GENTILOZZI AND SIMO TAKE CHAMPIONSHIP DOWN TO THE WIRE; ROOKIE BATTLE UP FOR GRABS; SAID RETURNS FOR THE FINALE
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The BFGoodrich Tires Trans-Am Series returns to its roots this weekend for its 1999 season finale at Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Fla. -- location of the first-ever Trans-Am race in 1966, and the first time the series has competed at Sebring since 1968. As history is reborn so too will the October SpeedFest at Sebring International Raceway make history with the crowning of the 1999 Drivers' Champion, who will receive the inaugural BFGoodrich Tires Cup. The battle for the Championship is a two-man contest between Defending Drivers' Champion Paul Gentilozzi and 1998 runner-up Brian Simo. Coming into the finale, Gentilozzi, driver of the No. 1 Johnson Controls/HomeLink Ford Mustang Cobra, holds a seven point margin over Brian Simo, 305 to 298, and comes to Sebring a veteran of six 12 Hours of Sebring races, with one win and three top-five finishes. Simo, driver of the No. 2 Valvoline Mustang Cobra, has never competed at the 3.7-mile, 17-turn circuit, but carries to Sebring the momentum of wins in four of the last five races, including a victory at Pikes Peak International Raceway in Round 12, his sixth win of the season. A Gentilozzi win at Sebring will clinch the BFGoodrich Tires Cup, or he must qualify in the Fast Five and finish second to guarantee his Championship. "I've got a lot more experience on this track both in racing and testing, and I'm very comfortable -- it's not at all foreign or intimidating to me," said Gentilozzi. "But after a couple hours of practice (for Brian), that edge could well disappear. To win a second Championship is more important than the first one. It's validation of your abilities and success. Plus remember, this year we had a brand new car and engine package, making the transition from Chevrolet to Ford -- that was a major challenge for the team." For Simo, driver of the No. 2 Valvoline Mustang Cobra, to win the BFGoodrich Tires Cup he must score at least seven points more than Gentilozzi at the finale. A Simo-Gentilozzi tie in the final standings will give the BFGoodrich Tires Cup honors to Simo by virtue of his additional win over Gentilozzi (currently six wins to five). In addition to the Championship battle, G.J. Mennen and Tomy Drissi will decide the Red Line Oil Rookie of the Year title at Sebring. Separated by just four points, 154 to 150, Mennen, driving the No. 4 Smith Eye Wear Mustang Cobra, enters the finale leading the rookie standings on the strength of six top-10 finishes, including two podium showings. Drissi, driving the No. 15 Drissi Advertising Mustang Cobra, has three-top-10 finishes, including a fifth at Vancouver. "My strategy for Sebring is to finish ahead of Tommy (Drissi), but I'd also like to finish strong," said Mennen, who last competed at Sebring in the 1998 Barber Dodge Pro Series. "I can't let my desire to win the race get in the way of my drive to win the rookie title, however." Returning to the Trans-Am Series at the Sebring Finale will be Boris Said, driving the No. 7 RaceWerX/MOMO Design Ford Mustang Cobra. Said, who has 31 career starts and one win, last raced in the Trans-Am Series in the 1999 finale in Reno. "We've wanted to have Boris in the car since Mosport, but there's always been a schedule conflict," said RaceWerX team owner Bruce Barkelew. "We've never had team orders at RaceWerX, but I don't think he's going to run his boss down (Said works for Simo at No Fear). We hope he can run up front and put on a good show." Said will race in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck series Bluebonnet 300K at the Texas Motor Speedway on Friday, October 15, and then fly to Sebring in time for Saturday's BFGoodrich Tires Trans-Am Series Fast Five Qualifying, scheduled for 10:45 a.m. EDT. Sunday's 27-lap, 99.9-mile Trans-Am Series finale will be televised live on The Speedvision Network beginning at 2:00 p.m. EDT.