MONTEREY, Calif. - Rookie Justin Bell, of London, England, son of legendary racer Derek Bell, captured his first SCCA Pro Racing Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, part of the Monterey...
MONTEREY, Calif. - Rookie Justin Bell, of London, England, son of legendary racer Derek Bell, captured his first SCCA Pro Racing Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, part of the Monterey Sports Car Championships Weekend Presented by Mazda. Brian Simo, of Carlsbad, Calif., was second, followed by Lou Gigliotti, of Dallas, Texas.
Driving the No. 40 Justin Bell GT Motorsport Experience Chevy Corvette, Bell started sixth, took the lead for good on lap 25, outlasting Simo to the checkered by 1.405 seconds. Bell averaged 75.122 mph over the 56-lap, 125.32-mile event.
Bell's triumph marked the second ever win for Derhaag Motorsports and gave Corvette its 50th in Trans-Am history. Ironically, Derhaag's first win came at the hands of Kenny Wilden at Mazda Raceway last year. For the second consecutive year, Derhaag delivered a driver his first win in Monterey.
"(On the team's second-straight win at Mazda Raceway) I think Jim Derhaag is pushing hard for a championship solely run at Laguna Seca," said Bell, the 2000 AmeriSuites Rookie of the Year.
"Just as Lou [Gigliotti] said it felt like he ran three races today, and I feel like I won three races today. Every time the yellow came out, I said 'not again!' On that last one, I looked behind me and it was as if I could see Brian's [Simo] teeth through his helmet.
"Trans-Am was the best career decision I could have made. I want to come back next year to make a run for the Championship."
Tommy Archer (No. 36 Control Concepts Dodge Viper) started from pole and managed to avoid a first-lap, first-turn incident that collected Paul Fix, Donald Sak and Kerry Alexander.
On the restart, Archer lost control and spun in turn five, relinquishing the lead to Scott Pruett (No.5 Johnson Controls/Homelink-Jaguar XKR). Boris Said (No. 33 Applied Computer Solutions Panoz Esperante) couldn't avoid the spinning Archer and made contact while Championship point leader Paul Gentilozzi (No.3 Johnson Controls/Homelink-Jaguar XKR) began leaking axle grease in the melee. Gentilozzi could have clinched the title, but remains optimistic for the season finale in Houston.
"We'll head into the last race with a 27-point lead," said Gentilozzi. "Last year, we had a 16-point lead going into the last race, so at least there's a bigger cushion there. But it really won't be over until that final checkered flies."
After Pruett inherited the lead, he looked as if he would make his return to the Trans-Am series a magnificent one. But after leading 18 laps, he suffered a blown tire on lap 32 and finished 15th.
Simo started 22nd in the No. 88 Tommy Bahama Qvale Mangusta, and took it out on the field after being sent to the back of the qualifying grid due to violating a post-qualifying pit lane procedure.
"(On starting at the back) We just did that as a publicity stunt," laughed Simo. "This was Justin Bell's weekend. He kept composed and had a helluva day."
For Gigliotti, who lined up fourth in the No. 28 LG Motorsports/G2 Performance Parts Chevy Corvette, the race's four cautions felt like an eternity.
"It seems like I had to run three races today," said Gigliotti. "We'd get up to second or third and then get punted back to eighth or ninth.
"This is great for my team. It's just three guys I have--my son, who turned 18 this weekend, and two good friends from Canada. They'll be glad it's a good pay day, so I can pay them!"
Leighton Reese, of Minnetonka, Minn., finished fourth after starting 12th, followed by Randy Ruhlman, of Greensboro, N.C., who started 11th. Johnny Miller, who prevented Gentilozzi from clinching by finishing ahead of him, Bob Ruman (MSD Hard Charger Award recipient), Mike Davis, Archer and Simon Gregg completed the top-10. With the win, Bell led the most laps at Mazda Raceway and took the BFGoodrich Tires "Take Control" Award.
Tomy Drissi, who led on lap 24 and ran in the top five for much of the event, was treated and released from track medical after a lap 49 single-car incident in the famed corkscrew.
The series travels to the Havoline Grand Prix in Houston October 6th for the 2001 season finale.