Long Beach: Season opener preview

Motorock Trans-Am Series Racers Ready for Thriller at the Beach LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 12, 2004) -- The Motorock Trans-Am Series will kick off its 2004 season April 16-18, during the 30th Anniversary Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The event...

Motorock Trans-Am Series Racers Ready for Thriller at the Beach

LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 12, 2004) -- The Motorock Trans-Am Series will kick off its 2004 season April 16-18, during the 30th Anniversary Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The event will mark the 13th visit by Trans-Am to the temporary 1.968-mile Southern California street circuit since 1987. The Trans-Am race will run in its traditional slot, immediately following the Champ Car World Series event, Sunday, April 18.

Known for its thrilling competition and exciting finishes, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach has been a staple of Motorock Trans-Am Series competition. During its run at the historic street course in downtown Long Beach, Calif., Trans-Am has never failed to thrill.

If the previous two Trans-Am races at Long Beach are any indication, this year's event certainly won't disappoint. Paul Gentilozzi emerged from a spectacular last-lap three-car duel with eventual champion Boris Said and Justin Bell to claim the victory in 2002. Each battled their way past each other to briefly lead the final lap of what many consider Trans-Am's most exciting finish. Gentilozzi muscled his way past Said to lead the final turn and grab the victory.

That set the stage for last year's race, during which Said earned his first Long Beach triumph. Said, with Johnny Miller close behind, dogged leader Scott Pruett throughout the race, passing him late in the event for the lead and the eventual victory.

Said and his ACS Express team consider Long Beach their "home track," and bringing home bragging rights from Long Beach is high on the Carlsbad, Calif. native's list of priorities.

"Long Beach is just a great track," said Said, driver of the No. 33 ACS Express Ford Mustang. "It's probably the biggest crowd of the year and the spectators are great. It's cool to race an hour from home.

"Last year was a great win," added Said. "Winning at home last year was special. We'd like to follow that up with a win this year."

But Said certainly won't have it easy in this year's event, as he'll be up against some historically tough competition. Trans-Am's only four-time Drivers' Champion, Tommy Kendall, is returning this year, with venerable Rocketsports Racing and Jaguar.

Kendall is making his triumphant return to Trans-Am competition this year after retiring after the 1997 season. The Santa Monica, Calif. native, who made his Trans-Am debut here in 1987, has never won at Long Beach, a predicament he hopes to rectify this year. Interestingly, Kendall came closest to winning here in his most recent start, in 1996. He earned the pole and led the most laps before falling out with ignition problems. Kendall returns this season, driving the No. 11 Jaguar R Performance XKR, after retiring from racing in 1997.

"Long Beach is the biggest race in my world," said Kendall, who will attempt this year to surpass the win record held by late Trans-Am legend Mark Donohue. "I grew up going to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. I've been going since 1980. I've won the Pro Celebrity race there, but the Trans-Am race is what I'm all about."

Several other California natives will also be on the prowl this year at Long Beach.

Tomy Drissi (No. 5 The Day After Tomorrow-Only in Theaters Jaguar XKR), from Hollywood, will return to the site of his sole Trans-Am victory. Drissi, who owns a motion picture advertising agency, admits he learned his racing skills as a teenager, street racing on Mulholland Drive.

1978 Trans-Am titleholder Greg Pickett (No. 6 Cytosport Jaguar XKR), a mainstay in Trans-Am competition, will also race here, looking to become the first driver to win a Trans-Am race in each of four decades of competition. Pickett made his first Trans-Am start in 1975, and stands second to Paul Gentilozzi in virtually every driver performance category.

Other Golden State hotshoes include Mike Davis (No. 10 ACS Express Ford Mustang), who will team with Said this year, as well as Michael Lewis (No. 12 Autocon Engineering Jaguar XKR) and Ross Murray, who is planning to make his Trans-Am debut here in the No. 74 Greenberg Cheese Co. Dodge Viper.

Jorge Diaz, Jr. is ready to back up his successful run to the 2003 Rookie of the Year title with a win at Long Beach. Diaz, who finished fifth here last season, returns to the No. 8 Puerto Rico Grand Prix Jaguar XKR this year with a higher purpose: win the Trans-Am championship.

"We are going for the championship this year," said Diaz, from San Juan, Puerto Rico. "Last year, we were gunning strictly for Rookie of the Year. We ran well-paced, conservative races. This year, we're going to risk a little bit more and plan to be right there in the end."

Long Beach has been a favorite track for 2002 BBS Most Improved Driver Randy Ruhlman, who also considers this track to be one of his most challenging. His first race here was in 1990, Ruhlman's rookie season. Ruhlman (No. 49 Preformed Line Products Chevrolet Corvette) has competed here in each Trans-Am race since.

2003 BBS Most Improved Driver John Baucom (No. 86 MAP Quality Engineering Ford Mustang) is also seeking his first Trans-Am victory. Baucom comes to Long Beach with a recently built Ford Mustang and new resolve. Finishing a career best eighth in the title chase last year, Baucom has also won the E-Production and G-Production national championships SCCA National Runoffs in 2000, earning the President's Cup Award, given to the most outstanding driver in the United States.

Vincent Ashton (No. 9 Ashton Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro) and Philip Simms (No. 24 Simms Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette) will make their Trans-Am debuts at Long Beach this year. Other drivers to watch include veterans Bob Ruman (No. 23 McNichols/Cenweld Chevrolet Corvette), Max Lagod (No. 83 Hypermax Chevrolet Corvette), as well as sophomore driver Joey Scarallo (No. 06 Toyo Tires/ROH Wheels Chevrolet Corvette).

The Motorock Trans-Am Series features closed-fendered, production-based, V-8-powered sports cars, competing on permanent road courses, and temporary street and airport circuits throughout North America. The Trans-Am Series is America's oldest continuously running road racing series and celebrates its 39th anniversary in 2004.

Motorock is the creation of a popular culture brand that blends the enthusiast markets of cars, stars and guitars. It is a yearly series of destination live events that showcases the excitement of motorsports, music and lifestyle while delivering a unique new form of broadcast entertainment programming.

LONG BEACH LEDES:

Paul Gentilozzi has recorded some of the most significant milestones in his career at Long Beach. Aside from it being the site of his first Trans-Am victory in 1988, and the venue where he made his 100th Trans-Am start, in 1996, he is also the only multiple-time winner here. Of all nine winners in 13 races here, Gentilozzi stands atop the record books with four Long Beach victories. Gentilozzi also holds the qualifying record (1:21.531, 86.854 miles per hour) set in 2000, and the fast-race-lap record (1:22.025, 86.374 mph) recorded in last year's race.

A win by Paul Gentilozzi would mark his fifth Motorock Trans-Am Series victory here, a Trans-Am record for victories at one track. Gentilozzi is currently tied with Darin Brassfield (Sears Point) and Mark Donohue (St. Jovite/Mt. Tremblant) with four victories at one venue.

It would also mark Gentilozzi's 14th win on a "street or temporary circuit, tying Tommy Kendall's all-time Trans-Am record.

Gentilozzi set the fastest race lap in last year's race, his record-setting third here. If a Rocketsports Racing car sets the fast lap this year, it will mark the team's fourth, breaking a tie with Roush Racing for Long Beach fast laps.

Meanwhile, Trans-Am's only four-time titleholder Kendall has never won at Long Beach, a place he considers his "home track." Kendall, from Santa Monica, Calif., did win a pole here, in 1996 and dominated the event, but fell out late with ignition problems, surrendering the lead and eventual victory to Jamie Galles.

Kendall has competed in four Long Beach Trans-Am races, scoring two runner-up finishes, in 1987 and in 1989. Kendall finished seventh in both 1993 and in 1996.

A Rocketsports victory here will mark the team's tenth consecutive triumph in Trans-Am competition, dating back to Mosport in 2003. In fact, Rocketsports has won every Trans-Am race since Boris Said won at Long Beach in 2003, driving for ACS Express Racing.

A Rocketsports Racing pole would be the fourth consecutive at Long Beach for the Lansing, Mich.-based team (following Gentilozzi in 2001 and 2002 and Scott Pruett in 2003). It would also give Rocketsports five Long Beach poles, breaking a tie for Long Beach leadership with Roush Racing's four.

A win by either Tomy Drissi or Boris Said would make either only the second driver to win more than one Trans-Am race here, joining four-time winner Gentilozzi.

Said is set to win his second straight Long Beach race, a feat only achieved previously by Gentilozzi in 1998 and 1999.

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

Rocketsports entries need to lead just three laps this year to become the all-time Long Beach Trans-Am entrant lap leader, ahead of Roush Racing.

Gentilozzi leads in Long Beach Trans-Am starts with 11, having missed only the 1987 inaugural. Randy Ruhlman has eight Long Beach starts, and Michael Lewis has seven.

2003 STATISTICAL REVIEW

Boris Said won last year's race, driving an ACS Express Racing Ford Mustang. The victory was Said's 12th in his Trans-Am career and came in his 60th start.

The victory was Said's first at Long Beach. Said won by 4.296 seconds, ahead of Johnny Miller. Miller drove a Rocketsports Jaguar XKR, as did the third and fourth-place finishers, Scott Pruett and Paul Gentilozzi. Said started second and led the final five laps of the 51-lap race. Pole winner Pruett led the first 46 laps. Gentilozzi started 15th after his qualifying time was negated due to a technical infraction. Gentilozzi set the fastest race lap, and finished fourth. Eventual Rookie of the Year Jorge Diaz, Jr. was fifth in a Jaguar XKR. Nine cars finished on the lead lap. Fifteen of the 19 starters finished.

Ford's Mustang extended a Trans-Am record with its 2003 Long Beach win, the nameplate's 101st in Trans-Am competition. The victory in 2003 marked the 23rd season with at least one Mustang victory, besting Chevrolet Camaro's 21 seasons with at least one victory.

LONG BEACH LOGBOOK

The Motorock Trans-Am Series has competed at Long Beach 12 times in the event's 29-year run, and has netted nine winners in that time. The first event was held in 1987, followed by races in 1988 and 1989. The series returned to Long Beach in 1992 and 1993, and again in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000-2003.

Only Paul Gentilozzi, with wins in 1988, 1998, 1999, and 2002, has scored multiple Long Beach victories. Four race winners--Gentilozzi in 1988, Robby Gordon in 1992, Jamie Galles in 1996, and Tomy Drissi in 2000--scored their career-first Trans-Am wins at Long Beach. In fact, Gordon's victory came in his sole Trans-Am start. Fellows' 1993 win was his first on a street or temporary circuit, as was Lou Gigliotti's 2001 victory.

Two Long Beach winners went on to grab that season's Trans-Am Drivers' Championship: inaugural Long Beach race winner Pruett in 1987 and Gentilozzi in 1998 and 1999. 1989 winner Irv Hoerr and 1993 winner Ron Fellows each finished second in their respective season's title chase.

Six of the 12 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. Said won from the outside pole in 2003. Jamie Galles (1996) and Lou Gigliotti (2001) share the distinction of winning here from the farthest back in the field--seventh.

Ford Motor Company has a record seven wins here, including the 2002 Jaguar win and the 2003 Ford Mustang victory. General Motors owns five victories.

Ford's Mustang (Gordon in 1992, Fellows in 1993, Gentilozzi in 1999, Drissi in 2000, Said in 2003) has a record five victories here. Chevrolet's Corvette has two victories (Gentilozzi in 1998 and Lou Gigliotti in 2001), as does Oldsmobile's Cutlass. Interestingly, Gentilozzi gave Oldsmobile its first-ever Trans-Am victory in 1988, and Irv Hoerr won in a Cutlass in 1989. Chevrolet's Camaro (Jamie Galles in 1996),

Mercury's Merkur (Scott Pruett in 1987), and Jaguar's XKR (Paul Gentilozzi in 2002) have one win apiece.

Gentilozzi earned the only flag-to-flag victory in Long Beach history, in 1998. The most lead changes in Long Beach Trans-Am history, five, came during the 1996 race.

Four drivers (Gentilozzi, Said, Brian Simo, and Gigliotti) led the 2001 race. The four drivers drove four different marques: Jaguar, Ford, Qvale, and Chevrolet, respectively.

The average number of leaders per race here is 2.667. The average number of lead changes is 2.167 per race.

The total number of laps completed in Long Beach history is 588.

In 1993, Fellows became the first driver to record a clean sweep, winning the pole, setting the fastest race lap and winning the race. Gentilozzi equaled that feat in 1998 and went one honor better by leading every lap.

Scott Pruett has led the most Long Beach Trans-Am laps--143. Paul Gentilozzi is second with 140 laps.

Ford Mustang leads the way in Long Beach Trans-Am laps led with 175, ahead of Mercury's Merkur with 117. Jaguar's XKR has 103 laps led to its credit. Chevrolet's Corvette has led 74 Long Beach laps. Chevrolet's Camaro has led 51 laps.

Roush Racing has led 187 of the 588 Long Beach Trans-Am laps. Rocketsports is next with 185 laps and can become the all-time entrant leader in laps led in 2004.

Eleven of the 12 races here have been decided by less than 10 seconds, with Gigliotti's 0.808 of a second margin of victory in 2001 the closest. Pruett's inaugural victory margin in 1987 of one minute, 2.03 seconds is the widest margin of victory.

Eight drivers have won the pole here, with Pruett (1987, 1988, 2003) and Gentilozzi (1998, 2001, 2002) tied for the most fast-qualifying efforts. In fact, Pruett and Gentilozzi are the only multiple-time pole winners. Other pole winners are: Irv Hoerr (1989), Gordon (1992), Ron Fellows (1993), Kendall (1996), Chris Neville (1999) and Brian Simo (2000).

The pole record is held by Gentilozzi's 2000 effort (1:21.531 at 86.854 mph), the first year the race was held on the current 1.968-mile circuit.

Ford's Mustang leads with four Long Beach poles to three for Jaguar's XKR and two for Mercury's Merkur. Chevrolet's Corvette, Oldsmobile's Cutlass and Qvale's Mangusta have one apiece.

Roush Racing and Rocketsports have four poles apiece. Huffaker/Qvale has two poles, while Gloy Racing and Hoerr Racing have one apiece.

Ford's Mustang is the only nameplate with five Long Beach fast race laps.

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Series Trans-Am
Drivers Boris Said , Robby Gordon , Ron Fellows , Scott Pruett , Brian Simo , Justin Bell , Tomy Drissi , Paul Gentilozzi , Ross Murray , Johnny Miller , Randy Ruhlman , Lou Gigliotti , Bob Ruman , Greg Pickett , Michael Lewis , John Baucom , Darin Brassfield , Vincent Ashton , Mike Davis , Mark Donohue , Tommy Kendall , Jorge Diaz