A ROAR AT THE SHORE FOR THE TRANS-AM OPENER
LONG BEACH, Calif.–Their engines are idling now, but this weekend 27 drivers’ 650-horsepower V8s roar to life for the 1999 BFGoodrich Tires Trans-Am Series season-opener—the Johnson Controls 100, part of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
North America's longest-running road racing series takes the first green flag of its 34th year on Sunday, April 18, at 3:45 p.m. PDT, with same-day delayed television coverage on The Nashville Network beginning at 9:00 p.m. PDT (12:00 a.m. EDT on April 19).
No doubt about it, the paddock has a new look and a new attitude in 1999. Defending Drivers’ Champion and ‘98 Long Beach winner Paul Gentilozzi unveils his No. 1 Johnson Controls/HomeLink Ford Mustang Cobra this weekend. Also new for Gentilozzi is his rookie teammate Craig T. Nelson, who makes his Trans-Am debut driving the No. 5 Johnson Controls/HomeLink Chevrolet Corvette.
Last year’s championship runner-up Brian Simo, of Carlsbad, Calif., scored race wins in the final two races of the 1998 campaign (Pikes Peak and Houston) and is ready to pick up where last season ended.
"Long Beach is a great race, and there is always more pressure going into the first race of the season," said Simo. "We worked very hard over the winter to make this car better, and everyone is starting with a clean slate. There are a lot of unknowns, everyone seems to have something new. Over the winter, you feel like you're cooped up in a cage. I just can't wait to get out on the track."
Stu Hayner, of Yorba Linda, Calif., finished second at the 1998 Long Beach Trans-Am, and returns this year to contest the full season with his sights set firmly on winning the championship.
"Ever since I watched my first Trans-Am, this is something that I have always wanted to do," said Hayner (No. 58 Trenton Forging/Westward Ho Casino Chevrolet Camaro). "Ten years ago we came to Long Beach planning to run the full season, but it didn't work out. I have always thought that if I could run a full Trans-Am season, I could have a shot at the championship. There is something about Long Beach that makes it very special. You have to be aggressive, but it has to be calculated, smart aggression—take the car right to the edge of the walls and not make mistakes."
In 1998, Johnny Miller IV (No. 64 Automationdirect.com Chevrolet Camaro) finished third at Long Beach, and the 1996 Rookie of the Year is now poised to make a bid for his first race win.
"Long Beach is a very tough street course, but we have taken major strides to improve this team," said Miller IV. "Everything has shuffled around this year, and we'll have to see how we stand. Since we started racing in the series, we have been able to reach our goal every year. We don't have anything to gain by finishing 20th. Our goal is to run up front and get a race win, and it starts this weekend."
Other top drivers looking for a podium finish this weekend include ‘98 Rookie of the Year Chris Neville (No. 84 ARCO Ford Mustang Cobra), Leighton Reese (No. 66 Banner Engineering/Phillips 66 Pontiac Grand Prix), Michael Lewis (No. 12 AmeriSuites Ford Mustang Cobra), Lou Gigliotti (No. 28 Young Chevrolet Chevrolet Corvette) and Randy Ruhlman (No. 49 Preformed Line Products Ford Mustang Cobra).
Results for the Johnson Controls 100 at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will be available on the AP SportsWire, via e-mail or direct filing, on the internet (http://www.trans-amseries.com) and on CompuServe’s Racing Information Systems (GO RACEB) Forum.