Grand Rapids Trans-Am Race Report

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (August 29) - While Brian Simo, of Carlsbad, Calif., scored an easy flag-to-flag win at the West Michigan Grand Prix, the action behind him in the BFGoodrich Tires Trans-Am Series Johnson Controls 100 was wild as...

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (August 29) - While Brian Simo, of Carlsbad, Calif., scored an easy flag-to-flag win at the West Michigan Grand Prix, the action behind him in the BFGoodrich Tires Trans-Am Series Johnson Controls 100 was wild as Johnny Miller took over the runner-up position late in the race, finishing 7.290 second behind Simo, while Leighton Reese was scored with a third-place finish after Chris Neville was penalized for contact that took out Reese on the final lap. Simo, driving the No. 2 Valvoline Ford Mustang Cobra, started the 64-lap, 101.12-mile race from the pole and was never seriously challenge throughout the 1:36:37.036 race, holding a comfortable margin throughout the contest as he cruised to his fourth win of the season and sixth career checkered flag. Simo's victory also clinched the Trans-Am Series Manufacturers' Championship for Ford, the auto manufacturers' eighth series title. "Our car stayed the same all race and everyone else seemed to slow down," said Simo. "Our car was set up and designed to be saved to the end, and it worked. Traffic was heavy today, as I knew it would be, but I think the other drivers may have been slightly more cooperative than usual in letting me by in traffic. Toward the end of the race I didn't have the pressure from behind and the race was a little easier." Behind Simo, the race's early going was slowed by an 11-lap caution brought out for a multi-car incident that was started when Neville, in the No. 88 Tommy Bahama Mustang Cobra, pushed the No. 4 Smith Eye Wear Mustang Cobra of G. J. Mennen wide at Turn Four. While Mennen tried to get his spun car restarted, Randy Ruhlman entered the corner and with nowhere to go, slammed into the back of Mennen's car, creating a pileup that also collected Brian De Vries, Steve Pelke, Rick Dittman and Tom Coleman, all suffering damage to their cars but no injuries. Following a mid-race yellow, the second of two full-course cautions for a total of 17 laps, second-place Paul Gentilozzi, of Lansing, Mich., had his mirrors full of the No. 64 Chevrolet Camaro of Miller, who made a pass for second on lap 48 as the duo entered Turn Five on the 13-turn, 1.58-mile Scott Brayton Memorial Street Circuit. Once in second, Miller was unable to chase down Simo, overworking his car and allowing Gentilozzi, in the No. 1 Johnson Controls/HomeLink Chevrolet Corvette, and Michael Lewis, in the No. 12 AmeriSuites Mustang Cobra, to make a charge. On lap 55, both Gentilozzi and Lewis passed Miller for second and third, respectively, but as Lewis tried a Turn One pass for second on lap 59, Gentilozzi slowed with a flat tire, Lewis spun and Miller exited the corner back in second place, with Reese and Neville in hot pursuit. Gentilozzi was into the pits for a new tire, while a three-car nose-to-tail train of Miller, Reese and Neville set up a final lap shootout for second. "I had a great race going, but Brian had us covered," said Miller. "Paul (Gentilozzi) and I did some teamwork, and when I was in front of him I burnt the car out trying to chase down Simo, and then went backwards. When we all got into it at Turn One I somehow stayed clean and came out in second place. From there it was just a matter of holding on." On the last lap, Neville made a bid for third, making contact with Reese and sending Reese's Pontiac into the wall at Turn Four, allowing Miller an uncontested final run to second, with Neville crossing the finish line third. Immediately after the race, Reese was awarded the third-place finish, which put Neville to fourth and Gentilozzi, who rapidly returned to the race with a fresh tire, was fifth. "Neville and I had a good battle for a long time--I went onto the bridge leading into Turn Four and he got onto the outside," said Reese. "I squared the corner and held tight, then I felt this strange force pushing on the side of my car, and I was going sideways into the wall. I took a good hit and the car is badly damaged, but I managed to keep it going and get across the finish line." With his finish, Gentilozzi earned the Johnson Controls Triple Challenge $5,000 bonus by scoring the most Drivers' Championship points at the three Johnson Controls Triple Challenge races (the Johnson Controls 100 events at Long Beach, Detroit and Grand Rapids).

Source: SCCA/SCCA Pro Racing

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Series Trans-Am
Drivers Brian Simo , Paul Gentilozzi , Leighton Reese , Johnny Miller , Randy Ruhlman , Steve Pelke , Michael Lewis