Long Beach: Round two preview

Trans-Am Series invades Long Beach streets. LONG BEACH, Calif. -- If the finish of last year's Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich® Tires Cup race at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach was any indication, this year's edition of the event ...

Trans-Am Series invades Long Beach streets.

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- If the finish of last year's Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich® Tires Cup race at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach was any indication, this year's edition of the event is certain to be a barn burner. The race, Round 2 of this year's championship, is scheduled for Sunday, April 13, following the Champ Car World Series race.

Last year, three-time Drivers' Champion Paul Gentilozzi emerged from a spectacular last-lap three-car duel with Boris Said and Justin Bell to claim the top prize in what was last year's season opener.

Gentilozzi, who started on the pole in his Jaguar XKR, stood second to Said's Panoz Esperante on the final lap around the 11-turn temporary street course, while Bell, in a Corvette, was running third. Each battled their way past each other to briefly lead the final lap. Gentilozzi muscled his way past Said to leave the final turn with the advantage and earned his 24th-career Trans-Am Series victory, and fourth at Long Beach. Said finished second.

Gentilozzi, who isn't competing for the championship this season, and is running only selected events, won't be alone in his quest for victory at Long Beach. Scott Pruett, who marked his return to the Series with a victory in the season opener at St. Petersburg, is seeking to become Long Beach's second repeat winner. Pruett won the Grand Prix of Long Beach in 1987 en route to his first of two Trans-Am Series championships. Adding to Pruett's impressive Long Beach Trans-Am resume are two poles.

Pruett also has nine starts in the Champ Car World Series at Long Beach, with his best finish of second coming in 1995. Pruett also won the Pro category of the always-popular Toyota Pro Celebrity race in 2001.

"I feel good, especially coming off St. Petersburg," said Pruett. "Long Beach is going to be like coming home. Long Beach has always been a very pivotal track for me throughout my career--from go-karts to the Pro Celebrity race to Trans-Am to Champ Cars."

Pruett has some unfinished business at Long Beach.

"The last time I was at Long Beach in a Trans-Am car, I qualified first and led every lap, except the last one," said Pruett, who ran out of fuel after leading 57 of 58 laps. "Interestingly enough, Paul Gentilozzi went on to victory. Hopefully we can turn that bad luck around. We did everything we could to win that race except make it to the checkered flag." As exciting as Pruett's victory was in the 2003 season opener, equally impressive was defending champion Said's drive to a runner-up finish after starting last.

Said has never won at Long Beach, a losing streak he certainly would like to break. Said, who won eight of 12 races to earn last year's title, has competed three times at Long Beach, finishing 23rd in his 1996 debut, 21st in 2001, and second last year.

"Long Beach is just a great track," said Said, who lives in nearby Carlsbad, Calif. "It's probably the biggest crowd of the year and the spectators are great. It's cool to race an hour from home.

"We'd sure like to come home with a win," added Said. "I'd like to win every race, but I'd really like to win at Long Beach. The last two years we've had trouble. Two years ago I wrecked myself and I came out on the wrong end of a last-lap melee last year, so it would be nice to right that wrong."

An impressive competitor by any measure, Said will not be content to finish second this year. Nor will Johnny Miller, who drove to a third-place finish in this year's season opener.

Miller, driver of the No. 64 Eaton Cutler-Hammer Jaguar XKR, has finished on the podium in four of his six appearances at Long Beach.

"I thought I won once and I've run up at the front a bunch of times," said Miller. "I really like the track and I really like the crowd. It's always a big deal. I like the track because you can see the fans from inside the car at some places. It's really cool. The fans here really like Trans-Am racing.

"We found something that worked pretty well at St. Petersburg," added Miller. "We thought the track was going to change a lot more and it just didn't. We know that Long Beach probably won't either. It didn't make as much of a difference on Scott's and Paul's setups, so we're going to make my car a little more track adaptable."

These seasoned veterans will also have some stiff competition from this year's rookie crop. Jorge Diaz, Jr. finished sixth at St. Petersburg, just ahead of fellow rookie Bobby Sak. Both are hungry for their first victory, and winning at Long Beach would be a fitting boost to both of the driver's young Trans-Am Series careers.

But don't count out hometown hero and 2000 BBS Most Improved Driver Tomy Drissi, who won his first Trans-Am Series race at Long Beach that year. Drissi, who made his first Series start at Long Beach in 1999, owns a motion picture advertising agency in Hollywood.

Other drivers to watch include Stu Hayner, from nearby Yorba Linda, Calif., who finished fifth in St. Pete, as well as 2002 BBS Most Improved Driver Randy Ruhlman and veteran champion Greg Pickett, who is looking to set a record, by winning a Trans-Am Series race in each of his four decades as an active driver.

Long Beach is a special place for the Trans-Am Series and those who have won here are all seeking to repeat, while those who haven't are looking for their own taste of victory. With four returning champions, a host of seasoned veterans, and a talented rookie crop, all racing on a track which hosted what was arguably the Trans-Am Series' most competitive race on record, this year's edition of the Long Beach Trans-Am Series race will definitely be one to watch.

The race is scheduled for Sunday, April 13 at approximately 3:45 p.m. and will be aired on a same-day, tape-delayed basis at 9 p.m. on SPEED Channel.

The Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich® Tires Cup features closed-fendered, production-based, V-8-powered sports cars. The Trans-Am Series is America's oldest continuously running sports car racing series and celebrates its 38th anniversary in 2003.

Long Beach Logbook:

* BFGoodrich® Tires, presenting sponsor of the Trans-Am Series, is bringing 560 g-Force T/A® radial racing tires to Long Beach in two dry compounds--medium and hard--and one full-wet compound. Totals for each compound are: medium, 400; hard, 60; and full wet, 100. Tire Engineer Gary Blalock is recommending teams run 26 psi hot air pressure in the front tires and 24 psi in the rear.

* Veteran open-wheel racing team Margraf Racing will enter two Qvale Mangustas and a Ford Mustang in the race. Trans-Am Series veteran Rick Lee will team with former open wheel racers George Nolte and Marvin Jones. Lee and Jones will pilot the two Mangustas, while Nolte will drive the Mustang. The team plans to run several races this season in hopes of competing for the championship next year.

* Long Beach boasts eight different winners in its 11-race run. Former winners are: Scott Pruett (1987), Paul Gentilozzi (1988, 1998, 1999, 2002) Irv Hoerr (1989), Robby Gordon (1992), Ron Fellows (1993), Jamie Galles (1996), Tomy Drissi (2000), and Lou Gigliotti (2001).

* Pruett, Drissi, and Gentilozzi are the only former winners entered in Sunday's race.

* Gentilozzi remains the only driver in Series history to win more than one race at Long Beach. He earned his first career Trans-Am Series victory here in 1988 and has the distinction of winning each of his four races here in a different marque--Oldsmobile Cutlass in 1988, Chevrolet Corvette in 1998, Ford Mustang in 1999 and Jaguar XKR in last year's race. Gentilozzi made his 100th career start at Long Beach in 1996.

* Another victory by Gentilozzi here would set a Trans-Am Series record for victories at one track. Only Darin Brassfield (Sears Point) and the late Mark Donohue (Mont Tremblant) have won four Trans-Am Series races at one venue.

* Gentilozzi needs just one more victory to set the all-time record for winning at least one race in consecutive seasons. Currently, Gentilozzi is tied at five-consecutive seasons with Brassfield, Donohue, and Fellows.

* Tommy Kendall leads Gentilozzi by one race in career street-course victories with 14. Interestingly, Kendall has never won at Long Beach.

* Three Long Beach winners went on to earn that season's Trans-Am Series Drivers' Championship: Pruett in 1987 and Gentilozzi in 1998 and 1999.

* Six of the 11 Long Beach races have been won from the pole: Pruett in 1987, Hoerr in 1989, Gordon in 1992, Fellows in 1993, and Gentilozzi in 1998 and 2002. The average race winner's starting position is 3.09. The average polesitter finishing position is 7.64.

* Gentilozzi is the all-time Long Beach Trans-Am Series lap leader at 140.

* The Long Beach Trans-Am Series race has been led flag to flag only once, by Gentilozzi in 1998.

* Donohue has the most victories (29) in the history of the Trans-Am Series, ahead of Kendall, with 26. Gentilozzi is third in all-time victories. Bob Tullius, with 21, and the late Peter Gregg, with 20, complete the top five.

* Gentilozzi leads active drivers in victories with 24, and is first in top-three, top-five and top-10 finishes. He also ranks first in "Fast-Five" starts, laps led, fastest race laps, lead-lap finishes and total winnings.

* Ford Motor Co. has six victories at Long Beach, including the triumph by corporate brand Jaguar in 2002. Winning cars are: Ford Mustang, four; Mercury Merkur XR4Ti and Jaguar XKR, with one apiece. General Motors has won the remaining five events with its Oldsmobile Cutlass, two; Chevrolet Corvette, two; and Chevrolet Camaro, one.

* A victory by a Jaguar XKR would tie the marque record for consecutive Long Beach Trans-Am Series victories, equaling Oldsmobile Cutlass (1988-89), Ford Mustang (1992-1993), Chevrolet (1996 Camaro, 1998 Corvette), and Ford Mustang (1999-2000).

* A victory by a Panoz Esperante or Qvale Mangusta would be the marques' first win here.

* Ford Mustangs lead the way in laps led here at 170, ahead of Mercury's Merkur XR4Ti at 117. Chevrolet Corvettes have led 74 laps, Jaguar XKR, 57; Chevrolet Camaro, 51; Dodge Daytona, 21; Panoz Esperante, 18; Oldsmobile Cutlass, 17; and Qvale Mangusta, 12.

* Drissi, who owns a Hollywood, Calif.-based motion picture advertising firm, considers the Long Beach race as a homecoming. Drissi, who earned his lone Series victory here in 2000, got his start in racing when he was younger, street racing on Mulholland Drive in the Hollywood Hills.

Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
Long Beach, California

TRANS-AM SCHEDULE (All times local):

FRIDAY, APRIL 11
Trans-Am practice, 4:30 - 5:00 p.m.

SATURDAY, APRIL 12
Trans-Am qualifying, 8:15 - 9:00 a.m.
Trans-Am final practice, 4:30 - 5:00 p.m.

SUNDAY, APRIL 13
Trans-Am race, 3:45 - 5:00 p.m.

-scca pro racing/transam-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series Trans-Am
Drivers Boris Said , Robby Gordon , Ron Fellows , Scott Pruett , Tomy Drissi , Paul Gentilozzi , Johnny Miller , Randy Ruhlman , Lou Gigliotti , Greg Pickett , Bobby Sak , Darin Brassfield , George Nolte , Stu Hayner , Bob Tullius , Peter Gregg , Mark Donohue , Tommy Kendall , Jorge Diaz