Denver: Round nine preview

Trans-Am Series begins journey into the unknown with Round 9 on streets Of Denver. CLEARWATER, Fla. (August 27, 2002) -- After making August stops at two of its traditional venues, the Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup prepares to...

Trans-Am Series begins journey into the unknown with Round 9 on streets Of Denver.

CLEARWATER, Fla. (August 27, 2002) -- After making August stops at two of its traditional venues, the Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup prepares to sail into largely uncharted waters as it heads into the final leg of its 2002 season.

The series recently concluded events at Trois-Rivieres, Quebec -- home to 19 Trans-Am events since 1976 -- and Road America, where the Trans-Am has made an annual appearance since 1970. In sharp contrast, the final third of the current campaign will be contested on circuits that will be largely new to Trans-Am competition.

Of the four remaining 2002 races, two are scheduled on brand-new street courses, including this weekend's Trans-Am 100 on the streets of Denver (2 p.m. ET, Sunday, September 8, SPEED Channel, tape delay). Round 10 also takes place on a new street circuit in downtown Miami (Oct. 6), while the series concludes on Oct. 27 at Virginia International Raceway, where the series hasn't appeared since its inaugural season in 1966.

Only Round 11, Oct. 11 at Road Atlanta, provides any current Trans-Am competitors with a frame of reference as they prepare for the season's home stretch.

"With the points championship so tight throughout, I think that it is only fitting that the last few races present as many challenges as possible and test not only the drivers, but the crews as well," says veteran Trans-Am Series driver Randy Ruhlman, "Going to new circuits is always tough, with no past data to rely on and somewhat limited track time. The teams that can come up with a competitive setup and stay ahead of the conditions should come out on top."

Ruhlman (#49 Preformed Line Products Chevrolet Corvette) is chasing the best championship finish of his 12-year Trans-Am Series career, currently sixth in 1999. Through eight rounds of the championship, he stands fifth in the drivers' championship with 157 points. Ruhlman has finished eighth or better in seven of eight starts this season, topped by a runner-up result at Trois-Rivieres, a career best in 122 starts.

Setting the present pace in the championship chase is Boris Said (#33 Applied Computer Solutions Panoz Esperante) who leads all drivers with 231 points. Said comes to Denver off his series-high fourth victory of the season at Road America. He has finished on the podium in seven of his eight starts to date, with victories at Mosport, Lime Rock and Cleveland in addition to his recent win at Road America. Said also owns a pole position at Trois-Rivieres.

Said's impressive consistency in 2002 has helped him forge a 30-point advantage over three-time and defending Trans-Am Series champion Paul Gentilozzi, who stands second in the championship with 201 points. Gentilozzi (#3 Johnson Controls/Microchip/MatrixOne/Futaba Jaguar XKR) is attempting to become the second man in Trans-Am Series history to earn four driving championships, joining Tom Kendall (1990, '95,'96, '97).

Gentilozzi's Trans-Am titles came in 1998, '99 and 2001. He already owns series records for starts (181), top-three finishes (59), top-five finishes (93), top-10 finishes (123), laps led (1,436), fastest race laps (34) and lead lap finishes (119). He stands second to Kendall (39) with 32 career pole positions, and third to Mark Donohue (29) and Kendall (26) with 24 race victories.

Gentilozzi's four podium finishes this season include a victory at Long Beach and a runner-up effort to Said in his most recent start at Road America.

While Gentilozzi has built an impressive resume in his 16 seasons of Trans-Am competition, rookie Butch Leitzinger is just beginning to construct his Trans-Am legend. Leitzinger (#88 Tom Gloy/Tommy Bahama Chevrolet Corvette), who recently clinched the 2002 AmeriSuites Rookie of the Year Award, comes to Denver ranked third in the championship with 189 points. He owns race victories at Mid-Ohio, Washington, D.C. and Trois-Rivieres and leads the series with four pole positions, at Mosport, Mid-Ohio, Cleveland and Washington, D.C.

Gentilozzi's Rocketsports Racing teammate, Johnny Miller (#64 Automation Direct/Eaton Cutler-Hammer Jaguar XKR) arrives in Denver with an outside shot at the BFGoodrich Tires Cup, standing fourth in the championship with 177 points. He has finished among the top-10 drivers in 19 of his past 20 Trans-Am Series starts, dating to his victory in the 2000 season finale at San Diego, and comes to Denver off his third podium performance of the campaign, third at Road America.

Other contenders for victory on the streets of Denver figure to be Stuart Hayner (#02 Trenton Forging Chevrolet Corvette), Tony Ave (#53 Trilithic Panoz Esperante), Michael Lewis (#12 AmeriSuites Jaguar XKR) and Tomy Drissi (#5 Rocketsports Racing Jaguar XKR). Of that group, Hayner owns the highest championship standing. With 156 points, he is just one behind Ruhlman for fifth place, and has finished fourth or better in four of his past five starts.

Although this 1.65-mile, nine-turn Denver street circuit will be completely new to Trans-Am Series competitors, it will mark the series' third appearance on the streets of the city, current home to the Sports Car Club of America, which sanctions the Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup championship. Trans-Am cars also competed in Denver in 1990 and '91, in races won by Kendall and Irv Hoerr, respectively.

Following this weekend's stop in Denver, the Trans-Am Series takes a break before returning to action at the inaugural Grand Prix Americas, Oct. 4-6 on the streets of Miami, Fla.

-scca pro racing-

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About this article
Series Trans-Am
Drivers Butch Leitzinger , Boris Said , Tony Ave , Johnny Miller , Randy Ruhlman , Tom Kendall , Michael Lewis , Tom Gloy , Mark Donohue