SIMO SCORES BREAKTHROUGH NTB TRANS-AM WIN AT PIKES PEAK INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY; GENTILOZZI CLINCHES DRIVERS' CHAMPIONSHIP; NEVILLE EARNS ROOKIE HONORS
FOUNTAIN, Colo. (September 27, 1998) -- Three times this season Brian Simo has finished as runner-up, but in his 60th career start he posted a dominant performance, leading flag-to-flag to score his first NTB Trans-Am Series victory in the Children's Hospital Grand Prix of Colorado at Pikes Peak International Raceway.
Simo, driving the No. 2 Valvoline Ford Mustang Cobra, started the 73-lap, 97.82-mile race from the pole and never looked back, fronting every lap to top the 31-car field with a 2.485-second margin of victory, while second-place starter Ross Thompson, in the No. 92 i-Dream Software Mustang Cobra, finished second and Leighton Reese, in the No. 66 Phillips 66/Banner Engineering Pontiac Grand Prix, finished third from his 10th-place start.
"We had a great race car and the guys on the crew did a great job today," said Simo. "I'd like to think I've got the monkey off my back now with this win, and hopefully this is the sign of good things to come for the Valvoline team."
Finishing seventh in the No. 3 AutoLink Chevrolet Corvette, was Paul Gentilozzi, who clinched the NTB Trans-Am Series Drivers' Championship, while fourth-place finisher Chris Neville clinched the Rookie-of-the-Year title.
"I didn't win the championship, the 16 people that work at Rocketsports earned this title," said Gentilozzi. "We came to this weekend determined to win the title, and we drove a conservative race to earn the championship."
As Simo cruised to the victory, Thompson, Reese, Neville and Stu Hayner battled for the remaining podium positions, with Hayner and Thompson twice swapping the runner-up spot on laps 22 and 23. Hayner's charge was cut short, however, when his engine developed a mis-fire, and he slowly fell back through the field to his eighth-place finish.
With Hayner out of the battle, Thompson held comfortably on to second and the chase was now for third, as Neville, in the No. 40 ARCO Chevrolet Camaro, and Reese mounted a late-race challenge for the final podium position. Reese struck on lap 24 and defended against repeated challenges from Neville for the remainder of the race, holding onto the third spot to the finish, followed by Neville while Randy Ruhlman finished fifth in the No. 49 Preformed Line Products Mustang Cobra.
"A year ago today I was just hoping to have a chance to race in the Trans-Am," said Neville. "Our main goal coming into this season was to win Rookie-of-the-Year, and we had some really tough competition with Ross (Thompson) and Bruce (Qvale). I have to give the credit to the team -- they've been great all season."
Simo's drive earned him the DynoMax Turn On The Power Award and also advanced him from fifth to third in the Drivers' Championship standings (260 points) with one race remaining, two points behind Neville (262) and 53 behind Gentilozzi (313). Bill Saunders is fourth with 255 points, followed by John Miller IV, 243; Thompson, 216; Qvale, 203; Reese, 188; Ruhlman, 178; and Michael Lewis, 174.
The NTB Trans-Am Season finale is October 3 during the Texaco Houston Grand Prix in Houston, Texas.