Sears Point: Round five preview

SONOMA, Calif. -- The Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich® Tires Cup is a racing series steeped in tradition; a tradition that began in 1968...as is NASCAR, which has sanctioned stock car racing since 1949. On Sunday, June 22, to the delight of ...

SONOMA, Calif. -- The Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich® Tires Cup is a racing series steeped in tradition; a tradition that began in 1968...as is NASCAR, which has sanctioned stock car racing since 1949. On Sunday, June 22, to the delight of racers and fans alike, the two will unite at Infineon Raceway, and the sparks are certain to fly.

This year's race, Round 5 of the Trans-Am Series championship, marks the mid-point of an exceptionally competitive season. Johnny Miller and two-time Trans-Am Series champion Scott Pruett are currently embroiled in a tight battle for the Driver's Championship. Although Miller, driver of the No. 64 Eaton Cutler-Hammer Jaguar XKR, earned his second career victory in Round 4 at Lime Rock Park, taking a two-point lead in the title chase, his first championship is still very much up in the air. The Infineon round could well mark the turning point for the season.

"I want every point possible--the pole, most laps led, and the victory--to help claim my first Drivers' Championship," said Miller, who has finished on the podium in every race this season. "I have been consistent so far this season, finishing on the podium and qualifying well in all four races. The only better scenario I could ask for would be to lead by a much larger margin than just two points. I just have to drive mistake-free and let the other guys make the mistakes so I can build on this lead. Coming in with the points lead really gives me a lot of confidence.

"I like Infineon," he added. "When you're with a good team, you like every track you go to. It's a very three-dimensional and technical track. The hills add a lot to it and it's also pretty fast. I like that we're running the same course as the Winston Cup guys so it will be good for the fans.

"We struggled at the beginning of the year and Scott got away from us," continued Miller. "We changed our program a little bit and now we're closer."

Meanwhile, Pruett, who finished 12th at Lime Rock, hopes to take back the top rung of the championship ladder. Pruett's victories in Round 1 at St. Petersburg and Round 3 Mosport bookend a runner-up finish at Long Beach.

"We have a battle on our hands," said Pruett, who won the Trans-Am Series drivers' title in 1987 and 1994. "This is going to be one of the toughest championship battles this Series has ever seen. Everybody has their work cut out for them. No driver has an advantage over another, which is why the Trans-Am Series is so popular.

"I'm looking forward to it, and am looking forward to doing double duty there," said Pruett, who also plans to compete in the Winston Cup race for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. "It's right in my backyard. I grew up at that track. I've driven almost everything with wheels there over the years--from go-karts to IMSA racers to Trans-Am Series cars and Winston Cup. It's been interesting to see the transformation of that track since Bruton Smith has taken ownership. The amount of dirt they've moved and what they've done to the facility has been spectacular.

"I have a lot of friends and family coming down for the race," concluded Pruett. "I just like the place. It's a fun place to drive. It has uphill and downhill sections and some off-camber corners; it's a very technical track."

The Trans-Am Series, America's oldest continuously running road racing series, has its own history at Infineon Raceway (formerly Sears Point Raceway); one that spans 17 races from 1969-2001. In fact, the Trans-Am Series has been here from the beginning (the track was constructed in 1968), when the legendary late Mark Donohue won the inaugural race here in 1969, one of six straight, en route to winning one of his two championships.

Interestingly, California natives have often seen success at the 10-turn permanent road course and this year's California contingent will certainly be strong.

Leading the charge will be ACS Express Racing teammates Boris Said and Mike Davis. Said, driver of the No. 33 ACS/GE Access/Sun Microsystems Ford Mustang, like Pruett is also doing double duty, driving the No. 01 Army Pontiac Grand Prix in the Winston Cup race. Said has two Trans-Am Series starts at Infineon, and his best finish of third came in 2001. Said, the defending Trans-Am Series champion, has one victory this season, at Long Beach, and finished second at the season opener in St. Petersburg.

Davis, driver of the No. 11 ACS/GE Access/Sun Microsystems Ford Mustang, has one start at Infineon, also in 2001.

Former Champ Car World Series driver and Northern California native Memo Gidley will drive the No. 3 Jaguar XKR normally wheeled by Paul Gentilozzi. Gidley will receive backing from Ace Hardware. Gidley, who grew up in nearby San Raphael, Calif., is making his Trans-Am Series debut this weekend.

"To race at Infineon Raceway is great because it's less than 10 minutes from where I live and grew up," said Gidley, who got his start in racing at the Jim Russell Driving School at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. "It's also the area where I made a name for myself in racing. So many of my friends who have never seen a car race with me driving will be at this one.

"Not only am I local, but so are the Ace Hardware stores that are sponsoring my effort to win this race," he added. "The owners of the stores are pumped to be a part of my effort. All of this, combined with the fact that I will be racing with Rocketsports Racing, which is one of the best teams in the business, makes me really excited. It would be great to turn this into an opportunity to race the Jaguar in more Trans-Am Series races down the road. Plus, now that I have fenders, who knows what kind of excitement you will see?"

1978 Drivers' Champion Greg Pickett of Alamo, Calif. is attempting to become the first driver to win a race in each of his four decades as a Trans-Am Series driver. Pickett, who drives the No. 6 Cytomax Exercise and Recovery Drink Jaguar XKR, won a pair of Trans-Am Series races at Infineon in 1984.

"For many years, the Trans-Am Series visited Infineon twice per year: in the spring and in the fall," said Pickett, who also won in his Infineon Trans-Am Series debut in 1978. "I was lucky that in 1984, driving for Jack Roush in his first year in the Trans-Am Series, to win both races in a Mercury Capri. The last time I was here was in 1995, and I finished fifth. I have 11 total starts at Infineon, which isn't many, but I have six podiums and three wins in those starts."

Pickett said this year's field is the most competitive on record.

"Knowing what the level of competition has been for years--through the Wally Dallenbach years, to Jack Roush, Scott Pruett, Darin Brassfield, DeAtley Racing, and Tommy Kendall--it's never been more competitive at the top than it is now," said Pickett. "There are honestly six or seven cars capable of winning.

Pickett added that Infineon is one of the best venues at which the Trans-Am Series competes.

"The facility is absolutely world class at Infineon," said Pickett. "We're looking forward to showcasing our cars in front of the west coast NASCAR fans. I think they'll be delighted. I really urge those fans to stay put, let the traffic die down and watch our race. They'll find it to be a wonderful event. It will be just like the people that hang around after the Champ Car race at Long Beach. They always come up and tell us it's one of the best races of the weekend.

"Infineon has a way of having good, close racing with a lot of fender-to-fender battles," he added. "There are some great passing places. Old turn seven offers a great passing opportunity and down through the esses is always bumper to bumper. Visually, you sit in the grandstands or on the hill adjacent to the esses, and you have almost a 100% unobstructed view of the race track. This has made it much more enjoyable for the fans. Northern California loves auto racing. Combine that with the sightseeing in the wine country and it makes for just an unbeatable venue."

Pruett, who grew up in Roseville, Calif., won here in 1987 on his way to one of his two Series championships, but has a score to settle at Infineon. Pruett last competed in the Winston Cup ranks here in 2000, and is ready to show his former NASCAR brethren how it's done. The driver of the No. 7 Jaguar R Performance XKR claims his career has come "full circle" and he is now racing "just to race." That attitude, combined with the veteran's competitive spirit certainly makes him one of the favorites here.

Another Californian, Stu Hayner finished fourth at Lime Rock and currently sits fourth in points. Hayner, driver of the No. 2 Trenton Forging/GMAC Commercial Finance Chevrolet Corvette, has been on a tear this season and looks to continue his string of success. Hayner has one Infineon start to his credit, in 2001.

San Diego local Michael Lewis looks to build on his best finish this season. The driver of the No. 12 Westward Tools Jaguar XKR finished second at Mosport, and hopes to break through for his first victory this year. Lewis finished sixth in his only start here in 2001.

Finally, Auburn, Calif.-based Margraf Racing is bringing a trio of cars to Infineon. Veteran open-wheel team owner Bill Margraf will enter two Qvale Mangustas and a Ford Mustang in the race. Trans-Am Series veteran Rick Lee will team with former open wheel racers George Nolte, of Newcastle, Calif., and Marvin Jones. Lee and Jones will pilot the two Mangustas, while Nolte will drive the Mustang. The team plans to run several races this season in hopes of competing for the championship next year.

But don't count out Hollywood native and 2000 BBS Most Improved Driver Tomy Drissi. Drissi, who finished 10th in his sole Infineon start, owns a motion picture advertising agency. Drissi drives the No. 5 League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Movie Jaguar XKR.

Randy Ruhlman, driver of the No. 49 Preformed Line Products/COYOTE Closures Chevrolet Corvette, lived in Southern California for several years. He has four Infineon starts, with a best finish of sixth coming in 1992.

These seasoned veterans will also have some stiff competition from this year's rookie crop. Rookie points leader Jorge Diaz, Jr. (No. 8 Puerto Rico Grand Prix Jaguar XKR) finished third at Lime Rock, while fellow rookie Bobby Sak (No. 2 Revolution Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette) was second, marking both young drivers' best career finishes. Joey Scarallo (No. 06 ROH Wheels Chevrolet Corvette) rounds out an already impressive rookie class. All three are hungry for their first victory, and winning at Infineon would be a fitting boost to their young Trans-Am Series careers.

Drivers Simon Gregg, John Baucom, and New Zealander Kane Scott complete an already competitive entry list.

The Trans-Am 100, part of Infineon Raceway's NASCAR weekend, is scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 22, following the Winston Cup Series race. The race will air, on tape-delayed basis, on the SPEED Channel, on Friday, June 27 at 8 p.m.

Fast Facts:

What: The Trans-Am 100 Round 5 of the Trans-Am Series for the 2003 BFGoodrich® Tires Cup Championship

When:    Friday, Saturday and Sunday, June 20, 22, and 23, 2003

Race Day: Sunday, June 22, at approximately 4:30 p.m.
Distance: 51 laps/100.368 miles

Tire Talk:
Gary Blalock, tire engineer for spec tire supplier BFGoodrich® Tires, is bringing 660 g-Force T/A® tires to Infineon Raceway in two dry compounds--200 (medium) and 75 (hard)--and a one full wet compound. This marks a more than 200-tire jump in his typical tire order.

"We're bringing lots of rubber," said Blalock. "The Boy Scout principle applies here. We're going to be prepared. The last time we were at Infineon, we saw very high temperatures; temperatures that warranted hard compounds on the rear wheels, but that was with the old track configuration.

"It really boils down to how hot it is and how much rubber and fluid are laid down as a result of the Winston Cup race," he added. "The track has been reconfigured and re-paved. I don't know exactly what we're going to get, but I want to be prepared for what we do get."

Infineon Insights:

* Greg Pickett (No. 6 Cytomax Energy and Recovery Drink Jaguar XKR) is the only active Trans-Am Series driver in the field with multiple victories at Infineon Raceway. Pickett won in his Sears Point debut in 1978, and won both races held here in 1984.

* Scott Pruett (No. 7 Jaguar R Performance XKR) is the only other active driver in the field with a chance at a repeat victory here. Pruett won here in 1987, one of his two Trans-Am Series championship seasons. Pruett has also competed twice in a Winston Cup car at Infineon--during his rookie NASCAR season in 2000, and filling for the injured Joe Nemechek in 2001.

* Jaguar seeks its first-ever Infineon Trans-Am Series victory. Chevrolet's Corvette is looking for its first victory here since 1989.

* This year's race marks a return of the Trans-Am Series to Infineon after a one-year absence. 2000 Drivers' Champion and Californian Brian Simo won the 2001 edition of this race.

* The Trans-Am Series first competed at Infineon Raceway in 1969, with Mark Donohue (Penske Chevrolet Camaro) winning overall and Elliott Forbes-Robinson (Porsche 911) taking the Under 2-Liter honors. The Series did not return to Infineon until 1978 when Pickett won overall and Category II, while Gene Bothello won Category I as Corvettes swept the honors. The Trans-Am Series returned to Infineon in 1981 and appeared every season thereafter through 1993; in fact, the track hosted two Trans-Am Series races per season from 1982 through 1986. After a break in 1994, the series returned to Infineon in 1995, and then not again until 2001.

* Darin Brassfield has the most victories here--four; Greg Pickett and Willy T. Ribbs are next with three apiece; Wally Dallenbach, Jr., Elliott Forbes-Robinson, and Tom Gloy have two triumphs each. The 20-race "modern era" (1981-2001) Trans-Am Series races here have produced 12 different winners.

* Brassfield won four consecutive Trans-Am Series races here from 1989-1992 and tied the all-time Trans-Am Series record of four consecutive wins at the same venue held by Mark Donohue at St. Jovite (1968-1971).

* Infineon has been the realm of General Motors with GM taking 14 victories to Ford Motor Company's seven. Chevrolet's Camaro has eight victories and Chevrolet's Corvette has three (the most recent by Darin Brassfield in 1989) as the Bowtie Brigade leads the marques with 11 victories. Oldsmobile's Cutlass won two consecutive Trans-Am Series races here (1990 and 1991) prior to the 1992 and 1993 Chevrolet Camaro victories, while Buick's Regal won in 1985. Ford Mustangs have won three times at Sears Point, with all three wins scored by Tom Gloy in 1981, October of 1982, and 1995. Mercury Capris won twice in 1984 and once in 1985, while a Merkur driven by Pruett scored the most recent Mercury victory here in 1987.

* The 20-race "modern era" (1981-2001) Infineon Trans-Am Series period has produced an average margin of victory of 7.32 seconds. Seven of the last 10 races have produced victory margins of less than 2.1 seconds with five of the 10 under three-tenths of a second. Brassfield's 11.229 seconds victory margin in 1991 ended a streak of five consecutive margins of under two seconds here.

* Brassfield's 1989 victory by 0.171 of a second is the record, but is closely followed by his 1992 margin of 0.223, by the 0.235 of Willy T. Ribbs in 1988 and the 0.254 by Brassfield again in 1990.

* Only six drivers (27.3%) have won from pole here, the most recent being Simo in 2001. Brassfield won from the pole in 1990, Pickett in 1978, Gloy in 1981, Dallenbach in 1986 and Ribbs in 1988. Second-position starters have won 10 times, with Brassfield winning from the spot in both 1989 and 1991, Scott Sharp taking the victory from the second spot in 1993, and Dorsey Schroeder in 1995.

* The Trans-Am Series record for lowest starting position for a race winner here is held by Brassfield. He won from ninth in 1992. Victories from sixth starting position were achieved by Doc Bundy in 1982 and by Pickett in 1984. The average starting position for the twenty 1981-2001 race winners was 2.75.

* The 1987 and 2001 races hold the Infineon Trans-Am Series record with 16 lead-lap finishers apiece. 1992's race just missed tying the record, producing 15. 1986 and 1991 produced 13 lead-lap finishers while 1993 and 1995 each saw 12 cars finish on the lead lap.

-trans am-

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