SEBRING, Florida (March 17, 2000) - Dead last at the end of lap one, Brian Simo brought the ...
SEBRING, Florida (March 17, 2000) - Dead last at the end of lap one, Brian Simo brought the #88 Huffaker/Qvale Tommy Bahama Mangusta all the way back through the field to score the last-lap win at the BFGoodrich Tires Trans-Am Series season opener at Sebring International Raceway on Friday, March 17. It made for great entertainment, and gave the Qvale Mangusta a win in its very first race as the legendary Trans-Am series kicked off its 35th season at the 48th SuperFlo 12 Hours at Sebring Weekend. Simo's 0.520-second victory was the ninth win of his career, and the second ever for the three year-old Huffaker/Qvale team. He scored the win in one hour, ten minutes, 38.080 seconds for an 84.859 mph average speed.
"I can't believe it," said Huffaker/Qvale President Bruce Qvale. "When Brian radioed in on the first lap and said he thought we'd lost the motor, my heart just sunk. To have made it all the way back to fourth by the start of the last lap was incredible enough; I would have been happy with that. But this, this is just unbelievable."
Simo, who started third in the 36-car field, pitted on the first lap with a problem that was quickly diagnosed as a loose spark plug wire. The crew sent him back out on the lead lap, but he had a lot of ground to make up. "I just focused on racing, and kept my head with the goal of gaining some points," said Simo.
With the help of two full-course caution periods, he had made his way back up to fourth by the time the green flag flew for a last-lap dash to the finish. Leaders Johnny Miller and Leighton Reese came together in the first turn, spinning each other out of contention. That handed the lead to Chris Neville, with Simo in hot pursuit. Entering the final turns, "I outbraked Chris, and then knew I could hold it to the end," said Simo. "I feel pretty lucky to be here."
"I was quite pleased with the communication with Brian during the race," commented Huffaker/Qvale Vice President and Technical Director, Joe Huffaker. "We were able to diagnose the problem with the spark lead before he got back to pit lane, so we were ready to service that quickly and get Brian back out. Then later, we brought him in to tweak the tire pressures a bit for the final dash at the end, and only lost a couple of positions with that. Capitalizing on the events was very gratifying. I can't wait to see what we'll do when we don't have problems!"
Simo's win gives him the early season points lead heading into the series second race. Simo now has 31 points, to 27 for Neville, and 24 for defending series champion Paul Gentilozzi. The next round is Saturday, April 1, at Lowes Motor Speedway in Concord, NC, just outside Charlotte.