Trans-Am Field Ready for 'Long' Summer Day at Road America ELKHART LAKE, Wis. -- No other venue on this year's schedule has played a bigger role in the history of the Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup than Road America. The 4.048-mile...
Trans-Am Field Ready for 'Long' Summer Day at Road America
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. -- No other venue on this year's schedule has played a bigger role in the history of the Trans-Am Series for the BFGoodrich Tires Cup than Road America. The 4.048-mile road course has been a part of the Trans-Am Series legend since 1970, having hosted 34 events, the most of any venue, active or inactive, on which the Series has competed. This year the legend continues when the Trans-Am Series returns to Road America for the Trans-Am 100, Round 8 of the 2003 championship.
This year's race may be a historical one for Jaguar as the marque has a chance to clinch the 2003 Manufacturers' Championship here. With a victory by a Jaguar XKR, the British carmaker will earn its third title, having won its first Trans-Am Series crown in 1978, and most recently in 2001.
That honor for Jaguar may come at the hands of Scott Pruett, whose dominant performance this season has been nothing short of spectacular. Pruett, driver of the No. 7 Jaguar R Performance XKR, has won five of seven races this season and earned six poles. Leading the championship coming into Road America, Pruett hopes his strong resume of finishes here will bode well during the race. Pruett has also competed here in IMSA and Champ Car World Series competition.
"I love Road America," explained Pruett, who in his three Trans-Am Series starts here has won once in 1988, finished second in 1994, and won the pole three times. Pruett finished 29th in 1987 after a cooling system failure. "I've had a lot of success there. I love the layout and the feel. It's an exciting track; it's technical and it's fast. You go through the Carousel, the Kink and Canada Corner; there are a lot of technical aspects to it, along with some long straightaways. If you have the power and you have the car, you can certainly move through the field.
"The track is so long that you have to get everything right," added Pruett, who returned to the Trans-Am Series this season after taking an eight-year hiatus, competing in the Champ Car World Series and NASCAR. "If you mess up one turn, it messes up your whole lap. It's a tough place. To get it right and go fast, you have to be perfect on every lap."
Pruett is eyeing his third Series championship this year, having won his two previous titles in 1987 and 1994. However, Pruett said he is focusing on what happens on the track, and will let the points take care of themselves.
"We've had a great season, but I haven't been concerned with points all year," said Pruett, who in his Trans-Am Series career has 19 wins, 36 podium finishes, and 38 top-five finishes in 55 starts. "I know we're leading the championship and we have a little bit of a cushion, but winning races is really all I'm concerned with. We just have to keep doing what we are doing.
"I thought Trois-Rivières was going to be a very tough track for us," added Pruett, who won the most recent event in French Canada. "As it turned out, things went great. I see Road America as being a good track for us, and hopefully everything will go well. Remember, it only takes one problem and the championship can turn around. We're just keeping focused race to race. It's nice to have a points advantage, but the championship is anything but over."
Johnny Miller is poised to capitalize on any mistake Pruett might make here. The driver of the No. 64 Eaton Cutler-Hammer Jaguar XKR, who sits second in points, earned his second Series victory this season at Lime Rock, after winning the pole. This year, Miller has five podium finishes in seven starts. However, Miller hopes a string of bad luck encountered at Infineon Raceway and the Cleveland Grand Prix won't end his hopes for his first Drivers' Championship. Miller finished second in the most recent event, at Trois-Rivières.
"We're really going to have to put our heads down at Road America if we want to win this championship," said Miller, who sits 40 points behind Pruett in the title chase. "I've been very successful at Road America, but have never won, and it really owes me one.
"We've always run well here, and been up front," added Miller, who won the pole here in 2000, and stood on the podium here in 2001 and 2002. "Hopefully, it will come my way this year; I need one to come my way."
Miller said Road America suits his driving style. Being very technical and posting a perfect lap every time is the key to success here, according to the eight-year Series veteran.
"I just love the high-speed track," added Miller. "Man, we really fly here. It's such a long lap, you just work as hard as you can, and, as you crest the hill, you just hope for a good lap time. A shorter track is much more forgiving. You can pick things up if you have a problem during the lap. At Road America, the laps are so long, you can't have a bad corner. You have to put the whole thing together--every corner and every straightaway--if you want to win the race."
Veteran NASCAR stock car driver Paul Menard is returning to the Trans-Am Series at Road America. Menard has competed in the Busch Series, Truck Series and ARCA competition this season. The Eau Claire, Wis. native, who made a single Trans-Am Series start this season at St. Petersburg for ACS Express Racing, will drive the No. 3 Johns Manville-Menards Jaguar XKR normally wheeled by Paul Gentilozzi. In six career Trans-Am Series starts, Menard has scored five top-ten finishes.
"Road America is by far my favorite road course because it has a lot of neat characteristics like elevation changes and long straightaways," said Menard, son of IndyCar Series team owner John Menard. "There is something about racing on your home turf. It's a pride thing. You want to show off to your home crowd. I think it's great that the most beautiful road course in the world is in my home state.
"We're coming here with an eye on the podium, if not a win," added Menard, who finished seventh here last season, equaling his best career finish, recorded later that year at VIR. "You always go for the win, and this Rocketsports team is the one to do it with. Paul Gentilozzi has put together a great team, and I'm looking forward to racing with them."
Meanwhile Stu Hayner will certainly be on top of his game here. Hayner, driver of the No. 2 Trenton Forging/GMAC Commercial Finance Chevrolet Corvette, won here in 1998. Hayner's best finish this season of fourth came at Lime Rock Park.
"I've always enjoyed the track here," said Hayner. "This is the premier road racing track. It's always a thrill.
"Besides having a Trans-Am victory on this track, I really like driving it," added Hayner. "The elevation changes, the variety of turns and that long straightaway tend to put a lot of the race in the driver's hands. Staying smooth and taking care of your tires pays big dividends on a big track like this."
Michael Lewis has also celebrated in victory lane here, in 2000, and the driver of the No. 12 Westward Tools/The Crank Jaguar XKR is on a roll this season. Lewis, who led every lap in the 2000 Road America race, has put together a string of good finishes in 2003, including a runner-up effort at Mosport.
But the veterans will have to keep on eye on this year's rookie crop as Bobby Sak, Joey Scarallo and current rookie points leader Jorge Diaz, Jr. are all seeking to etch their names into the Trans-Am Series legacy. Sak, who's best finish this season of second came at Lime Rock Park, is looking to unseat Diaz at the front of the rookie battle.
"Without a doubt, this is my favorite track," said Sak, driver of the No. 10 Revolution Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette, owned by his father and Trans-Am Series veteran driver Don Sak. "I've always enjoyed racing here when I ran in other series. It's fast, it's interesting and it really showcases driver skill... provided you've got a good car under you. I like that the long straights give you a chance to gather your thoughts. It helps you stay focused and allows you to think more about what you want to do. It's not like Trois-Rivières where there is always something happening around you. Hopefully, we'll get the setup right and have a shot at a podium finish."
Meanwhile, Diaz has little experience at tracks on this year's schedule, including Road America. In fact, of the 10 scheduled venues this season, Diaz has only previously competed at one--Cleveland.
"I don't feel different going into all of these are new tracks. I've never raced on any of them," said Diaz. "I look at that in a positive way. I'm always learning something new. I'm in my learning curve, and that's the best place to be."
Scarallo is looking forward to his initial Road America start.
"Man, I can't wait for Road America," said Scarallo, who has finished in the top 10 in four of the six races in which he's competed this year. "I've always wanted to compete here. We've made some changes on our team, and are looking for success here."
In addition, Series veteran Greg Pickett, who won the Drivers' Championship in 1978, will take on Tomy Drissi, Randy Ruhlman, Bob Ruman, John Baucom, and Max Lagod in this year's race. Cliff Ebben, who won the 2003 June Sprints GT-1 race here, will make his third Trans-Am Series start, his first since 2001. Brian Kubinski will be making his first Trans-Am Series start. Glenn Andrew, Dan Furey, John Schaller, Tom Sloe and Tim Cowen round out an already impressive field.
The Trans-Am 100 is scheduled to start at 10:45 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 24. The race will air on same-day, tape-delayed basis at 12:30 p.m. on SPEED Channel. The Trans-Am Series, America's oldest continuously running road racing series, is celebrating its 38th anniversary this year.