Long Beach: Season opener preview

Curtain comes up on 37th Trans-Am season in Johnson Controls 100 at Long Beach. CLEARWATER, Fla. (April 8, 2002) -- Thanks to an established group of returnees and a number of talented newcomers, the 2002 Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires...

Curtain comes up on 37th Trans-Am season in Johnson Controls 100 at Long Beach.

CLEARWATER, Fla. (April 8, 2002) -- Thanks to an established group of returnees and a number of talented newcomers, the 2002 Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup is shaping up as one of the most competitive in series history.

The Trans-Am Series, the longest-running road racing series in North America, launches its 37th campaign this weekend with the Johnson Controls 100 on the streets of Long Beach, Calif. Defending race champion Lou Gigliotti and defending series champion Paul Gentilozzi are among those expected to take the green flag at 3:45 p.m. Sunday for the first of 12 rounds in the 2002 Trans-Am championship.

This will mark the Trans-Am Series' 11th appearance on the streets of Long Beach, dating to 1987. Gentilozzi (#3 Rocketsports Racing Johnson Controls Jaguar XKR) is a three-time winner (1988, '98, '99) and the defending polesitter at the venue, and the veteran Michigan native is seeking a share of Trans-Am history as he enters his 16th season in the series.

Gentilozzi's 2001 championship was the third of his career, joining titles he earned in 1998 and '99. Only Mark Donohue and Tom Kendall -- who leads all-drivers with four championships -- have won as many, and Gentilozzi enters the 2002 campaign as the Trans-Am's all-time leader in starts (173), earnings ($1,584,247), podium finishes (55), top-five finishes (86) and top-10 finishes (114). He stands second to Kendall (39) with 27 career pole positions and third to Donohue (29) and Kendall (26) with 23 race victories.

Gigliotti (#28 LG Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette), by contrast, owns only two career Trans-Am triumphs, but one of them came at Long Beach last year. He's one of three former Long Beach winners on this weekend's entry list, joined by Gentilozzi and Tomy Drissi (#5 Rocketsports Racing Jaguar XKR), who won here in 2000.

Gentilozzi built his 2001 Trans-Am championship on a series-leading four victories, seven pole positions and six fast race laps. By the end of the season, however, the hottest driver in the Trans-Am Series was rookie Justin Bell (#40 Derhaag Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette), who won the season's final two events at Laguna Seca and Houston en route to a fifth-place finish in the championship and the AmeriSuites Rookie of the Year Award.

Bell, son of sports car racing legend Derek Bell, finished second at Mid-Ohio and third at Portland, giving him podium finishes in four of the season's final five events. He finished sixth in his inaugural Trans-Am appearance at Long Beach last year.

Brian Simo (#7 Huffaker RaceWerX Jaguar XKR), the 2000 Trans-Am Series champion, will launch a new effort with the newly formed Huffaker RaceWerX team, an alliance between longtime Trans-Am participants Joe Huffaker and Bruce Barkelew. Simo finished second in the 2001 championship during a season highlighted by a victory at Sears Point.

Johnny Miller (#49 Rocketsports Racing Automation Direct/Eaton/Cutler-Hammer Jaguar XKR) returns to Rocketsports Racing following a season in which he finished a strong third in the championship. Miller was the most consistent driver in the Trans-Am Series last year, posting top-10 finishes in all 11 starts and becoming the only driver to complete all 486 race laps contested during the campaign.

Michael Lewis (#12 American Spirit Racing/Autocon Motorsports AmeriSuites Jaguar XKR) and Boris Said (ACS Express Applied Computer Solutions Ford Mustang) are expected to be strong contenders for victory at Long Beach following 2001 seasons in which each visited the Winner's Circle -- Lewis at Road America and Said at Sebring.

A pair of newcomers who are expected to make an immediate impact on the Trans-Am championship are Butch Leitzinger (#88 Tom Gloy Racing Tommy Bahama Chevrolet Corvette) and Tony Ave (#53 LAC Motorsports Panoz Esperante). Leitzinger is a former winner in Can-Am, World Sports Car and IMSA competition and a three-time winner of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Despite his relatively tender 30 years, Ave brings a wealth of motorsports experience to his new ride, having competed in SCCA Sports 2000, IMSA GTS, USAC sprint cars and CART Toyota Atlantic events, to name but a few. He won the 1992 Oldsmobile Pro Series championship.

The Johnson Controls 100 will also see the return of Trans-Am standout Greg Pickett to the starting grid for the first time since the 1997 season finale at Reno. Pickett (Pickett Racing CytoSport-Product CytoMax Ford Mustang), who made his first Trans-Am start in 1975 at Road America, owns 15 career victories, and is ranked among the Trans-Am's career leaders in starts (second, 153), pole positions (sixth, 19), top-three finishes (third, 47), top-five finishes (second, 74) and top-10 finishes (second, 107). His career-best finish at Long Beach is sixth, in 1993 and '96.

Practice for the Johnson Controls 100 begins 4:15 p.m. PT on Friday, April 12. A second practice session is scheduled for 8 a.m. Saturday, with qualifying scheduled for Saturday at 4:15 p.m. PT. The Johnson Controls 100 takes the green flag at 3:45 p.m. PT Sunday for 51 laps (100.368 miles) on the 1.97-mile Long Beach street circuit.

Following the Johnson Controls 100, the Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup travels to Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada, for Round 2, May 17-19 at Mosport Park.

FAST FACTS FOR THE JOHNSON CONTROLS 100

WHAT: Johnson Controls 100.
WHERE: Streets of Long Beach, Calif.
WHEN: Friday-Sunday, April 12-14.

TRANS-AM SERIES FOR THE BFGOODRICH TIRES CUP SCHEDULE (All Times PDT):

FRIDAY, APRIL 12
Trans-Am practice, 4:15-5:15 p.m.

SATURDAY, APRIL 13
Trans-Am practice, 8-8:40 a.m.
Trans-Am Fast Five qualifying, 4:15-5 p.m.

SUNDAY, APRIL 14
Johnson Controls 100, 3:45-4:55 p.m.

BROADCAST: SPEED Channel, Saturday, April 20, 5 p.m. (tape delay).

DEFENDING CHAMPION: Lou Gigliotti.
DEFENDING POLESITTER: Paul Gentilozzi.

TRACK LAYOUT: 1.97-mile temporary street circuit.
RACE DISTANCE: 51 laps (100.368 miles).

TRACK RECORDS:

Qualifying (one lap) -- 1999, Chris Neville, 88.267 mph (1minute, 14.392 seconds).

Race -- 2001, Lou Gigliotti, 85.295 mph.
Race Lap -- 1999, Paul Gentilozzi, 87.143 mph (1 minute, 15.352 seconds).

RACE NUMBER: 1 of 12 in the Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup.
NEXT EVENT: Friday-Sunday, May 17-19, Mosport Park, Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada.

* The BFGoodrich Tires Cup is a specially-built award to recognize the Trans-Am Series Driver's Champion. Inaugurated in 1999, the BFGoodrich Tires Cup was developed by graphic-design and trophy artist Stephen France. The BFGoodrich Tires Cup measures nearly two-feet high and weighs 50 pounds. In addition to designing the BFGoodrich Tires Cup, France created the Indianapolis 500 PPG Pole Award and the Brickyard 400 Trophy for the Indianapolis Winston Cup race.

* Paul Gentilozzi (#3 Rocketsports Racing Johnson Controls Jaguar XKR) has driven to victory the last two times the Trans-Am season has opened at Long Beach, in 1998 and '99. Gentilozzi went on to claim the Trans-Am drivers' championship in each of those seasons.

* Justin Bell (#40 Derhaag Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette) comes to Long Beach on a two-race winning streak, having driven to back-to-back victories in the final two events of the 2001 season, at Laguna Seca and Houston, respectively. Bell, the 2001 AmeriSuites Rookie of the Year, will be looking to accomplish a rare feat with a victory in the Johnson Controls 100. The only driver in Trans-Am history to win both a season finale and the opening event of the following season was George Follmer, who won the final event of 1971 at Riverside, then captured the 1972 season opener at Lime Rock.

* Lou Gigliotti's (#28 LG Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette) 0.808-second margin of victory over Johnny Miller (#64 Rocketsports Racing Automation Direct/Eaton/Cutler-Hammer Jaguar XKR) in the 2001 Johnson Controls 100 at Long Beach was the closest in 10 previous Trans-Am events at the venue. Gigliotti also equaled a Long Beach Trans-Am mark when he won from the seventh starting position, tying Jamie Galles, who established that mark in 1996. It was the fourth-deepest starting position from which any Trans-Am competitor has driven to victory on a road or street course, topped only by Tom Kendall (eighth, 1990, Trois-Rivieres), George Robinson (eighth, 1991, Des Moines) and Hurley Haywood (10th, 1988, Detroit).

* Trans-Am competitors are always looking for more grip at Long Beach because the course tends to be slippery due to the race being held on Sunday afternoon after the CART race. Therefore, BFGoodrichâ Tires engineers attempt to accommodate drivers with a variety of different options. "At Long Beach, we are recommending (24 psi hot) as opposed to the standard (26 psi hot) on the rear tires to help drivers put the power down," said lead engineer Gary Blalock. "Lower pressure increases the contact patch of the tires and, as a result, increases the car's mechanical grip-allowing for more efficient launch off the corners. We are also working with each team to develop a heat cycling strategy. Because drivers brake so hard going into the corners, they have a propensity to flat-spot the tires in cold conditions. We want to make sure that we eliminate that issue as much as we can."

* BFGoodrich® Tires will celebrate its 50th race as the spec tire of Trans-Am this weekend in Long Beach. Since becoming the series spec tire in 1998, more than 12,250 BFGoodrich Tires have been tortured on the race courses of North America.

-scca pro racing/trans am-

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About this article
Series Trans-Am
Drivers Butch Leitzinger , Boris Said , Brian Simo , Tony Ave , Justin Bell , Tomy Drissi , Paul Gentilozzi , George Follmer , Johnny Miller , Hurley Haywood , George Robinson , Tom Kendall , Lou Gigliotti , Greg Pickett , Michael Lewis , Derek Bell , Tom Gloy , Mark Donohue
Teams LG Motorsports