Denver: Round nine preview

This year's Grand Prix of Denver will rewrite history DENVER -- This year's Grand Prix of Denver, Round 9 of the 2003 Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup championship, will definitely be one to remember. The race, part of the Centrix ...

This year's Grand Prix of Denver will rewrite history

DENVER -- This year's Grand Prix of Denver, Round 9 of the 2003 Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup championship, will definitely be one to remember. The race, part of the Centrix Financial Grand Prix of Denver weekend, will feature the return of defending champion Boris Said and could be the spot Scott Pruett puts the final exclamation point on his near-perfect season by clinching the championship.

The Trans-Am Series has raced three times on the streets of Denver. Four-time Trans-Am champion Tommy Kendall won the inaugural event in 1990, while Irv Hoerr finished first the following year. After a 10-year hiatus, America's oldest continuously running road racing series returned to the streets for Denver to a brand-new circuit. Said dominated that event, leading 59 of 61 laps en route to one of his eight 2002 victories, and the championship, his first in Trans-Am competition.

"Last year, the Trans-Am Series went out there and put on a great show for the folks in Denver," said Said, who will drive the No. 33 ACS/GE Access/Sun Microsystems Ford Mustang. "Temporary street courses are entirely different from the road courses we run; they are narrow, without any run-off areas and generally, there are few overtaking areas.

"With the improvements made to the circuit, it should be even better this time," added Said, who has competed in three Trans-Am Series races this season, finishing second at St. Petersburg, winning at Long Beach, and earning a runner-up finish at Infineon Raceway. "I am anxious to get out there and repeat our performance." Meanwhile, Scott Pruett could sew up his third Trans-Am Series Drivers' Championship this weekend. The driver of the No. 7 Jaguar R Performance XKR, who won his previous titles in 1987 and 1994, has had a dream season this year. Pruett has won six of eight races this year, and won six poles. Leading the standings coming into Denver, Pruett could mathematically clinch the title.

Yet, the Denver event could prove a daunting task for the veteran racer, as he's never turned a lap of the 1.647-mile, nine-turn street circuit.

"I don't know anything about it," said Pruett, who leads teammate Johnny Miller in the title chase by 44 points. "I've been there for TV; I was a commentator during last year's Champ Car World Series race here. I hear it's a tight, rough circuit, but other than that, I don't know quite what to expect.

"At Denver, we'll be focusing on having a good, consistent car and getting the most out of it," added Pruett, who returned to the Trans-Am Series this year after an eight-year hiatus, during which he competed in the Champ Car World Series and NASCAR. "I haven't been here in the past, but the team has, so I'll be looking at their knowledge, as well as what we've been doing this year. We'll make our best guess in the first practice, and we'll go from there."

Pruett, however, said the philosophy he adopted early this season hasn't changed. Pruett decided early on to concentrate on racing, and let the championship take care of itself.

"We're focusing on each race, and not necessarily on the championship," said Pruett. "In my championship runs in the past, when I kept my head down and kept focused on the job at hand, things always turned out better, instead of laying back and looking at the points picture. You can't do that. It's too easy to get caught up in thinking about the points race, instead of concentrating on what you're doing on the race track. I'll just think about what I need to do on the track, and look at the points after the race."

However, if Miller has anything to do with it, he'll be the one in the hunt for the title. Miller, who drives the No. 64 Eaton Cutler-Hammer Jaguar XKR, is seeking his first Series championship this season, one of his best on record. Miller, who sits second in points, earned his second Series victory this year at Lime Rock, after winning the pole, and finished second in the most recent round at Road America. This year, Miller has six podium finishes in eight starts. However, Miller hopes the bad luck he encountered at Infineon Raceway and the Cleveland Grand Prix won't end his hopes for his first Drivers' Championship.

"We really struggled last year with the pavement changes at Denver," said Miller of his sixth-place finish last season. "It was really a difficult race. I had a power-steering failure during the race. Last year doesn't bring back fond memories as far as the race goes.

"However, the town and the event are just incredible," added Miller. "The track is right in downtown, making for an air of excitement. It was really a first-class race and I'm really looking forward to having another shot to do well here.

"This, being a big event, will have me pumped up," concluded Miller. "That will definitely be a boost for me."

Yet, last year's results might have been quite different. Stu Hayner, who finished third last year, timed first in qualifying but started sixth due to a technical infraction. This year, Hayner, driver of the No. 2 Trenton Forging/GMAC Commercial Finance Chevrolet Corvette, will definitely be in contention.

"I'm optimistic we can pick up were we left off in Denver," said Hayner. "This track owes me one. Last year, we were so fast here. I liked the varying surface of the track...it was challenging and we had it figured out. I'm not sure if there are any changes to the course, but our shock package for 2002 was spot on. If we can recreate it, we'll be tough.

"It was a fun track," he added. "Had it not been for being put back at the start, the race was ours. We were pleased to get back up to third, and we're going to be on a mission here this year."

But the veterans will have to keep on eye on this year's rookie crop as Bobby Sak, Joey Scarallo and current rookie points leader Jorge Diaz, Jr. are all seeking to make their mark in Trans-Am Series history. Sak, whose best finish this season of second came at Lime Rock Park, is looking to unseat Diaz at the front of the rookie battle.

"I'm not sure what to expect here," said Sak, who drives the No. 10 Revolution Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette. "I like street courses, but they haven't been really good to me. I'm going to be picking (teammate) Hayner's brain, that's for sure. He ran extremely well at Denver. He had the fastest car all weekend long. I guess I'll have to buy him dinner to find out his secret. It's a great town and a great event. I think we'll have something for the Jags here."

Meanwhile, Diaz has little experience at tracks on this year's schedule, including Denver. In fact, of the 10 scheduled venues this season, Diaz has only previously competed at one--Cleveland.

"I don't feel different going into all of these are new tracks. I've never raced on any of them," said Diaz, who could clinch the Rookie of the Year Championship here. "I look at that in a positive way. I'm always learning something new. I'm in my learning curve, and that's the best place to be."

Justin Bell will return to the wheel of the No. 59 Ultama Swimwear Chevrolet Corvette here, after making his debut in the car at Road America last weekend. The 2001 Trans-Am Series Rookie of the Year is filling in for Simon Gregg, who is recovering from minor elective surgery. In 19 career Trans-Am starts, Bell has two victories, seven podiums, nine top-five and 14 top-10 finishes.

"A street circuit falls into my hands," said Bell of Denver. "Street circuits really suit my driving style, as I've shown. At the same time, it's easier to come in this late in the season, as street circuits are really the great equalizers."

In addition, 1978 champion Greg Pickett will take on fellow Series veterans Mike Davis, Michael Lewis, Tomy Drissi, Randy Ruhlman, John Baucom, Bob Ruman, Tim Cowen and Max Lagod. Margraf Racing's George Nolte, Marvin Jones and Rick Lee are also returning, as is Glen Andrew. Wayne Hartzler, from Colorado Springs, will represent the home crowd here.

Although Denver is relatively new to the Trans-Am Series, it is certainly in position to become part of the Trans-Am Series legend. With returning champions, a host of seasoned veterans, and a talented rookie crop, all racing on Denver's tight downtown street course, this year's race will definitely be one to watch.

The Grand Prix of Denver, Round 9 of the 2003 Trans-Am Series championship, is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 31, immediately following the Champ Car World Series race. The race will air on tape-delayed basis Monday, Sept. 1 at 1:30 p.m. on SPEED Channel. The Trans-Am Series, America's oldest continuously running road racing series, is celebrating its 38th anniversary this year.

Fast Facts:

What: Centrix Financial Grand Prix of Denver, Round 9 of the Trans-Am Series for the 2003 BFGoodrich Tires Cup Championship
When: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 29, 30 and 31, 2003
Race Day: Sunday, Aug. 31, at 4 p.m.

Distance: 61 laps/100.467 miles or 75 minutes, whichever comes first
Where: The race will be run on the 1.647-mile, nine-turn temporary street course

Denver Details:

* Scott Pruett could clinch his third Series championship here. Pruett last won the Trans-Am Series Drivers' Championship in 1987 and 1994.

* 2002 Trans-Am Series champion Boris Said won the 2002 Trans-Am race here, scoring his fifth win of the 2002 season.

* The Trans-Am Series makes its second appearance on the current Denver venue in 2003. Among current Trans-Am competitors, Stu Hayner finished third in 2002, Paul Gentilozzi fourth, Michael Lewis fifth, Johnny Miller sixth, Randy Ruhlman eighth, and Tomy Drissi ninth were among the 2002 Denver Top Ten.

* Another Denver circuit served as a Trans-Am venue in 1990 and 1991. Gentilozzi competed in those events, retiring with mechanical problems in 1990 and placing 26th, but finishing second and setting fast lap in 1991. Ruhlman finished 16th in 1990 and ninth in 1991. Interestingly, Ruhlman's team owner, Jim Derhaag, also competed on the old course, finishing 18th in 1990 and 10th in 1991.

* Although Pruett did not compete in the 2002 event on the current venue, he contested the 1991 Champ Car World Series event, finishing fifth.

* Last year, Said started on the pole and led 57 of the 61 laps last year, leading laps one through 16 and 21-61 in his Panoz Esperante. Said won by 0.967 of a second, ahead of Butch Leitzinger's Chevrolet Corvette. Leitzinger started third, led four laps (17-20) and finished second.

* Hayner started sixth (after qualifying fastest but was assessed a one-second penalty due to a technical infraction) and finished third, setting the fastest race lap in his Chevrolet Corvette.

* Jaguar XKR entries finished fourth through sixth (Gentilozzi, Lewis and Johnny Miller). Tony Ave finished seventh, the final finisher on the lead lap, in the LAC Panoz Esperante. Nineteen cars started the race, with 13 finishing.

-trans am-

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About this article
Series Trans-Am
Drivers Butch Leitzinger , Boris Said , Scott Pruett , Tony Ave , Justin Bell , Tomy Drissi , Paul Gentilozzi , Johnny Miller , Randy Ruhlman , Tom Kendall , Max Lagod , Bob Ruman , Greg Pickett , Michael Lewis , Simon Gregg , Bobby Sak , Tim Cowen , Wayne Hartzler , Marvin Jones , Rick Lee , Stu Hayner , Mike Davis