Long Beach: Season opener preview

THE TRANS-AM SERIES KICKS OFF 40TH SEASON WITH THE CYTOMAX CHALLENGE AT LONG BEACH LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 4, 2005) -- As the Trans-Am Series kicks off its 40th consecutive season of competition April 8-10 with the Cytomax Challenge, during...

THE TRANS-AM SERIES KICKS OFF 40TH SEASON WITH THE CYTOMAX CHALLENGE AT LONG BEACH

LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 4, 2005) -- As the Trans-Am Series kicks off its 40th consecutive season of competition April 8-10 with the Cytomax Challenge, during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend, defending Drivers' Champion Paul Gentilozzi will continue his long love affair with Long Beach. The race, on Long Beach's 1.968-mile temporary street course, is scheduled to run on Sunday, April 10 in its traditional time slot, at approximately 3:15 p.m. PDT, and immediately following the Champ Car World Series event.

Gentilozzi (No. 1 Jaguar R Performance XKR) has a storied history with Long Beach. He is the only multiple winner here, having won five Trans-Am races in 12 starts. Gentilozzi also won his first Trans-Am race here, driving an Oldsmobile Cutlass in 1988, his first full season of competition. Gentilozzi also made his 100th start here in 1996.

This year's race could prove even sweeter for four-time Trans-Am champion as a win will propel Gentilozzi out of a tie with the legendary Mark Donohue for first on the all-time Trans-Am win list. Gentilozzi equaled Donohue's record of 29 career wins last year, at Denver.

Gentilozzi started last year on a good note here, when he out-dueled Boris Said, from Carlsbad, Calif.,and held off 1978 Trans-Am champion and Benicia, Calif. native Greg Pickett by an event record .322 of a second for the win. But that finish was just one of many tight, thrilling Long Beach finishes.

Said too, had his moment of Long Beach glory in 2003. With Johnny Miller in tow, Said dogged leader Scott Pruett throughout the race, passing him late in the event for the lead and eventual victory.

In 2002, Gentilozzi emerged from a spectacular last-lap three-car duel with Said and Justin Bell to claim the victory. Each battled their way past each other to briefly lead the final lap of what many consider Trans-Am's most exciting finish. Gentilozzi muscled his way past Said to lead the final turn and grab the victory.

Gentilozzi, Said (No. 33 Applied Computer Solutions Ford Mustang), and Pickett (No. 6 Cytomax Jaguar XKR) will all return to Long Beach this season, but the competition will all be vying for their own moment of Long Beach glory.

Leading that charge will be Trans-Am newcomer Klaus Graf. Graf (No. 7 Jaguar R Performance XKR) will be the first German to make a Trans-Am start since Walter Rohrl in 1988. Graf has shown his versatility throughout his career, competing in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and ARCA competition, as well as ALMS, Formula 3, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and Michelin Porsche Supercup.

Tomy Drissi (No. 5 Sahara The Movie Jaguar XKR), who earned his sole Trans-Am victory here in 2000, enters 2005 after his best Trans-Am season on record, and is looking to repeat at Long Beach. Last year, Drissi finished a career-best fourth in the championship. Drissi was buoyed by three second-place finishes in 2004, as well as his first Trans-Am pole.

Randy Ruhlman (No. 49 Preformed Line Products Chevrolet Corvette) also ran his best season on record in 2004, and is primed for his first Trans-Am victory. Finishing a career-best third in the Drivers' Championship, Ruhlman put together a string of three podium finishes, including a runner-up effort after earning his first Trans-Am pole.

Philip Simms returns this year after winning the Rookie of the Year title in 2004. Simms (No. 24 Simms Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette) boasts a long record of success in both Trans-Am Series and GT-1 competition. That experience will certainly pay off at Long Beach.

Meanwhile 2004 BBS Most Improved Driver Joey Scarallo (No. 06 Group A Wheels/Autotrend Chevrolet Corvette) comes to Long Beach with a new team led by veteran Trans-Am driver Tony Ave. Scarallo finished a career best seventh in the title chase last year in just his second season of competition.

Hometown heroes Michael Lewis, from San Diego, and Mike Davis, from Huntington Beach, will also be drivers to watch. Lewis (No. 12 Autocon Engineering Jaguar XKR) and Davis (No. 10 Applied Computer Solutions Ford Mustang) competed on a limited basis last season.

John Baucom (No. 86 MAP Quality Engineering Ford Mustang), Max Lagod (No. 83 Hypermax Engineering Chevrolet Corvette) and rookie Moneca Kolvyn (No. 78 West Coast Hot Rods Chevrolet Monte Carlo) complete a strong field of Trans-Am entries.

Also adding the excitement of Long Beach will be the addition of the GT America Class. The new Class features V8-powered, tube-framed sedans. Eligible makes and models include Pontiac Grand Prix, Dodge Intrepid, Oldsmobile Cutlass, Ford Thunderbird and Taurus and Chevrolet Monte Carlo. The Class will be recognized with its own championship, as well as recognition in each race this season. The addition of the GT America cars turns Trans-Am into a three-class Series, which also includes the featured Trans-Am cars, as well as the GT-1 Driver Development Class. GT America cars last competed with Trans-Am in 1997.

Entries for the GT America class have reached 10 and all hail from California: Woodland Hills' Steve Kelso (No. 9 Kelso Motorsports Chevrolet Monte Carlo), San Ramon's Tom Wickersham (No. 16 Competition Autowerks Chevrolet Monte Carlo), Santa Rosa's Dale Hartman (No. 25 Hartman Racing Oldsmobile Cutlass), Woodside's John Young (No. 44 PecTec Ford Taurus), San Carlos' Stephen Schmalz (No. 54 Performance Fabrication Chevrolet Monte Carlo), Redwood City's Brad Jones (No. 57 JMP, Inc. Pontiac Grand Prix), Pleasanton's Steve Toth (No. 63 Bald Chinan/Stacy's Waterford Pontiac Grand Prix), San Francisco's Tim Barber (No. 98 Riverside Motorsports Park Ford Taurus), and San Jose's Rudy Revak (No. 99 Symmetry Nutritional Ford Taurus).

The Cytomax Challenge, Round 1 of the 2005 Trans-Am Championship and part of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend, is scheduled for April 8-10, 2005. Sunday's race will air on a tape-delayed basis, Sunday, April 17 on SPEED Channel at 1:30 p.m. EDT.

The 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 40th continuous year of competition in 2005.

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Series Trans-Am
Drivers Boris Said , Klaus Graf , Scott Pruett , Tony Ave , Justin Bell , Tomy Drissi , Paul Gentilozzi , Johnny Miller , Randy Ruhlman , Walter Rohrl , Max Lagod , Greg Pickett , Michael Lewis , John Baucom , Philip Simms , Brad Jones , Tim Barber , Mike Davis , Moneca Kolvyn , Steve Kelso , Mark Donohue