Mid-Ohio: Event preview

Gentilozzi looks to continue Buckeye State success as Trans-Am Series visits Mid-Ohio. CLEARWATER, Fla. (June 25, 2002) -- There typically isn't a lot of love lost between inhabitants of Michigan and the state of Ohio, particularly when it comes...

Gentilozzi looks to continue Buckeye State success as Trans-Am Series visits Mid-Ohio.

CLEARWATER, Fla. (June 25, 2002) -- There typically isn't a lot of love lost between inhabitants of Michigan and the state of Ohio, particularly when it comes to athletic pursuits.

But one could hardly blame Lansing resident Paul Gentilozzi for being the exception to that rule.

Gentilozzi, the three-time and defending Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup champion, has displayed a real fondness for competing in Ohio, judging from his recent run of success in the Buckeye state. He and his Trans-Am Series rivals return to Ohio for the next two rounds of the 2002 championship, beginning with Saturday's Trans-Am Buckeye 100 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington.

The Buckeye 100, Round 4 of the championship, will be the first of three consecutive Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup events to be televised nationally by CBS Sports. Air time for Saturday's same-day, tape-delayed telecast will be 4 p.m. ET.

Gentilozzi (#3 Johnson Controls/Microchip/MatrixOne/Futaba Jaguar XKR) has claimed pole positions and subsequent race victories at each of the past five Trans-Am Series events contested in Ohio, including the past three at Mid-Ohio. In each of those instances -- 1998, '99 and 2001 -- he went on to win the BFGoodrich Tires Cup, emblematic of the Trans-Am Series driving championship.

"I think part of the reason I've enjoyed so much success at Mid-Ohio is because I've developed such an affection for it," Gentilozzi says. "I drove my first-ever road race here and right from the start, [late Mid-Ohio owner] Jim Trueman had always been so kind and generous to me. It made me feel special. "The other part is that the track is incredibly technical, which absolutely fits my driving style and the Rocketsports cars," Gentilozzi added. "It requires more than just a 'stab and steer' style. As a driver, you've got to be able to put a whole lap together...flawlessly.

"Mid-Ohio is absolutely my favorite track and I think that's also played a part over the years. It's like coming home or visiting an old friend. I'm just very comfortable here."

Gentilozzi also owns consecutive wins from the pole at Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport, where Round 5 of the championship will be contested on Saturday, July 13. The Ohio portion of the Trans-Am schedule comes along at an opportune time for Gentilozzi, who stands third in the BFGoodrich Tires Cup standings following three of 12 rounds in the 2002 title chase.

With 73 points, Gentilozzi is 21 behind championship leader Boris Said (#33 Applied Computer Solutions Panoz Esperante), who leads the Trans-Am Series with 94 points. Said has put together a spectacular start to the season, with a runner-up finish to Gentilozzi in a thrilling season opener at Long Beach, followed by back-to-back victories in Rounds 2 and 3 at Mosport and Lime Rock, respectively.

Said has made two career Trans-Am Series starts at Mid-Ohio, with a best finish of third last year. His only other start on the 2.25-mile, 13-turn road course came in 1994, when he finished seventh.

Second place in the Trans-Am Series standings is currently being held down by Gentilozzi's Rocketsports Racing teammate, Johnny Miller (#64 Automation Direct/Eaton/Cutler Hammer Jaguar XKR), who stands just a point clear of Gentilozzi, at 74. Miller, whose 15 consecutive top-10 finishes are the longest active streak in the series, owns a best finish of fourth in five career starts at Mid-Ohio, in 1998.

Justin Bell (#40 Allied Machine and Engineering/XtremeLens Chevrolet Corvette), the 2001 AmeriSuites Rookie of the Year, will be looking for his first victory of the 2002 season to improve on his fourth-place position in the championship standings. Bell, who comes to Mid-Ohio with 62 championship points, logged an impressive runner-up finish to Gentilozzi in his Mid-Ohio debut last year, part of a run of four podium finishes in his final five starts, including back-to-back victories at Laguna Seca and Houston.

Other contenders for victory at Mid-Ohio include Michael Lewis (#12 AmeriSuites Jaguar XKR), Randy Ruhlman (#49 Preformed Line Products Chevrolet Corvette), Tomy Drissi (#5 Rocketsports Racing Jaguar XKR), Stu Hayner (#02 Trenton Forging/Tom Bell Chevrolet/Precision Anodizing and Plating Chevrolet Corvette), Tony Ave (#53 LAC Motorsports Panoz Esperante) and Butch Leitzinger (#88 Tommy Bahama/Tom Gloy Chevrolet Corvette).

Hayner travels to Mid-Ohio after earning his first career Trans-Am pole position at Lime Rock, where Ave and Leitzinger posted career-best finishes of second and third, respectively.

The entry list for the Trans-Am Buckeye 100 includes 27 drivers, a season high for the Trans-Am Series. The previous season high of 22 entries was established at Mosport last month.

Following the Trans-Am Buckeye 100, the Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Cup travels to Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland for Round 5 on Saturday, July 13. The race will be nationally televised by CBS Sports, beginning at 5 p.m.

-scca pro racing-

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About this article
Series Trans-Am
Drivers Butch Leitzinger , Boris Said , Tony Ave , Justin Bell , Tomy Drissi , Paul Gentilozzi , Johnny Miller , Randy Ruhlman , Michael Lewis , Tom Gloy