive the No. 11 Jaguar R Performance XKR this weekend. "This championship is really coming down to the wire."

While many counted Kendall out of the title hunt early in the season, he has put together a string of solid finishes on the heels of his first victory in nearly a decade. Kendall has fought through the growing pains of Jaguar's new production-based, fuel-injected, overhead-cam AJ-V8 engine this season. Those difficulties, though, are now merely distant memories as Kendall is primed for his fifth title.

"My car is really running well this year and I think Laguna will be another great track for us," said Kendall. "We can be competitive anywhere we run."

Laguna Seca holds added significance for Kendall as it's where he began his racing career.

"I won my first professional race here in IMSA GTU in 1986 and it, along with Riverside, is one of the two tracks where I began racing when I was 17," said Kendall. "Laguna Seca is where I honed my craft."

But Gentilozzi is ready to continue his chapter in the Trans-Am history books. With a win this weekend, Gentilozzi can eclipse the all-time win record held by the legendary Mark Donohue, who won the first Trans-Am race held here, in 1969. With his 29th victory, in August at Denver, Gentilozzi tied a record that had stood for nearly 33 years.

Meanwhile, Randy Ruhlman (No. 49 Preformed Line Products Chevrolet Corvette) is ready to play spoiler here. Ruhlman, who will make his 146th start here this weekend, sits just 20 points back. Ruhlman has had a breakout 2004 season, scoring three podium finishes and his first career Trans-Am pole. Interestingly, Ruhlman's team, Derhaag Motorsports, has a history of success here, winning the last two Laguna Seca races with Kenny Wilden (2000) and Justin Bell (2001).

"We had a strong Corvette package before, but now I think we learned some things that will help even more," said Ruhlman, who comes off a successful test last month in Omaha, Neb. "Laguna Seca will be an important race for us in the Corvette, but also for the Jags of Paul Gentilozzi and Tommy Kendall, as the three leading contenders for the Championship. Those Jags are strong, but I think this Corvette is up for the fight."

Local driver Greg Pickett is seeking his own spot in the record books this weekend. The Alamo, Calif. resident, who drives the No. 6 Cytomax Jaguar XKR, won here twice--during his 1978 championship season and in 1980, making him the only previous Trans-Am victor in the field here this weekend. It would be fitting if Pickett could win here, as he is trying to become the first driver in Trans-Am history to win a race in each of four decades of competition.

California resident and a crowd favorite Boris Said also returns to Trans-Am competition here this weekend, driving the No. 33 ACS Express/GE Access Ford Mustang. Running just two races earlier this year, Said has one win (at Infineon) and a third-place finish at Long Beach.

Road racing legend Ron Fellows also returns to Trans-Am competition here, after racing in Toronto and Trois-Rivières. Fellows will drive the No. 40 Chevrolet Corvette fielded by Derhaag Motorsports. Fellows was third at Toronto and he finished sixth at Trois-Rivières after being sidelined by cooling system problems.

Although Trans-Am's history at Laguna Seca is relatively short, what it lacks in years, it more than makes up in substance. Some of the top names in Trans-Am competition, and road racing in general, have won here in Trans-Am's eight years of Laguna Seca competition.

The list of other winners here includes legendary Porsche driver Peter Gregg, one of Donohue's fiercest rivals Parnelli Jones, Bob Tullius, and Elliott Forbes-Robinson.

Meanwhile, the competition has also tightened in this year's GT-1 Development Program. Just two points separate the top four in the new-for-2004 GT-1 Championship, with Jon "Chevy" Leavy (No. 18 MLEYE.com Chevrolet Camaro) holding just a one point lead over Garrett Kletjian (No. 20 UpscaleLingerie.com Qvale Mangusta) and his teammate B.K. "Kenny" Bupp (No. 17 Bank United Chevrolet Camaro). Ross Murray (No. 01 Greenberg Cheese Co. Dodge Viper) is only two points back.

Then, there's the Corkscrew. No other turn in motorsports is more well known than the quick left-right downhill turn. Equally thrilling and frightening, it will be the place to watch as the V-8-engined Jaguars, Corvettes, Vipers and Mustangs beat, bang, rub and jockey for position on Laguna Seca's tight 2.238-mile circuit.

"The Corkscrew is definitely the most unusual corner I've driven," said Kendall. "It's really a surreal sensation. There are no references. It's almost like an instrument landing. You have to kind of launch yourself into space and feel for the landing. You need timing and a special awareness."

Championships will be clinched here. Records may fall. Regardless of who wins, this year's race at Laguna Seca will certainly be one to watch.

The Trans-Am 100 is scheduled for Friday and Saturday Sept. 10-11 at the 2.238-mile permanent road course at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The Trans-Am race is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. (PDT) on Saturday. The Trans-Am Series is part of a full weekend of racing, which also includes the featured Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford, as well as the Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama, and Formula BMW USA.

An entry list can be downloaded in the "Downloads" section of the Laguna Seca event site, part of trans-amseries.com by clicking here.

The race will be broadcast LIVE on HDNet, with tape-delayed highlights coverage on Spike TV's popular "Dangerous Curves" timeslot, Sunday, Sept. 18 at 10 a.m. (EDT, PDT).

The Motorock Trans-Am Series features closed-fendered, production-based, V-8-powered sports cars, competing on permanent road courses, and temporary street and airport circuits throughout North America. The Trans-Am Series is America's oldest continuously running road racing series and celebrates its 39th year of competition in 2004.

Fast Facts:

What: The Trans-Am 100, Round 9 and the season finale of the 2004 Motorock Trans-Am Series Championship

When: Friday and Saturday Sept. 10-11, 2004

Race Day: Saturday, Sept. 11, at approximately 4 p.m. (PDT)

Distance: 45 laps, 100.71 miles or 75 minutes time certain, whichever comes first

Where: The race will be run on a 2.238-mile, 11-turn permanent road course

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