Puerto Rico: Race report

Wall Castro grabs one for the home heam; local racer wins Puerto Rico Grand Prix SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- There were many pundits who didn't expect Puerto Rican racing legend Wally Castro to have a chance at victory during Sunday's Puerto Rico...

Wall Castro grabs one for the home heam; local racer wins Puerto Rico Grand Prix

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- There were many pundits who didn't expect Puerto Rican racing legend Wally Castro to have a chance at victory during Sunday's Puerto Rico Grand Prix. Fortunately for Castro, no one told him that. Castro, driving the No. 3 Puerto Rico Lottery Jaguar XKR, came from behind after mid-race pit stop, during the season finale for the Motorock Trans-Am Tour for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup, took the lead from Bobby Sak on a late restart, and led the final four laps for his first Trans-Am victory in just his second start.

Sak finished second in the No. 10 Revolution Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette, ahead of Tomy Drissi, who posted his first podium finish this year in the No. 5 Stuck on You Jaguar XKR. Dominican rookie driver Luis Mendez was fourth in the No. 03 Manen Racing.Banservas.Dom.Rep Chevrolet Camaro, and Bob Ruman turned in his best effort this season of fifth in the No. 23 McNichols/Cenweld Chevrolet Corvette.

Jorge Diaz, Jr., who finished 12th in the No. 8 Don Q Rum Jaguar XKR, clinched the Rookie of the Year title. Diaz finished just 11 points ahead of Sak.

Castro, who started fifth, ran in the top 10 during most of the 55-lap race, but pitted for tires on lap 31 under caution. He received a drive-through penalty after exiting the pits on lap 34 for an unmanned-pit-equipment violation, which left him 13th. Then, Castro became a man possessed, cracking the top 10 on lap 40, and taking third from Michael Lewis (No. 12 Westward Tools Available at Grainger Jaguar XKR) on lap 48 to set up the winning pass. Castro said one of the keys to him winning his first Trans-Am event, was taking four new BFGoodrich g-Force T/A tires on his pit stop.

"For us it was a super race," said Castro, who finished 10th after an axle failure in his previous Trans-Am start, in St. Petersburg in 1996. "My team here in Puerto Rico, joined with the Rocketsports team, and that was great. We came in, we took new tires and that was the key to winning.

"We came back after the black flag, but at that moment I was worried," added Castro, who currently leads the points in the Puerto Rican GTS Series, which uses similar rules to the Trans-Am Series. "The car was so good, and the tires held. The car really came back to me and we were passing people. The brakes were great and the tires really held."

Sak, who started second, took the lead from Pruett on a lap-15 restart. Pruett took the lead back on lap 28, but Sak inherited the point on lap 50 when Pruett pitted with two sheared right-rear hub drive pins. However, as Sak crossed the stripe on the restart, Castro motored to the inside and took the lead for good.

"Revolution Motorsports has given me a great car all year," said Sak. "We are working with older equipment. My car was built in 1994. These guys worked their tails off all year long, and I think it showed since we have finished on the podium in two straight races.

"I knew I was going to have to manage the car from the start," added Sak. "It was loose from the beginning. We knew we didn't have anything for Scott, until that last restart. He got away on the first restart, but on the second, I got a great run down the straightaway and took the lead."

Drissi hit a tire wall early in the contest. He pitted, his team replaced a damaged rear decklid on his machine, and changed four tires. He pitted again under the race's fourth caution, and again changed four tires. He drove back through the field, and brought a significantly damaged machine home for his first podium this season.

"I lost a little bit of concentration," said Drissi. "We had a little problem with the brakes off of the line. Thankfully, I caused my own yellow. We changed the deck and we changed the tires. Then we changed tires again on that fourth yellow. The guys were just so great today. I was focused on so many things before the race, that I didn't get the car to brake better."

Pruett, who finished 13th, won the BFGoodrich Tires "Take Control Award" for leading the most laps. Because he was unable to win the race, the Flowmaster American Thunder Challenge Award, worth $2,000, will be rolled into the season-ending points fund. Pruett also won the Jaguar Pole Award on Saturday.

Sak, Lewis, Castro, Drissi, and Mendez each earned one bonus point for being within five seconds of leader Pruett on the Fast Five Lap, lap eight here. The timed race ran in one hour, 15 minutes and 45 seconds at an average speed of 69.667 miles per hour. The race was slowed six times by the caution flag for 14 laps.

Notebook: n With his 29th career pole here, Scott Pruett (No. 7 Motorock/Jaguar R Performance XKR) took sole possession of second on the all-time Trans-Am pole list. Pruett came into this race tied for second with team owner Paul Gentilozzi with 28 pole positions.

Pruett also gave Jaguar's new four-valve, overhead-cam, fuel-injected AJ-V8 its first pole. Pruett is running the new four-valve, overhead-cam, fuel-injected stock-block engine for the first time in race trim this weekend.

"It's been a challenging weekend," said Pruett. "Yesterday we cracked an oil pan. You have to realize all of the work that goes into these engines. Many of the parts are hand fabricated, and the oil pan was one of those parts. We had to change engines, and couldn't get out in the second practice yesterday. But everyone dug in deep, and we put the Jaguar on the pole, and gave the AJ-V8 engine its first pole.

"It's actually very special to win the pole with the new engine," said Pruett. "It's also special to win it in Puerto Rico. I was trying to get out of the pit area and there were so many people there, I couldn't move and that's great. Some events, we don't have that many spectators. This is going to be one heck of a show

n Jorge Diaz, Jr. (No. 8 Don Q Rum Jaguar XKR) nearly missed Sunday's race. In fact, the newly crowned Rookie of the Year arrived at his car just after the "Gentleman Start Your Engines Command" was given. He strapped in and just made the start, but failed to hook up his cool suit. That error proved costly, as he suffered the effects of the high heat, and was forced to pit while in third on lap 23, after he started last. He was helped from the car and his crew dumped ice water down the back of his firesuit, and placed him back in the car. Diaz finished 12th, the first car one lap down, but still clinched the Rookie of the Year Championship.

n Joey Scarallo (No. 06 ROH Wheels Chevrolet Corvette) suffered a catastrophic engine failure during qualifying yesterday. The rookie driver elected to scratch from today's race.

"We had some trouble in first practice with the battery and the alternator," said Scarallo's father and crew chief Joe. "Then we had a radiator hose come off in the second practice. We were really getting faster, and thought we could have qualified at least 10th, but then the engine let go."

n Johnny Miller didn't come to Puerto Rico to race, but the regular driver of the No. 64 Eaton Cutler-Hammer Jaguar XKR didn't leave the Island of Enchantment empty handed. One of two keys that Miller earned for winning two Jaguar Pole Awards this season opened the door to a 2003 Jaguar XK8 convertible, earning Miller a one-year lease on the sleek red sports car.

The Jaguar Pole Award is a performance-based initiative that rewards drivers who win the pole at each of the Trans-Am Series' events this season. Polesitters received a key--regardless of what type of car they race--which, at the culmination of the season, they used to attempt to open the door to a 2004 Jaguar XK8, during a formal ceremony. The driver whose key opens the vehicle will win a one-year lease on the car.

Miller beat out 2003 Drivers' Champion Pruett for the honor in a ceremony held just after qualifying at the Puerto Rico Grand Prix. Pruett's first key didn't open the door, but Miller's key worked on his first try. Interestingly, Pruett, who had won eight poles this year (and started on the pole in Denver after qualifying was set by practice times), had a four-to-one advantage on Miller, as he had eight keys.

"It's hard not being able to race this weekend, but this helps," said Miller with a laugh. "I cannot believe it opened the car. I have to say this is a pleasant turn of events. I can't believe it, and that's just being honest.

n Sunday's winner Wally Castro (No. 3 Puerto Rico Lottery Jaguar XKR), a regular in GTS competition in Puerto Rico and the rest of the Caribbean, admitted it's taken him some time to get up to speed with BFGoodrich Tires' spec g-Force T/A radial. Castro usually competes on bias-ply tires from another manufacturer.

"Once the (BFGoodrich Tires) radial tire gets grip, it keeps that grip," said Castro. "With the bias-ply tires I usually run here in Puerto Rico, you have one or two hot laps and that's it. With the bias-ply tires, you will have quick times for two or three laps. After two laps with the BFGoodrich radial tires, it just gets more and more grip."

Castro said he has also fought slick track conditions. As with many new, temporary circuits, the early sessions were plagued by lack of grip.

"Our first practice, it was OK," said Castro. "We were just trying to get a feel for the car, the tire, and the differences between my car and this one. The second session was much better. We changed gearing, and we put on a new set of tires. Those new tires gripped very well. The car was slippery, but that was due to the condition of the track. It was covered in dust and sand. During the early laps, you would go loose and it was due to all of the dirt on the track.

"We're really looking for grip, and get more confident with the track."

Local flavor was in force here this weekend. Castro, along with fellow Puerto Rican drivers Jorge Diaz, Jr. (No. 8 Don Q Rum Jaguar XKR), Edison Lluch (No. 72 Don Q Rum Chevrolet Corvette), Felix Serralles (No. 88 Don Q Rum Jaguar XKR), Axel Rivera (No. 22 ICEE Ford Mustang), Juan Vento (No. 38 Interstate Batteries Oldsmobile Cutlass), and Dominican hotshoe Luis Mendez (No. 03 Banreservas.Dom.Rep Chevrolet Camaro all took part in the Puerto Rico Grand Prix.

-ta-

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