Montreal: Race report, champion crowned

KLAUS GRAF WINS AT MONTREAL, CLINCHES TRANS-AM CHAMPIONSHIP MONTREAL, Quebec (Aug. 27, 2005) -- It all came down to the final race of the year, and though Klaus Graf's native tongue is German, he proved he knew a little French as he won...

KLAUS GRAF WINS AT MONTREAL, CLINCHES TRANS-AM CHAMPIONSHIP

MONTREAL, Quebec (Aug. 27, 2005) -- It all came down to the final race of the year, and though Klaus Graf's native tongue is German, he proved he knew a little French as he won Saturday's Trans-Am race, part of the Molson Indy Montreal. Graf (No. 7 Jaguar R Performance XKR) completed his near-perfect season here, clinching the Drivers' Championship, becoming the first German national to do so and the first rookie champion since Dorsey Schroeder in 1989.

Greg Pickett finished second in the No. 6 Cytomax/Muscle Milk Jaguar XKR, earning his sixth consecutive podium and seventh overall this season in eight starts. Randy Ruhlman (No. 49 Preformed Line Products Canada Chevrolet Corvette) recovered from an early spin caused by contact to finish third. Joey Scarallo (No. 06 Cytomax/Toyo Tires Chevrolet Corvette) and John Baucom (No. 86 SoftwareToolbox.com/Eze.com Ford Mustang) completed the top five. Paul Fix (No. 77 Stop Flex/Computer Systems Centre/Pennzoil Ford Mustang) finished first in the GT-1 Class, but Moneca Kolvyn (No. 08 West Coast Hot Rods Chevrolet Monte Carlo) clinched the GT-1 Driver Development Program Championship.

Graf, who took the lead in the race from Paul Gentilozzi on lap 26 of the 37-lap race, also earned the Rookie of the Year Championship and contributed the most points toward Jaguar clinching the Manufacturers' Championship, its fifth. Graf also handed Rocketsports its third consecutive title, and the East Lansing, Mich.-based team's sixth overall. Tomy Drissi (No. 5 Transporter 2 -- The Movie) led the first 10 laps of the race, before losing the point to Gentilozzi in turn 10.

"It's great winning this championship for Jaguar, for Rocketsports and for myself," said Graf, who earned four victories this year, the most of any single driver, and finished on the podium six times. He also earned five Jaguar poles, the most of any driver "It was really hard overcoming the problems we had early in the season. We knew we had the speed, but once we passed halfway through the season, we started to get more comfortable with the reliability. I like these cars a lot. They suit my driving style. We had just the perfect package this year."

"I saw all of the names of the drivers that have won Trans-Am championships," added Graf. "It's unbelievable how many great race car drivers are on that list. It's great to be among them."

Pickett started last on the grid after his car failed post-qualifying inspection, but the 1978 Trans-Am champion drove through the field to net the runner-up effort and hold on to third in final points, his best effort since finishing second in 1984. Pickett also turned the fastest race lap--a record 1:40.120-minute effort--on lap 33. Pickett made history this year with his Edmonton victory, becoming the first driver in Trans-Am history to win a race in each of four decades of competition.

"What a great way to end our season, with another podium finish," said Pickett. "We came here to give Klaus and Randy a good, solid run to the last lap of the season and that's just what we did.

"The car and the engine performed flawlessly today; I got everything out of it I asked for," added Pickett. "It's a true testament to the total package to be able to turn the fastest race lap so late in the race. I'm very proud of my team for giving me a great car at each and every race this year; that's why we're on the podium again today and third in the championship hunt."

Ruhlman's third-place finish allowed him to hold on to second in points, his best finish in the Trans-Am title chase. Ruhlman tangled with another car on lap three and spun. He drove back through the field to net his fourth podium this season. Ruhlman had two victories this year, including his first in Trans-Am competition at Long Beach. He also won after starting last in Cleveland.

"It was bit of a longer day than I had expected," said Ruhlman. "I really meant it yesterday when I said I wanted to stay out of trouble and just see where things went. I didn't think they'd be spinning around in circles. I had my work cut out for me for the rest of the race. The car was competitive, but it started to go off at the end. We had to be content with third, and that was good enough for second overall in the championship. We completed all but one lap this year, and that's a testament to this Derhaag Motorsports team's effort. We gave it our all every race. When it came right down to it, the best man won."

"This year has been very encouraging," added Ruhlman. "We had a great start to the season. We took advantage of the troubles Klaus had early on. Then, we ran into some problems of our own in the stretch. The team is encouraged and the car was fast. I've never been a great qualifier and now I can run in the top two or three consistently. That gives us a lot of hope for the coming year. I can only hope that Klaus returns and keeps the pressure on."

Fix was pleased with his fourth GT-1 win this season. Fix's Mustang suffered an exhaust system failure on the parade lap, and he fought other mechanical ills to win the class.

"It became evident on the pace lap that something was wrong with the exhaust," said Fix. "It had cracked and the muffler started to come off. We pitted early, which put me way back. Needless to say, exhaust fumes were getting to me, as well, so it was a pretty demanding race physically. Then, the fuel pump died with 15 laps to go, so we nursed it around and made it to the end. Our season went well. The GT-1 program gave me a chance to shine within the Trans-Am Series and to entice future sponsorship for next year. The heightened exposure helped and our plan worked."

Kolvyn, who won the GT-1 title in her rookie season, earned one GT-1 Class victory this season, at San Jose. She made eight starts this season.

"I think Trans-Am did an incredible job this year with the GT-1 Driver Development Program," said Kolvyn. "The program was very successful. We really are club racers trying to make the next step. We certainly appreciate everyone's help this year. We made a lot of good contacts and we have a test this winter in another team's car. Although our numbers don't show it, we have proved that we have the ability to stick to it regardless of what happens."

The race ran in an inaugural event record one hour, 10 minutes and 6.574 seconds at an average speed of 85.780 miles per hour. The caution flag waved three times for nine laps. The race will air on Saturday, Sept. 18 at 1 p.m. EDT on SPEED Channel.

-transam

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