Monterey, Calif: (Sept. 8th, 2001); Leighton Reese, of Minnetonka, Minn., started the Banner Engineering Corvette from the 6th row for today's Trans-Am Series race for the BF Goodrich Cup here at the historic Laguna Seca Raceway on the scenic ...
Monterey, Calif: (Sept. 8th, 2001); Leighton Reese, of Minnetonka, Minn., started the Banner Engineering Corvette from the 6th row for today's Trans-Am Series race for the BF Goodrich Cup here at the historic Laguna Seca Raceway on the scenic Monterey Peninsula. He drove steadily throughout the 125 mile race to finish a strong 4th. Reese avoided the problems and on track action that claimed several other contending cars in this action and incident filled race.
This was the third straight 4th place finish and has elevated Reese from also ran status in the seasons points chase to the top ten. The process wasn't at all easy, however, as the weekend was anything but tranquil for this Minnesota based Banner Racing Team.
The post race spin is that the team did a full circle on the car setup and wound up with a pretty good car for the race. After chasing the setup all weekend crew chief Joe Kantarik went back to the "off the trailer setup" and that seemed to work best.
"We got that Mid-Ohio setup back on the car," Joe said candidly. "And we went really well."
"The car was a good neutral car all day," Leighton Reese said. "We had four different cars this weekend, each one had a different feel. But, this car was as good as we can get on this course. It's a tough place to drive a Trans-Am car!"
The race was equally as taxing as the 56 lap affair contended over the slippery, tricky and demanding 2.238 mile Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca saw several crashes and claimed many top cars and drivers as its victims. The pace was fast and the action furious as several drivers claimed the lead during the event but only Justin Bell claimed eventual victory.
Bell, of London England and son of racing legend Derek Bell, won his first Trans-Am race while winning the AmeriSuites Rookie-of-the-Year title as well in the Derhaag Corvette. The 2000 series champion Brian Simo finished a close second while Texas Corvette ace Lou Gigliotti finished a strong third.
"Lou (Gigliotti) put a good pass on me near the end of the race and he had the best car at the end," Reese admitted. "I would have loved to finish on the podium, but I had nothing for Lou after the late race restart and no one was pushing me so I just kept the car on the track for the fourth place finish."
"Lou Gigliotti was strong all day," crew chief Kantarik agreed. "He made a good call on the tires running the harder compound on the rears. It was cool all weekend so I thought the soft compound would be fine for this race, and that setup worked fine for us today."
Late in the race Leighton and Tomy Drissi hooked up in a heated battle for 4th place. But this battle was for more than just 4th place in this race. It was for tenth in the 2001 drivers championship points chase and both drivers knew it!
"I was all over Tomy Drissi at the end," Reese explained. "He totally missed his turn-in going into the Corkscrew and locked the brakes and went straight into the wall hard."
Even with all the action today Leighton only really had one close call all day when he slid partially off course heading up the hill in turn 6. "I went off and the car snapped sideways when I came back on the track," Reese explained. "I'm not sure how it looked on TV, but I couldn't believe I saved it!"
Leighton was also happy about well the team executed the fuel stop. Leighton gained 3 spots during the refueling window that every team used. "The crew did an awesome job," Reese bragged. "We had a brilliant stop!"
This was the third, and final, race of this season having a mandatory fuel stop and it would seem that the teams are adjusting well as there were none of the fires, pit lane speeding violations or other problems so evident in the earlier races. It seems that the Trans-Am teams have adjusted quickly to this new process in their series.
Leighton Reese and the Banner Engineering racing team will go to the final race of the 2001 season having achieved their goal of being a top ten team after missing the first three races. Even though Reese is now tenth, he isn't about to begin celebrating. Especially since the competition for Championship positions 9 through 15 are so tight right now.
"We still aren't out of the woods," Leighton summarized. "And we can still screw this up! But, we usually run well at Houston and I expect us to do well there again in October."
The 11th and final Trans-Am Series race for the BF Goodrich Cup will be on the streets of Houston on October 6th. The Trans-Am series will share this venue with the Champ Cars of the FedEx CART series.