SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- The Puerto Rico Grand Prix, Round 11 and the season finale for the Motorock Trans-Am Tour for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup, will herald firsts for both the Tour and the island of Puerto Rico. Scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 26, the...
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- The Puerto Rico Grand Prix, Round 11 and the season finale for the Motorock Trans-Am Tour for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup, will herald firsts for both the Tour and the island of Puerto Rico. Scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 26, the Puerto Rico Grand Prix will mark the first time the Trans-Am Tour will race in the Caribbean. In fact, the event will mark the first time the Tour has raced anywhere other than on the contiguous North American continent. The race will be held on a temporary circuit at Isla Grande Airport, part of the Fernando Luis Ribas Dominicci Airport complex in the island's capital, San Juan.
Coming to Puerto Rico will be newly crowned Trans-Am Tour champion Scott Pruett. Pruett hopes to put a fitting end to his dominant season here, driving a Jaguar XKR, equipped with Jaguar's new four-valve, dual-overhead-cam, fuel-injected AJ-V8. Pruett, driver of the No. 7 Motorock/Jaguar R Performance XKR, clinched the title after winning the Motorock Miami 100, his eighth victory in 10 races this season.
Rookie points leader Jorge Diaz, Jr. (No. 8 Don Q Rum Jaguar XKR), meanwhile, is looking forward to racing in his hometown. Diaz comes into the final race of the season with a 27-point lead on Bobby Sak in the Rookie of the Year Championship, and needs merely to finish 17th or better to secure the title.
"I think that this is the largest auto event in the history of Puerto Rico," said Diaz. "There is going to be a great build up of enthusiasm. Everyone here follows the sport. They have favorite drivers and know a lot about auto racing history. There is a lot of enthusiasm about all of the series and the combination of the Trans-Am Tour with the SPEED World Challenge Series is a good fit." Diaz's track record this year speaks for itself. Four top fives and nine top tens in 10 starts this season are surpassed only by his two podiums: a third at Lime Rock, and a runner-up effort at Cleveland. Diaz's Cleveland finish is most significant, as Puerto Rico's Isla Grande Airport circuit is very similar to the Burke Lakefront Airport course in Cleveland.
"Cleveland definitely helped my confidence," said Diaz. "What I noticed is by the end of the race, we were doing extremely well. The weather was hot, but back home, it's always hot, and I'm used to racing in the heat. But my helmet cooler failed five laps into the race. At that point, I couldn't wait for the race to be over.
"However, it was just a fun race," added Diaz. "It wasn't easy to get around, especially on the last restart. I thought I had the car to beat, and it worked out. I wish all of the tracks we visited were new to me. I like it better when I'm racing it for the first time, because I have no expectations. I was a little bit upset about qualifying eighth, but I was just happy about the race...and the race is all that counts."
Diaz did have a bit of learning curve at the beginning of the season. Everything was new for the young hotshoe who previously competed in just three Trans-Am Tour events.
"I had a little bit of work to do at the beginning of the season, getting used to the new Jaguar XKR body," said Diaz. "It creates a greater amount of downforce in the front, and that's something you have to work with and get used to. We also worked on our brakes, and that was something that I also had to adapt to. With this new body, and the work we've done, we were very confident this year."
Local drivers Edison Lluch and Felix Serralles will make their Trans-Am debut here. Both hail from Puerto Rico, and will be fired up to turn in a good performance in front of their home crowd.
The younger Sak will be joined by his father and team owner, Trans-Am veteran Don Sak, while Tomy Drissi is seeking to end his competitive season on a high note. Michael Lewis, Randy Ruhlman, Simon Gregg, John Baucom, and Joey Scarallo are also hoping to complete the season with strong finishes here. Glenn Andrew, Kenny Bupp, Jon "Chevy" Leavy, Garrett Kletjian, Bob Ruman, Peter Rogal, George Nolte, Marvin Jones, Rick Lee, and Claudio Burtin contribute to an already strong entry list.
Promoter Jorge Diaz, Sr. is pleased to be hosting the initial Puerto Rico Grand Prix. The affable Puerto Rico native hopes this race will mark the beginning of a legacy of racing on his island home.
"I think this is the first step into a great and bright future for racing in the Caribbean," said Diaz. "Puerto Rico is the gateway to the Caribbean and South America. This race will show the world that Puerto Rico has the commitment and dedication required to put together a first-class international racing event."
The 1.6-mile, 10-turn circuit, which was laid out by renowned race track designer Martyn C. Thake. The picturesque circuit, which uses San Juan Harbor as its backdrop, boasts a wide racing surface and 100-percent visibility for fans. "We couldn't find a more fitting location to put an exclamation point on the 2003 season," said Tour Executive Director John Clagett. "The Isla Grande Airport is the perfect venue for this race, and it's convenient to the bustling city of San Juan. It will pose its own unique challenges, and we're looking forward to a thrilling race for both the drivers and fans.
"When we began planning this year's schedule, we wanted to make the season finale a truly special event, and there is no doubt that the Puerto Rico Grand Prix will fit the bill," added Clagett. "The venue will offer fans an up-close experience with our race cars on an extremely competitive circuit.
"Additionally, we have a virtually untapped market in the Caribbean, a part of the world well known for its enthusiastic race fans," he explained. "I guarantee those fans will not go home disappointed."
The Puerto Rico Grand Prix will air LIVE on SPEED Channel Oct. 26 at 1 p.m. The Motorock Trans-Am Tour for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup features closed-fendered, production-based, V-8-powered sports cars. The Trans-Am Tour is America's oldest continuously running sports car racing series and celebrates its 38th anniversary in 2003.
What: Puerto Rico Grand Prix, Round 11 of the 2003 Motorock Trans-Am Tour for the BFGoodrich® Tires Cup championship
When: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 24-26, 2003
Race Day: Sunday, Oct. 26, at 2 p.m. (Atlantic Time)
Distance: 63 laps/100.8 miles
Where: The race will be run on the 1.6-mile, 10-turn temporary airport course
Puerto Rico notes:
* With a win here, Scott Pruett's career record will jump to 23 victories, and will move him to within just one triumph of car owner Paul Gentilozzi, who sits third on the all-time Trans-Am win list behind leader Mark Donohue and Tommy Kendall. Pruett (No. 7 Motorock/Jaguar R Performance XKR) eclipsed fellow Jaguar pilot Bob Tullius for fourth on the all-time win list with his win in Miami. Interestingly, Tullius earned Jaguar its first manufacturers' title in 1978, the year he also won the Drivers' Championship in a Jaguar XJS.
* With a pole here, Pruett, who has started on the pole eight times this year, will take sole possession of second on the all-time fast qualifier list from Gentilozzi. Pruett is currently tied with Gentilozzi with 28 pole positions.
* Jorge Diaz, Jr. (No. 8 Don Q Rum Jaguar XKR) has a 27-point lead in the Rookie of the Year Championship coming into Puerto Rico. If Diaz finishes 17th or better here, even if his closest pursuer Bobby Sak earns a maximum of 36 points, he will clinch the rookie title.
* Pruett's pole record this year makes him the odds-on favorite to win a one-year lease on a Jaguar XKR, the British carmaker's premiere grand touring car. Pruett, through the Jaguar R Award--given to the driver who earns the most points toward Jaguar winning the manufacturers' title--already won a one-year lease on an XK8, and will attempt to win the annual Jaguar Pole Award here. The Jaguar Pole Award is a performance-based initiative that rewards drivers who win the pole at each of the Trans-Am Tour's events this season. Polesitters receive a key--regardless of what type of car they race--which, at the culmination of the season, they will use to attempt to open the door to a 2004 Jaguar XK8, during a formal ceremony. The driver whose key opens the vehicle will win a one-year lease on the car. Pruett won the pole seven times this year (and also started on the pole at Denver after the field was set by practice times), and therefore has received seven keys. Johnny Miller, who won two poles this year, will have two chances. If a driver wins both the Jaguar R Award and the Pole Award, that driver will receive a one-year lease on the XKR. Interestingly, Tomy Drissi, who only received one key during the 2001 season, ended up with the winning key and the XK8.
* Although the Puerto Rico Grand Prix is the first time the Trans-Am Tour has competed in Puerto Rico, it's not the first time the Caribbean island has hosted a major international sports car race. In fact, this year's Puerto Rico Grand Prix will be contested just short of 41 years after Puerto Rico's November 1962 Caguas Grand Prix de Puerto Rico. A variety of events were held in Caguas during the first two weekends of November, 1962. Caguas is located in the mountainous interior of eastern Puerto Rico, about 25 minutes from San Juan. Although that race preceded the Trans-Am Tour by four years, several drivers who became part of the Trans-Am legacy competed at Caguas. Those taking part in the Caguas events included legendary Trans-Am team owner Roger Penske; 1977 Category II champion Ludwig Heimrath; and early Trans-Am Tour drivers Dan Gurney, Don Yenko, Peter Revson, Dick Thompson and Howard Hanna.
* If Pruett sets the fast race lap here, he'll move into a tie for second on the all-time fast-race-lap record book with Kendall. In fact, Pruett has set the fast lap in every race this year except Lime Rock Park.
* As Pruett takes the track in his No. 7 Motorock/Jaguar R Performance XKR on Sunday, history will be made as he will be racing into the Trans-Am Tour's future. Under the hood of the car will be Jaguar's new four-valve, overhead-cam, fuel-injected 4.5-liter AJ-V8, which was unveiled recently at a press event held at Putnam Park Road Course in Brownsburg, Ind. and during a practice session at the Motorock Miami 100. The engine uses the stock aluminum block and alloy heads from the Jaguar XKR road car. In fact, other than the connecting rods, crankshaft, pistons, injector hat, and ignition system, the engine is completely stock. The engine's stroke has been shortened, and its bore was increased, raising the stock displacement from 4.2 liters to 4.5 liters for the race engine. The engine weighs approximately 100 pounds less than the current corporate pushrod V8 used in the Jaguar XKR and uses an all-new ignition system developed by Rocketsports and Bosch. It will rev to 9,000 rpms, up from 8,200 in the current engine. It also uses a dry-sump oil system.