Gentilozzi Comes From Behind To Take Opening Topeka Trans-Am Win TOPEKA, Kan. (Sept. 4, 2006) -- Paul Gentilozzi, of Lansing, Mich., recovered from an early-race spin to win his 31st SCCA Trans-AmÂ® race Monday, the first of two 2006 Trans-Am...
Gentilozzi Comes From Behind To Take Opening Topeka Trans-Am Win
TOPEKA, Kan. (Sept. 4, 2006) -- Paul Gentilozzi, of Lansing, Mich., recovered from an early-race spin to win his 31st SCCA Trans-Am® race Monday, the first of two 2006 Trans-Am races promoted by Heartland Park Topeka. Tomy Drissi, of Hollywood, Calif., and Greg Picket, of Benicia, Calif., completed the Jaguar podium sweep.
After setting the fast time in Monday morning's qualifying session in the No. 10 Rocketsports Jaguar XKR with a lap of 1:36.922 (92.858 mph) around the 14-turn, 2.5-mile circuit, Gentilozzi started fifth with the inverted Fast Five®.
After setting the fifth-fastest qualifying time, Joey Scarallo, of Hauppauge, N.Y., led the 17-car field to the green flag in his No. 06 Toyo Tires Chevrolet Corvette and jumped to the early lead over Drissi's No. 5 Rocketsports Jaguar XKR, but drama developed behind. Gentilozzi and the No. 71 Coors Light/Tuque Chevrolet Corvette of Edison Lluch Sr. made slight contact in turn one, and then bigger contact in the low-speed 90-degree turn two, sending both cars around and Lluch into the tire wall. The incident brought out a full course yellow to move Lluch's car, and Gentilozzi made a stop into the pits to replace a cut tire.
Gentilozzi noted that the contact with Lluch Sr. started on the pace lap, but continued into turn one.
"We went into the braking zone for turn one and he body slammed me again," Gentilozzi said. "I thought, 'well, we'll just get by him and then go.' So I go by and we get to the left hander and he hits me--boom, in the [back] and spins me around. But he didn't know how to hit people, 'cause he hit me and then hit the wall. I don't know what he was thinking."
Gentilozzi pitted initially for one tire, but was concerned about mismatched tire compounds, so returned to the pits under yellow to install all four of his qualifying tires.
While Gentilozzi dealt with his problems, Scarallo led the field back to the restart on lap six. 2003 series Rookie of the Year Jorge Diaz Jr. (No. 08 Panasonic Jaguar XKR) moved to second at the drop of the green, and was able to take the lead from Scarallo in turn three. From there, Diaz Jr. and Scarallo started a two-car breakaway.
Behind the leaders, Gentilozzi began his furious charge through the pack, moving to eighth on the eighth lap and fifth by lap 11. Clearly the fastest car on the track, the silver and green Jaguar moved past Picket and then Drissi to take third on lap 15.
After pulling out to a 1.5-second lead, Gentilozzi's pressure on Scarallo forced him to close Diaz Jr.'s lead to nothing on lap 18. As the three entered the chicane on the back straight, Gentilozzi showed Scarallo his nose, but the Corvette closed the door.
Going into turn 10, the two made contact, with Scarallo's Corvette spinning off into the grass. He would head to the pits and later retire due to the damage. Both drivers had differing opinions of the contact.
"I don't quite know what Joey [Scarallo] was thinking," Gentilozzi said. "I pulled inside going into the chicane on the back straight and he ran me up over the curb into the dirt. I thought 'okay.' So I got behind him and I pulled inside in the next turn and bam, he turns down."
"We were going to either win or finish second, assuming Paul caught me and passed me cleanly. He didn't. It's plain and simple. He used me as his breaks," said Scarallo, who is still searching for his maiden Trans-Am win. "It was a really great race, aside from the move from Paul [Gentilozzi], which was, I think, a pretty silly move. We were biding our time, saving the brakes and we were going to get around Jorge [Diaz Jr.]. We'll be back to try again in October."
Just one lap later, Gentilozzi completed his run from last to first, passing Diaz Jr., whose car had begun to show some smoke. On lap 23, the blue Jaguar pulled off course in turn four, leaving Gentilozzi with a 20-plus second lead over Drissi. That would signal the end of the race, which was checkered flagged one lap early as the full-course caution came out for a spun car stranded in the first turn.
Gentilozzi officially beat Drissi to the checkered flag by 25.809 seconds, averaging 77.172 mph over the course of the 24-lap, 60-mile race.
"Jorge knew I was faster, so he just let me by," Gentilozzi said of the pass for the lead. "He was struggling with his car too at that point. Then, I guess, he broke the gearbox.
"When you get old, like me, you never know if [a win] might be your last one! We'll come do it again [in October], and next time we'll be a little better prepared. I didn't get here until yesterday, so now I know the racetrack and I know the gearing and the setup."
Gentilozzi was impressed with Heartland Park Topeka, which recently completed a renovation of the track and all facilities.
"I will say one thing, I haven't been here since '89 and this is a great racetrack to race on," he said. "It is a lot more fun than I thought it was going to be. It is challenging. First of all, it challenges the car, technically. You have to have a good setup. And then, it has plenty of places to pass, if you're faster. I think it's going to make for an exciting Runoffs."
Recovering from a late-race spin, Picket held on to third in his No. 6 Cytomax/Muscle Milk Jaguar XKR. Edison Lluch Jr. was fourth in his No. 72 DonQ Chevrolet Corvette. Amy Ruman, substituting for her father Bob, who had qualified the car but was under the weather, finished fifth after starting from the back of the field in her No. 23 McNichols Co./Safety Today Chevrolet Corvette.
It was Gentilozzi's record-extending 31st-career Trans-Am win coming in the 537th-ever series' race. The win also marked the 49th in series history for Jaguar, fourth on the all-time list.
Sports Car Club of America, Inc., and Heartland Park Topeka reached an agreement earlier this year for the track to promote two Trans-Am races in 2006. This marks the 40th anniversary of the series, which is the longest continuously-running road racing series in North America. The second, and final, Trans-Am race in 2006 will be held Sunday, Oct. 8. Both races run under sanction of SCCA Club Racing.